Best Sci-Fi Horror Movies

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Though the sci-fi horror genre has been around for century, it’s really in the last few decades that it has hit it’s stride. Nowhere has that jump in popularity more prevalent or evident than in the world of film. The 70’s and 80’s represent a golden era in sci-fi horror movies, with the rise of such giants in the industry as John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and Ridley Scott. But even from the 90’s onward sci-fi horror shows no signs of slowing down, and some really incredible entries have come out in just the last couple of years.

There are so many excellent sci-fi horror movies out there that it was very hard to narrow this down to a manageable list. Even with an “Honorable Mentions” section at the end, we know we missed plenty of viable candidates. Let us know some of the better films we left off down in the comments below!

Color Out of Space (2019)

Color out of space 2019 poster with sci-fi horror background

Did you know colors could be scary? H.P. Lovecraft certainly thought they could be, and he wrote a deeply unsettling story to prove it. Color Out of Space is a cosmic horror film based on that titular story, and it’s about the Gardner family who find that a meteorite has crash-landed on their farm. Suddenly, their once peaceful life in the country is shattered as the family finds themselves fighting an alien being that can infect and mutate their bodies and minds. Come for the Nicolas Cage performance, stay for the grotesque practical effects. With a slow build in the first half and a wild spree of body horror in the second half, Color Out of Space is a rare example of a Lovecraft adaptation done right. 

Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation horror movie poster with scary sci-fi landscape

Criminally underrated and suffering from a shoddy release, Annihilation is a film that deserves your attention and awe. Based on the book by Jeff Vandermeer, it’s a story about a group of scientists who venture into a mysterious zone called “the Shimmer” to collect data and locate the early explorers who have vanished inside. The movie shares some similarities with the book, but writer/director Alex Garland also made some significant changes and it’s best to view them as alternate entries in a shared universe. It’s notoriously difficult to translate cosmic horror to the big screen, but Annihilation manages to do it and do it well. Full of mind boggling images and a deep unfurling dread, this is a movie that really translates a sense of hopelessness and unfathomable fear.

Timecrimes (2007)

Timecrimes horror movie poster with creepy killer

Though perhaps more of a sci-fi thriller than horror, there are enough shocking scenes and gut-twisting suspense to earn the Spanish language film Timecrimes a spot on this list. The film opens with a man named Hector spying on a beautiful woman. His moment of voyeurism is suddenly disrupted when he is attacked by a man whose head is wrapped in bandages. Fleeing the scene, Hector is able to find refuge in a remote lab where a scientist convinces him to hide in what turns out to be a time machine. To say more would be to spoil critical scenes, but just know this movie, though saddled with a low budget and amatuer actors, is a wonderfully confounding and deeply disquieting.example of sci-fi horror.

Event Horizon (1997)

Event Horizon sci-fi horror movie poster with space ship and planet

Sure it flopped on its initial release (as did several other films on this list). Sure it’s been panned by critics and holds a highly debated place in film fandom. But whether you hate or, in our case, love it, there’s no denying that Event Horizon is fully ingrained in pop culture and space horror sensibilities. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s about a spaceship that stumbles across a portal to hell. As this infernal dimension begins to assert it’s dark influence the crew is slowly driven into a violent madness. Full of existential dread and shots of pure horror, Event Horizon is a film not to be missed. Just hope you return from the experience in a better state than the crew.

The Fly (1986)

The Fly horror movie poster with a fly and black background

We’re big fans of both body horror and practical effects over here at Puzzle Box, and one of the movies that best combines those two elements is David Cronenburg’s The Fly. Really there are many great choices in the Cronenburg cannon, but picked this one for its engaging premise and delightfully gross effects. Jeff Goldbloom, who gives a particularly captivating performance, plays a scientist whose failed experiment in teleportation transforms him into a gigantic insect. It’s a disgusting and nightmarish riff on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, but it’s also a surprisingly poignant look into the complexity of human relationships. 

Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator horror movie poster featuring a severed head and a creepy scientist

Herbert West, a slightly off-kilter scientist, has discovered a secret formula that can reanimate dead tissue and ultimately bring the deceased back to life. After a successful trial run on a fellow student’s cat, West takes his extraordinary elixir to the morgue and from there all havoc breaks loose. Though the movie is loosely based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, there were some major changes made and a lack of overall otherworldly dread. Instead we get a gloriously violent and darkly comedic romp full of gore and humor, all centered around the delightfully cheesy performance of actor Stewart Gordan. And really, what more could you want?

The Thing (1982)

The Thing 1982 sci-fi horror movie poster featuring a man in an arctic suit with beams of light coming through his head

John Carpenter’s The Thing is a masterpiece of paranoia and gorey practical effects. Based on the novella Who Goes There? by John Campbell Jr, Carpenter’s version is actually the third adaptation of the story and by far the most famous. In an isolated arctic setting, a team of scientists uncover an ancient alien being. Despite their best intentions, the creature is revived and begins to take them out one by one. What makes this plot particularly terrifying is the alien’s ability to mimic other lifeforms.The frenzy of shapeshifting that ensues, from the normal humanoid forms to the outrageously bizarre spectacles, keeps the scientists (and the audience) guessing on who is friend or foe. For the staff at Puzzle Box Horror, this is easily one of our favorite sci-fi horror films.

Scanners (1981)

Scanners horror movie poster from 1981 featuring a man whose head is exploding

Ok we swear this isn’t cheating, but we’re double-dipping in the Carpenter oeuvre. His movie Scanners, essentially about a group of telepathics seeking world domination and the counter-group fighting to subvert them, is what we consider essential viewing when it comes to the sci-fi horror genre. Yes it has the infamous head-exploding scene, and yes it’s as entertaining and memorable as you’d assume from a Carpenter film. But it also features some fine character acting and touches on some intriguing sociopolitical themes. Overall it’s a satisfying blend of cerebral commentary and visceral chaos. 

Alien (1979)

Alien 1979 horror movie poster featuring an alien egg

It’s impossible to talk about sci-fi horror without the angular, toothy distorted image of a xenomorph coming to mind. The whole alien franchise is fantastic (yes, even that one), but we have to give credit to the one that started it all. Ridley Scott’s Alien is dark, tense, and claustrophobic; a slow-burn of mounting dread and unseen foes until about the halfway mark when it explodes (literally) with stomach-churning horror. Featuring the unforgettable designs by H.R. Giger and inspiring decades of filmmakers after it, Alien stands as a shining example of the “horror in space” genre.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 movie poster featuring aliens and a person in a cocoon

It’s not often that a remake is better than the original, but the 70’s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is arguably superior to its predecessor. The enthralling performances of the leads, the creepy practical effects, the unnerving musical score, and the harrowing ending all work in perfect unison to make this a shockingly scary film. The cold war paranoia of the first movie has also been updated to showcase more relevant social metaphors, such as the loss of self and breakdown of community. Body possession movies have always been terrifying, and this one, about an alien plant that consumes its sleeping host and assumes their form, is a must-watch entry in the sci-fi horror genre.

Honorable Mentions

Possessor (2020)

The Invisible Man (2020)

Life (2017)

Ex Machina (2014)

Europa Report (2013)

Sunshine (2007)

Slither (2006)

28 Days Later (2002)

Donnie Darko (2001)

The Faculty (1998)

Demon Seed (1997)

Mimic (1997)

Cube (1997)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Aliens (1986)

From Beyond (1986)

Altered States (1980)

The Fury (1978)

Bitter Root Vol. 1 – Harlem’s Very Own Crew of Monster Brawlers

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Best Of Best of Comics Comics and Graphic Novels Featured Horror Books

Social Horror, which marries social commentary with the horror genre, which has existed as early as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) experienced a resurgence shortly after the release of Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017). Peele’s culture shock paved the way for a variety of films, books, and comics. However, the best part of this impact may be the increased inclusion of diverse voices speaking to their own histories and adversities. It’s no coincidence that this story takes place during the Harlem Renaissance, because it is undoubtedly part of a new renaissance of socio-political art to come from a modern age of political unrest. 

