We are, it is easy to argue, living in a golden age of science fiction film making. Whether you’re talking about the latest cinematic universe blockbuster or glossy straight-to-streaming CGI extravaganzas. And yet, sometimes it’s possible to feel like something’s missing. Sometimes you’re in the mood for a proper sci-fi movie. Something with square-jawed scientists, no-nonsense military men, and bands of plucky teens who know what’s up even if the grown-ups won’t listen. Stories where the threat isn’t a bunch of carefully orchestrated pixels, but a guy in a carefully crafted costume, a model hanging from a piece of string you definitely can’t see, or a stop-motion monstrosity that somehow has more weight than the most impressive CGI you’ve ever seen.
This Easter, Horror Channel is launching a mammoth weekend of sci-fi classics, and the schedule is a real treasure trove of well known movies and hidden classics.
Tune in to the Classic Sci-Fi Weekend on Horror Channel over the Easter Weekend, channel numbers Sky 317 Virgin 149 Freeview 69 and Freesat 138.
These films feature classic special effects, influential iconic plots, and some truly incredible titles.
Saturday, April 16th
It Came From Outer Space
It Came From Outer Space is such a pure, archetypical science fiction title it’s hard to believe there’s a real movie attached to it. Based on a story by Ray Bradbury, It Came From Outer Space tells the story of an amateur astronomer who spots a meteor crash. Soon after the local townspeople start to be replaced by alien duplicates.
However, while many of its imitators delve into the horror genre, It Came From Outer Space is far closer to pure sci-fi, with an ending reminiscent of an episode of The Twilight Zone or the original series of Star Trek.
Earth vs The Flying Saucers
Another title that’s pretty self-explanatory. In his memoir of the horror genre, Danse Macabre, Stephen King talks about seeing this film at the cinema. His showing was interrupted by news of the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, giving the rest of the film a grim air of relevance.
It’s not hard to see why. Hugh Marlowe’s square-jawed scientist is working on trying to launch satellites into orbit at the start of the film, only to find someone (or something!) keeps destroying the rockets. His attempts to investigate lead him to uncover an alien invasion plot, and be abducted by said aliens.
While this is obviously a film from before the days of Independence Day-level spectacle, the special effects-laden climactic battle over Washington DC holds up surprisingly well.
Tarantula, or “Tarantula!” as the movie’s posters advertised it, is another film where the title doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Yes, this is a film about a giant tarantula, created by experiments with synthetic food nutrients (the damn fools!). A real classic of the “Giant monster attacks ‘50s America” genre, with an uncredited (and masked) cameo by Clint Eastwood as a fighter pilot.
It Came from Beneath The Sea
Surprisingly not a sequel to It Came From Outer Space, this is another example of science running amok and unleashing giant animals on unsuspecting Americans. This time its underwater H-bomb testing waking up a very large, and extremely grumpy giant octopus, resulting in it crawling ashore and attacking San Francisco’s skyscrapers and posing with the Golden Gate Bridge.
The beast itself is the work of master monster creator Ray Harryhausen, and as usual Harryhausen’s work continues to stand up against the best modern CGI has to offer as his octopus wreaks havoc on a series of miniature sets.
The Giant Claw
The monster here is not just a giant claw, but is an entire giant bird, swooping around, munching on passenger planes, protected by an invulnerable forcefield. To make things worse, nobody except one square-jawed scientist knows about it, and nobody will believe him.
Like other films on this list, The Giant Claw was to have Ray Harryhausen construct its avian monstrosity. When that proved impossible, the production opted for a bizarre yet strangely unnerving vulture marionette that lends the whole film a surprisingly Terry Gilliam-esque vibe.
Sunday April 17th
The Mole People
Time: 1 pm
With the exception of Legendary Pictures’ “Monsterverse” movies, the Hollow Earth is a conspiracy theory that rarely gets much play, frequently overshadowed by its more prestigious “Flat Earth” cousin.
But long before Godzilla, King Kong and the rest crawled out of their holes, The Mole People gave us this film about an expedition searching for a lost tribe of Sumerians, eventually coming across a race of mole people and the albino humanoids who enslaved them.
The mole people themselves are literally bug-eyed monsters that look like they could have featured in one of the better vintage Doctor Who episodes.
20 Million Miles To Earth
In Washington, they’re pretty much bored of alien invasions.
“What’s that?” they say, “A mysterious saucer shape hovering over one of our major landmarks? Yawn. Must be Thursday.”
The same is true of New York, which alien invasions are advised to stay away from just because of the massive orbital traffic jams.
So it’s gratifying to see an alien menace lay waste to the city of Rome for a change.
In 20 Million Miles To Earth, a US Rocketship veers off course on its way home from Venus (which is 38 million miles away at its closest, incidentally) and crashes into the sea of Sicily. From the crash comes an astronaut, who has to team up with a zoologist and his beautiful granddaughter (if scientists don’t have square jaws, they need beautiful granddaughters) to defeat an incredible looking Ray Harryhausen creation.
Once again, Harryhausen is absolutely smashing it in the special effects department, with a creature that’s part swamp thing, part Jurassic Park, and its rampage across Italy is a joy to behold.
The Deadly Mantis
Well, this film isn’t about a friendly mantis, we can tell you that much.
Once again we are looking at some vintage giant bug action with a self-explanatory title. This time the havoc is caused by volcanic eruptions shifting the Earth’s ice caps and waking up a giant praying mantis from its long nap.
The mantis then makes a beeline (or, y’know, mantis-line) for Washington DC, resulting in some classic famous-landmarks-being-eaten-by-a-giant-insect action.
But the Mantis itself is probably the most ambitious monster on this list, simulated not with stop-motion animation or puppetry, but with a 200-foot long hydraulic papier-maché model with a 156-foot wide wingspan, intercut with scenes of a real praying mantis running amok on a scale model of US capital.
The Blob (1958)
Look, honestly, is this the greatest movie premise of all time? Someone saw a market saturated with giant spiders, giant praying mantises, giant octopuses (octopi? Octopodes?) and thought “What can we possibly add to this market?”
The answer is pure simplicity. There’s a blob, it gets bigger. As it gets bigger it wrecks everything. How can you stop it? You can’t. It’s just a blob. It’s a premise that moves quickly from surreal to genuinely terrifying, and possibly the purest distillation of the “Monster Movie” that you could ask for.
See these films and more on Horror Channel at channel numbers Sky 317 Virgin 149 Freeview 69 and Freesat 138.