When I was younger, I didn't consider myself a horror fan. But I did love science fiction, in no small part because the DC and Marvel stories I loved regularly featured science fiction elements. Then, sometime after I turned six, I began watching Star Trek at my mother's recommendation (in part, I'm sure, to move me out of comics), and its five-year mission to explore strange new worlds and going boldly where no one has gone before enthralled me. Horror didn't interest me.
Keep in mind that this was the 1970s. Science fiction was everywhere. This was the era of Star Wars (without this "A New Hope" nonsense). This was the era of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
And it was the era of Alien.
On its release in 1979, fans and critics hailed it as one of the scariest movies ever made. Because of its reputation, I actually didn't see Alien until I was in my teens; even Crack'd magazine's parody, which served as a guide for when audiences needed to shield their eyes (and, in the case of the chestburster sequence, their ears as well). Still, its science fiction elements piqued my curiosity. As I did with The Shining, I picked up a copy of Alan Dean Foster's novelization, which I found in one our local grocery store spinner racks, in order to dampen the potential horror elements. Like The Shining, I was wrong about it doing so, and found it only whetted my appetite to actually see the movie itself.
At the time of Alien's release, I didn't know anything about H. P. Lovecraft. I had never heard the term "cosmic horror". But the concepts the movie proffered stayed with me. As a kid weaned on the strangely compelling (if shoddily presented) television series In Search Of..., I couldn't help but find the ancient alien species far older than humanity compelling, nor could I not be existentially terrified by their use of humans as anything more than an element in their reproductive system. Moreover, H. R. Giger's art and creature designs filled me with transcendent awe, even on a crappy VHS copy on a crappier television.
I tend to not like lumping horror in with science fiction. They aren't the same thing, and often I find their philosophical underpinnings mutually exclusive. And yet, when they're mixed well, the results can be unforgettable, and that's precisely the case with Alien. More than 40 years later, it remains one of the greatest science fiction horror movies ever made.
What was your first science fiction horror movie? Do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments.
Derek Austin Johnson has lived most of his life in the Lone Star State. His work has appeared in The Horror Zine, Rayguns Over Texas!, Horror U.S.A.: Texas, Campfire Macabre, The Dread Machine, and Generation X-ed.
He lives in Central Texas.