As part of my author guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot. Richard Writhen the author of The Hiss Of The Blade, A Host of Ills, and A Kicked Cur I am very excited and
Are OUT NOW!
So go grab your copies!
On The Grim And The Dark In Science Fiction Film
By Richard Writhen
Warning: Spoilers ahead for many classic science fiction films if you have not seen some of them!
A seemingly better time for overall artistic craftsmanship, the seventies and eighties brought us many classic works of science fiction film to the darker and grittier end of the spectrum. In fact, one of the first science fiction films that I ever saw was The Empire Strikes Back (1980); it was at our local drive-in when it came out for its original run; I had only seen the first film on videodisc. An unusual film even for the time, it was many times darker and moodier than its predecessor, featuring deaths, a freezing, a mutilation and even a nightmare sequence as it slowly and deliberately continued to build the foundation of canon for the Star Wars universe. But the party had started almost a decade earlier with the film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (1971) directed by Stanley Kubrick; though a much different animal than its source material, it still manages to convey its dystopian narrative cautioning society against its obsessions with sex and violence; how they can grip and alter the subconscious mind of entire societies at a time, and not just isolated individuals. Post-apocalyptic films were also huge in the eighties, possibly due to the slow but sure death of the “cold war” between the US and the USSR. I also saw Defcon 4 (1985) on videodisc, the story of astronauts who come back to Earth only to find that World War III has ravaged the planet’s landscape and a desert of debris is all that remains.
A standout that was produced for television, V: The Original Miniseries (1983), its sequel and its brief television run thrilled me with a dark tale of lizard-like extraterrestrials that arrived from the depths of space to deceive humanity into a false friendship. All-in-all though, the eighties was a very confusing time for the subject of aliens in SF television and film; there was the madness that was Alien (1979), in which lighting and shadow are used to great effect, along with one of the most notoriously horrifying scenes in film history in which its “chest-burster” alien creature made its bloody debut. Then, just a few years later, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) arrived in theatres claiming that a visitor from outer space could very well be totally friendly, and just want to give children candy. Yet by the time the early nineties were here the whole motif had come full-circle back to the callous, conquering interstellar killers found in such films as Independence Day (1996). Enemy Mine (1985) and Alien Nation (1988) continued to present the gray miasma which could most certainly arise if humanity is ever confronted by or forced to coexist with aliens whose intelligence closely rivals or exceeds our own. And one of the most classic cult films of the era, They Live (1988) made people want to kick ass and chew bubble gum … at least, until they ran out of bubble gum, that is. Then, nearing the decade’s very end, there was a run on the undersea niche of SF film which detailed the hazards of chasing krakens, no matter what level of nifty technology that you possessed: Deep Star Six (1989), Leviathan (1989), James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989) all came out in that same year.
Just judging by David Lynch’s compelling film adaptation of Dune (1984) the far future may not be such a nice place, regardless of the inclusion of the musician Sting hamming it up as a baddie; those who offended the brutal House Harkonnen were summarily executed, often using installed “heart-plugs” which cause immediate desanguination when pulled out. Another one of my favorites is Blade Runner (1982), again directed by Ridley Scott. Based on a brilliant (seriously, read it) novella by Philip K. Dick, it presents a sparse future world plagued by pollution where living things in general are endangered, not just any species. A huge corporation is making synthetic humans called “replicants” who have decided that they no longer want to be enslaved to the wants of organic humans and thus rebel and kill and jump onboard ships that take them to other planets, where they then have to be hunted down, which is very problematic at best. A closely related piece about the incredible dangers introduced with robotics, The Terminator (1984) made quite a stir when it came out in the eighties, its fever-dream of humanity hunted down and forced to organize into a resistance against Skynet’s robotic overlords. From the same era came Robocop (1987), the story of a mangled police officer who becomes superhuman through the use of cybernetics and turns the tide against the twisted criminal underbelly of his city. It starred cinematic superstar Arnold Shwartzenegger, who was actually the lead player in a lot of dark, violent SF films of the era: Predator (1987), The Running Man (1987), and Total Recall (1990) were all well worth seeing, and not just for his snarky one-liners.
The nineties were also pretty epic for the genre overall. The Puppet Masters (1994), based on the novel by Robert Heinlein and starring Donald Sutherland, presents aliens which are physiologically as different from humanity as is conceivably possible; yet they manage to nefariously control people’s minds to achieve their own ends. Sleeper hit Twelve Monkeys (1995) presented a doomsday scenario via deadly virus, much akin to Stephen King’s The Stand or the Resident Evil series, but the moody hodge-podge plot is augmented by time travel and a great performance by Brad Pitt as the mentally-challenged leader of the conspiracy that is responsible. Nearing the turn of the millennium, I must have gone to see Dark City (1997) at a discount cinema in East Providence at least four times when it came out; I was captivated by its tale of humans trapped in a world wholly controlled by aliens who can “tune,” or mold reality with their mental energies alone. Another one of my very favorite films of that era is Event Horizon (1997) by Paul W.S. Anderson, which combines elements of gore and viscera much like those in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) with the “found ship” motif also found in works such as Ghost Ship (2002). So in summation, if grimdark science fiction does eventually become a thing, having extrapolated on more than one occasion online the opinion that it will, it certainly has had its share of precursors on the silver screen.
Originally from Rhode Island, Richard Writhen also lived in NYC for about ten years. He has been e-published on several notable sites such as Grimdarkmagazine.com, Ragnarokpub.com and Techzwn.com and is the author of three novellas and several short stories. He writes Gothdark, Grimdark, GDSF and Psychological Horror, and will eventually be exploring the Weird West.
Two petty mercenaries are falsely accused of switching sides in a feud between two rich and powerful magnates; an ex-miner on the run from a murder charge becomes a reaver and embroiled in a romance; an industrial lieutenant is recruited to help capture a serial killer and an entire city is in danger of being ensorcelled by an ancient monk.