Bitter Root Horror Comic art featuring a demon hand reaching for a man

Bitter Root (2019) presents a historical fantasy where the power of hate can literally transform your being. Told through a kaleidoscope of colorful images, humorous banter, and breakneck action sequences, this series is what you’d get if Mike Mignola combined his Hellboy comic series with the Lovecraftian-inspired novel Lovecraft Country. It’s a fun dark fantasy that balances a ton of themes while also managing to land each punch. 

The narrative is set in 1924 Harlem not too long after the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. It focuses on the Sangerye Family, who were once a family of notorious monster hunters before they were broken up by tragedy and personal differences. When a new supernatural danger hits the streets, the Sangerye’s must overcome their past challenges and reunite in order to save New York and quite possibly the entire world. 

Illustration of vampires

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This first volume serves as a quick introduction to the different members of the Sangerye family where, much like other comic book super families such as The Umbrella Academy and Doom Patrol, special attention is given to what makes each of them unique. Every character rocks their particular skill set while providing a distinctive perspective on their world that is both generational and intrinsic to who they are. A personal favorite of mine is Berg, who gets an A+ in etiquette and monster brawling. There’s also Ford, who is a Django-type legend that kicks ghoul ass with a massive glock like something out of Doom.

Horror comic art featuring a man with a futuristic gun

Despite a story that is built on serious themes, the content never feels heavy. This is mostly attributed to the vibrant art style that resembles Mike Mingola’s, along with a dash of whimsy found only in golden age Disney films. The opening quite literally has music dancing off the page as we’re introduced to the sights and sounds of 1920’s Harlem. Another standout in this comic is the liberal use of color. Each page seems to have its own color palette, always more bold and surprising than the previous page. 

Fans of Guillermo Del Toro and Jim Henson would lose their mind with the cast of monsters that we come across in these five issues. From orcs and Final Fantasy-like sprites to the more gargantuan crow-head behemoths, you will be treated to a smorgasbord of monstrosities. Most of the ghoulish entities are drawn with a cartoonish quality that gives this dark fantasy a satirical layer, like when a gaggle of Ku Klux Klan members are transformed into slobbering goblins. They appear as scary and ridiculous as the hate that created them. 

Illustration of a zombified man

While the pages are filled with action, the horror lies in the reality of the world that the Sangerye’s are living in. It’s a world that’s not too far from the Harlem it was based on or the state of America that still exists to this day. Despite the sunny disposition that this comic carries, this is ultimately a story about hate and how it can literally change you into something monstrous. There is a moment in the comic when the family wonders if this transformation can be reversed or if it’s permanent. The response to that question is answered, but I imagine that it will be examined more deeply in future issues. 

These five issues are undoubtedly a jazz set charging with energy, breaking only to give each character a momentary solo. This first volume of Bitter Root has nearly everything you could want from a dark fantasy comic series. The world-building balances neatly with its socio-political themes as we are introduced to both the magic and conflict that surrounds this whimsical family’s lives. This volume concludes with a stunning reunion and eerie revelation that will definitely have you ready for the next set of issues. The Sangerye’s are here to stay as they weave their magic, brawl through hordes of snotty imps, and stomp down on the hate that is attempting to consume their world.

Bitter Root Vol. 1 is available now on Amazon and Image Comics.

Blue in Green – Music, Secrets and Ghosts

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Best Horror Books Best Of Best of Comics Featured

It is well documented that music can have an almost otherworldly hold over us; lowering stress hormones, raising dopamine levels, evoking specific memories, or transporting us to various times and places. But if music has this sort of cosmic power, could it possibly turn into a type of cosmic horror? For example, could a malevolent force created from art stalk us with intent to harm, as in the film Velvet Buzzsaw? Or could the bewitching and obsessive pursuit of art make monsters out of regular people, like what happens in the film Whiplash? Or maybe, as we see in the graphic novel Blue in Green, the terrifying reality lies somewhere in between. 

