Here at Latent Images, we are passionate about leading student discussions on film and media. As part of a new ongoing series, each month we will be highlighting a different selection of favorites from our team of staff writers and contributors. Monthly selections will alternate, varying on different kinds of topics — from actors, to film scores, to noteworthy moments — giving students the space to discuss, recommend, and praise as they please.
This month, we’re looking at the realm of sci-fi horror and all the scares and delights the genre brings. From cult classics to contemporary disaster movies, here are four films that are stuck in the minds of our staff writers.
Shin Godzilla, 2016, dir. Hideaki Anno, Japan
Not since the original 1954 Gojira has the king of the monsters been this terrifying, this destructive. He’d gone through what happens to many popular villain characters—they go soft and become the reluctant anti-hero instead. What Toho did in Shin is remarkable—they rebooted back to Godzilla’s roots with a familiar story, but completely reinvent the character through a modern lens. Godzilla was originally a symbol of the nuclear bombings, but in Shin he represents not only the transformative 21st century natural disasters Japan had experienced, but also the way in which the United States and the West have heavily influenced post-war Japanese culture. It’s striking to have such a politically charged film within the kaiju genre which had just birthed Gareth Edwards’ good but uninspired American Godzilla. Shin Godzilla contains some of the best human characters of any kaiju flick as well as a great amount of Godzilla action—much of which contains a new, transformative body-horror element. What else would you expect from the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion? – Charlie Compton
Tremors, 1990, dir. Ron Underwood, USA
Crawling up through the dirt from deep below the earth slither gigantic prehistoric worms that prey on the nearly uninhabited town of Perfection, Nevada. Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward), the two handymen of the town, desperately want to leave for a bigger and better life. The Graboids, so aptly named by the town’s store clerk, intercept their chance to leave, forcing Val and Earl to stay and protect Perfection from certain destruction. A perfect mixture of horror, comedy, and science fiction; Tremors lends for some great kills akin to Spielberg’s Jaws. What really makes the film is the sound design. The monsters base their movement on vibrations made through the ground. Every noise made by the townsfolk is so sharp that it becomes even more visually impressive than the image itself. The setting is so dry that the heat of the desert permeates through the screen. Val and Earl create an onscreen presence that keeps the film from ever slowing down. Tremors makes for a great late-night watch full of magnificent filmmaking, fantastic special effects, chilling scares, and Bacon and Ward’s charisma. – Aidan Collins
Crash, 1996, dir. David Cronenberg, Canada
A genuinely horrific work of science fiction brings me into a new world with strange rules and bounds that still feels eerily familiar. David Cronenberg described the logic of Crash as a “psychology of the future.” This psychosexual drive brings the characters, and their audience, closer and closer to reluctantly desired danger. Evolving further than J.G. Ballard’s transgressive text of the same name, the film visualizes the nuanced pornographic material in a way not meant to arouse. You must watch the sexual behavior to gain insight into the character’s minds. Sex becomes a destructive language that melds with the violent language of the automobile accident. Flesh, steel, blood, and glass are all indivisible. Each sequence is a cinematic triumph driving you through a twisted future, penetrating you with fear, and holding you close: knowing exactly what you wish you didn’t desire. Without morals, you must sit in lust and horror forced to reconcile with the actions of the characters that have fused with you. – Sammy Dallas
Crash is currently not streaming anywhere. You can buy a new restoration on Blu-ray or DVD through The Criterion Collection.
The Mist, 2007, dir. Frank Darabont, United States
It’s not the unknown that is most dangerous, but the fear of the unknown that kills us. An adaptation of the Stephen King novella of the same name, The Mist is emotionally destructing, apocalyptic, hopeless film. The CGI cryptids are admittedly laughable, but the cryptic silence before they pounce on the thin grocery store glass is not. There is something terrifyingly biblical about this otherworldly, unexplainable destruction. There is lack of clarity in every direction, quite literally and metaphorically, but still there is the astronomical hope that if we just try, maybe we will make it out. Or maybe we will destroy each other, instead. – Karenna Umscheid
Phase IV, 1974, dir. Saul Bass, USA
The only feature directed by renowned graphic designer Saul Bass (known for designing title sequences for many Hitchcock films among other things), Phase IV is a hallucinatory and hypnotic piece of 70s sci-fi horror. Bass’s talents for design and composition are applied to a slow-moving methodical fever dream of a film, full of psychedelic and surreal imagery, some incredible close-up insect photography shot by Ken Middleham, and the looming threat of ants taking over the world. One of the most impressive things Phase IV achieves is making the threat of ants genuinely terrifying. The movie manages to take its concept seriously and successfully portrays the ants as a sinister force, able to bring on the apocalypse and destroy everything in their path. If you have any doubts that a movie about ants from the 70s can be such a hypnotic, dark, and apocalyptic experience, Phase IV should put them to rest. – Nick Gordinier