Some of the scariest aliens in movies and on TV
Let’s talk about aliens. In terms of their level of cultural diffusion, their being “over” – to use the pro wrestling terminology – they rank third behind zombies and vampires, respectively, on the list of media saturation.
I’d give them the edge over werewolves, even, because there are so many different sorts and types of aliens. With werewolves, you get the four-legged variety, that are basically just oversized wolves, then the two-legged, more human kind – the Lon Chaney Universal Wolfman kind. That’s it (there was that one depiction of hairless werewolves in the underrated and overlooked 2015 shocker Howl, which shouldn’t have worked but did, but that’s an anomaly).
With aliens, you go all the way from the North Pole to the South, ranging from the hideous xenomorphs of the Alien franchise to Mork from Ork!
For our present purposes, however, I’d like to focus on aliens that are meant to be scary. In my opinion, the more “familiar” an alien being becomes, the less frightening it becomes. For me, the creepiest depiction of aliens by far is the sort seen in shows like The X-Files.
They looked like the stereotypical “Grays” that are frequently reported in real life, yet we rarely saw one on film, and we were given no hints as to their thought processes, their motivations, or their personalities (other than that they were hostile to humans).
That secretiveness kept the mystique in place and kept them plenty spooky. Likewise, the way we see them in movies like Fire In The Sky is far more effective at eliciting shivers than the approach taken by the Independence Day films, even when the creatures themselves look so similar.
Perhaps the most unsettling depictions I can recall come from movies such as The Fourth Kind and Dark Skies, where the creatures are barely glimpsed at all. Both those films had their flaws, but each succeeded in offering effective portrayals of alien menace. This isn’t to say that such depictions are my favorites.
The Alien remains along the most frightening of the cinematic space invaders.To tick off a list of my personal loves, I’d have to rank the aforementioned Alien at the top of the list (this is a compilation of scary aliens, so sorry, E.T., but you and the various Star Wars and Star Trek species don’t qualify).
I also love the shapeshifting, grotesque creature depicted in John Carpenter’s The Thing. And while I, at least, would describe them as cute, and the movies from which they originate are just plain awful, the furry, fanged, voracious little beasts from the Critters franchise achieve an effective aesthetic.
On those occasions when strips of flesh and rivulets of congealing blood are streaming from their countless teeth. Otherwise they look like beach balls stuffed inside of porcupine skins, given golf balls for eyes.
Are their any movie or TV aliens, though, where the creatures are given a personality; something more nuanced than “Kill!” and “Eat!” – a nefarious agenda the viewer is actually aware of – and yet the aliens manage to not lose their mystique? The one example that comes immediately to mind probably has something to do with the age I was at when I first encountered them.
The original V television miniseries and its follow-up, V: The Final Battle, which led to a short-lived weekly series, were the first occasions in my young life of me becoming obsessed with a TV program.
I was a little too young to have had such a reaction to Battlestar Galactica – I suppose it, along with The Incredible Hulk or Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, and even Wonder Woman, might have qualified, except that I don’t remember starting to watch any of those. They were already a part of my life by the time my brain developed the ability to retain memories.
With the V aliens, we knew exactly what they were about. They wanted to eat us. They were as intelligent as humans. They had human personalities. They even looked human, when they were wearing their fake skins. But underneath they were reptilian, and carnivorous. They scared me. And naturally I loved them passionately.
Can you think of any movie or TV aliens that scared the living daylights out of you, that I failed to mention here?
Image credits: National Geographic, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, New Line Cinema