The story begins with a man named Erik getting a call that his mother has passed, prompting him to return to his childhood home, where he finds a photograph of an unknown man in his mother’s most prized possessions. The ensuing questions launch Erik on a quest that will lead him down some unexpected paths. Who was that man? What was his mother’s connection to him? And who exactly is the pale figure lurking in the periphery of the pages? More clues are uncovered and the mystery deepens as the story twists and turns, winding its way to an ultimately shocking conclusion.

Erik is a character struggling with his current situation in life. A talented saxophone player, he now squanders his skill teaching college classes and avoiding any close relationships. He ponders the fragility of life and wonders how many of us will leave this world without making an impact. His own desires, his failings, the expectations of family and society – all of these topics are the swirling subconscious maelstrom that push the story forward and pull back the curtain to its darker underpinnings. 

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Image from Blue and Green Graphic novel featuring a scared face and a tentacle

And this story certainly has a sinister underbelly. I love stories like this, full of dread, ambiguity, and uncertainty. From the very first image of the pale man you know something is off, but the terror stays in the background for much of the story, adding to the mystery and unraveling the deeper Erik digs. It’s still horror, but more of the understated, slithering-beneath-the-skin kind, which makes those moments when it bursts into daylight even more terrifying. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to say too much about the plot. Not just because I don’t want to give away spoilers, but because this is truly a tale that needs to be experienced.

While the story from writer Ram V is good, the art from Anand RK is really what makes this graphic novel shine. I don’t think I’ve seen a style quite like this, and I was continuously blown away with every page. It’s a mesmerizing blend of architectural precision, vaguely brushed forms, and a particularly gorgeous and enchanting array of colors thanks to John Pearson. The unconventional design of the pages is also really neat, shifting from full page spreads to pages with panels strewn about it like panes of glass. It reminds me of Dave McKean’s work, specifically on the Grant Morrison tale Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (and now that I think of it the pale man shares a resemblance to the Joker). Regardless, the art is captivating and it works well to elevate the story. 

The Blue in Green graphic novel is a story first and foremost about music and the creative pursuit. But it also weaves in ideas about the burdens of the past and the ghosts that haunt our present. It’s about family secrets, loss, rapture, unexplainable feelings, and cosmic dread. We are confined to the mind of Erik, and as the story progresses we have to question how reliable of a narrator he really is. I may not have understood everything that happened, but I know it was well worth the experience. This is a story that is ripe for further read throughs and I’m already itching to dive back in.

Blue in Green is available now from Image Comics.

Book Recommendation “Girl on Fire”

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Gemma Amor’s “Girl on Fire.” Gemma Amor is a Bram Stoker Award nominated horror fiction author, podcaster and voice actor based in the UK. Her books include Cruel Works of NatureDear Laura, White PinesGirl on Fire, and These Wounds We Make. She’s also co-creator, writer and voice actor for horror-comedy podcast Calling Darkness, starring Kate Siegel. Her stories are feature on the NoSleep PodcastShadows at the Door, Creepy and the Grey Rooms podcast.

Author Gemma Amor headshot

SYNOPSIS: Ruby Miller is free at last. Free from her past, her tormentor, her shitty family and the even shittier odds she was given at birth. But freedom has a price, and when the young girl hell-bent on starting a new life crashes her cherry red 1989 Pontiac Bonneville on America’s loneliest road, she finds out just how dear that price is. From the Bram Stoker Award nominated author of Dear Laura and White Pines comes a new novella, a searing tale of fire, revenge and redemption, a coming-of-age tale with a bite, because, let’s face it… happy endings are for children, and some girls just want to watch the world burn.

Review by Ben Vicariously 4/5 stars.

This story starts with a bang (literally) and is paced like wildfire, zipping through a tale of a young girl’s burning fury being unleashed upon the world. Ruby’s traumatic past haunts her still, and all she wants to do is see the world burn. She is the girl on fire, and her killing rage is both righteous and overwhelmingly destructive. Unfortunately for those around her it is only going to escalate.

To read the full review, click here!

Girl on Fire by Gemma Amor is available now.

Book Recommendation – “Spontaneous Human Combustion” By Richard Thomas

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers

For December we bring you the upcoming release from Richard Thomas “Spontaneous Human Combustion.” We were fortunate enough to receive an ARC copy and can confidently say this is our final recommendation for 2021.

In this new collection, Richard Thomas has crafted fourteen stories that push the boundaries of dark fiction in an intoxicating, piercing blend of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Equally provocative and profound, each story is masterfully woven with transgressive themes that burrow beneath the skin.

Portrait of Horror Writer Richard Thomas
Horror Author Richard Thomas

A Series of Short Horror Stories

• A poker game yields a strange prize that haunts one man, his game of chance now turned into a life-or-death coin flip.
• A set of twins find they have mysterious new powers when an asteroid crashes in a field near their house, and the decisions they make create an uneasy balance.
• A fantasy world is filled with one man’s desire to feel whole again, finally finding love, only to have the shocking truth of his life exposed in an appalling twist.
• A father and son work slave labor in a brave new world run by aliens and mount a rebellion that may end up freeing them all.
• A clown takes off his make-up in a gloomy basement to reveal something more horrifying under the white, tacky skin.

Powerful and haunting, Thomas’ transportive collection dares you to examine what lies in the darkest, most twisted corners of human existence and not be transformed by what you find.

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Spontaneous Human Combustion Book Cover by Richard Thomas

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

4.4 Stars on good Reads – 4.5 stars on Amazon

What the Reviewers Have to Say

Beat collection I’ve read since THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE by Mariana Enriquez. Thomas’s range is astounding.

Edward Lorn

I received the ARC for this collection a few months ago so that I could have time to read it and chat about it before its release on 02/22/22. I wish I had read it immediately upon receipt because it’s THAT good. So good that I will reread these stories, even have actually reread a couple already even though I just finished the collection recently. (I am determined that 2 stories were connected, that a character we meet in the beginning, we get his origin in a later story and I will die on that hill…but I won’t tell you who so you can reach your own conclusions…)

Each story is unique in its style and tone. Some are good old fashion classic horror, we have a few with sci fi elements, cosmic horror and magical realism. There were a couple I would have claimed were written by Stephen King and 2-3 I would have pinned on Stephen Graham Jones (two of my favorites, by the way) I did post mini-reviews of each story on my Instagram if you’re interested, I can be found on IG @the_nerdy_narrative.

I read one story per day and that is how I recommend approaching this collection because these stories will make you think. Some have those fun endings that give you plenty of fodder for your imagination to carry forward as to what could have happened going forward. Some are just thought provoking, ones that deep thinkers will enjoy exploring the meanings of actions of the characters or the underlying theme.

I was blown away by the collection as a whole – I loved every single story. Honestly. There was one that I was lackluster about, but the ending flipped it and made the whole story SHINE. (I may not have had enough coffee and missed some connections as to what was happening, lol) It’s rare I read a collection of this size and feel each story is a 5 star read, but this one is it…especially with all the stories being by the same author. Now I want to read EVERYTHING Richard Thomas has and anything he has coming out in the future.

Top short story collection of the year for me – trust me, it had some steep competition too! 

Lezlie The Nerdy Narrative

Thomas (The Soul Standard) breathes fresh air into the genre of dark speculative fiction with a brilliant collection that teems with haunting elements, dark nostalgia for lost love, dysfunctional families, and self-torment. These 14 stories ably demonstrate Thomas’s skill at conjuring visceral emotion through immaculate detail work. The gut-wrenching “Repent,” about a crooked ex-cop who makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his dying son, is told with an artist’s attention to scene setting. “Hiraeth,” about a farm boy with a “hole in his chest” who is robbed and subsequently punished by the men in the family, bristles with astonishing detail, realistic characters, and emotional depth. In “Ring of Fire,” an isolated scientist with an altered memory runs strange experiments on minerals, splicing horror and science fiction elements into an eerie tale about the evolution of the human mind amid isolation and interference. Equally devastating and refreshing, this is a collection to be savored by horror fans and literary readers alike.

Publishers Weekly

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