Science Fiction vs Horror

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Nick -Z. 12 years, 11 months ago.

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  • #40981

    Nick -Z.
    Member

    This is an opinion piece about the differences between science fiction and horror I have been wanting to write for some time and finally did so. Please feel free to discuss, agree and/or disagree with anything I say on this subject.

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    As a big science fiction fan of 40+ years, I have to admit that it irks me somewhat whenever people confuse horror with science fiction. While it is true that much science fiction has elements of horror contained within it, the difference lies within the role those elements play in the complete plot.

    If an element of horror is used simply as a device to scare the audience, and does so multiple times throughout the episode or movie, with a running sensation of fright that never completely subsides or is replaced by other elements, then the story is not sci-fi, it is horror. A perfect example of this, which many have confused with science fiction, is the movie “Alien” ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078748/ ). A few other examples are “Jason X” ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0211443/ ) and “Cube”( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0123755/ ).

    The only thing about both Alien and Jason X that made it appear to be sci-fi was the setting on space-ships in the future. Aside from the advanced technology of the “Cube”, nothing else about the movie was sci-fi. All of these movies were basically nonstop fright sensations. Nonstop fright is not science fiction, it is horror.

    The first major irk about this misunderstanding came to me in the early 90s when I visited a video rental shop and found horror movies intermixed with science fiction movies quite carelessly in the very same section, even though the shop had a section for both sci-fi and horror. I had to wonder what kind of idiots, lacking real knowledge about the difference, could be managing such a shop. Further visits to other video shops, where the same problem occurred, told me that the managers of these shops were all a bunch of spoiled brats that knew nothing about the specifics of these different genres, and only got the jobs because they had the right connections.

    Aside from this very obvious social and cultural confusion, a number of times throughout the 80s and 90s, whenever I mentioned my interest in sci-fi to people that i had just met, many of them looked at me oddly with some surprise and replied by mentioning horror movies, much to my distaste. Some mentioned Star Trek, Dr. Who, or some of the other more popular sci-fi movies, but it became very obvious that quite a lot of people confused science fiction with horror, and that really bugged me, because such misunderstandings are never a good way to begin a friendship with anyone (including girls).

    Science fiction is never a nonstop fright sensation, so movies like Alien and Cube do not qualify as such. Science fiction is about problem-solving with scientific knowledge and technology as the main means to such ends. During such problem-solving, it is important for reason and sanity to be retained. Fear cannot be so over-whelming that one loses touch with reason. That is when sci-fi borderlines with horror. If fear overwhelms reason, a sci-fi becomes a horror episode. If reason persists and fear subsides, it may continue to be sci-fi.

    Many sci-fi movies with elements of horror blur the line between the two, such that it is difficult to see any difference. Cube does so, more than Alien, because of the fascination it displays for the exploitation of advanced technology. But it crosses the line to horror by constantly scaring the characters and the audience by killing characters off, to such an extreme that one gets the idea that the Cube is nothing more than a human slaughterhouse, and for that reason, it serves no real scientific purpose at all, it only serves fear and horror.

    In true science fiction, there must be some reasonable chance of survival, by scientific means. In the movie “Cube” there is no such reason or scientific means. Simply solving a jigsaw maze isn’t really scientifc method, it’s merely a child’s guessing game, and a guessing game is not real scientific method, it’s a form of gambling. Gambling is not science. It is simple math, yes, but not science. The final word on “Cube” is that it is horror because, in balancing the elements, the sensation of fright overwhelms the “pseudo-scientific” realm that the characters are trapped within.

    I sincerely hope that, in these words, I have at least stimulated more interest in the differential between science fiction and horror, if not enlightened some as well.

    Nick Z.

    #76900

    theFrey
    Moderator

    I agree. 😀 The only horror in a Sci-fi movie or book should be the horror of what technology can/has/will do. Or perhaps the horror of where it will take us.

    But many of the best sci-fi books don’t have any horror aspect at all.

    #76919

    Anonymous

    Wow! I thought it was just me!
    What an excellent post, and one that I whole-heartedly agree with.

    #76921

    alnexi
    Member

    I wonder why is it so important to draw the strict demarcation line between the two? There is often a bit of a value judgment in our efforts to strictly categorize things (or people for that matter). This is probably one of the most idiotic things schools do to young people’s minds – how do you label it? To which little box it belongs? What you do with the stuff (or people for that matter) that purposefully refuse to be squeezed into a box? Well, I guess many of the shows featured on this site wouldn’t fit this purist definition of sci-fi. Lexx, Firefly…? Oh, I see. We need another category for those….

    #76922

    theFrey
    Moderator

    I wouldn’t stay it is a strict line, but for the most part I think that REAL sci-fi and horror are different. I cannot abide horror movies, shows or books. And it is just not the gory stuff (which I do hate) the psyco mind game horror stuff bugs me just as much.

    Can sci-fi have touches of horror in it? Sure, so can romances and westerns. But lumping sci-fi and horror together (especially in the book store) is annoying to alot of people.

    And it isn’t about pigeon-holing stuff. Lots of blends out there in books, tv and movies, Historical/romance sci-fi/fantasy horror/action spiritual/modern ect….

    #76927

    aquabloodstone
    Moderator

    Traditionally, aliens have always been a large part of what is “defined” as science fiction, and that holds true for a lot of people. The idea that another culture lives in the same relative time and space and possesses greater technology and/or natural ability to insert themselves into our simple earthling lives is part of the terrors of technology and sci-fi.

    I also detest what passes for horror movies today, even though I loved things like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th in most of their many incarnations. Something about the unreality of the villain made it palatable, but the real-life stuff gives me the heebie-jeebies.

    As many a person has conjectured on this very site, sci-fi is many different things to many different people…whatevah floats your boat baby.

    #76930

    Nick -Z.
    Member

    [quote]I wonder why is it so important to draw the strict demarcation line between the two? There is often a bit of a value judgment in our efforts to strictly categorize things (or people for that matter). This is probably one of the most idiotic things schools do to young people’s minds – how do you label it? To which little box it belongs? What you do with the stuff (or people for that matter) that purposefully refuse to be squeezed into a box? Well, I guess many of the shows featured on this site wouldn’t fit this purist definition of sci-fi. Lexx, Firefly…? Oh, I see. We need another category for those….
    [/quote]

    But there is a huge difference between sci-fi and horror, from what i see. When I mention that I like sci-fi to a girl I just met and she replies about a movie that is nothing but a running fright sensation designed to make girls bury their heads in their boyfriend’s arms in the dark under the big screen… well, I really can’t just let her continue thinking that is science fiction, because it isn’t. There IS a difference between the two, and it is annoying when the bookstores or video-shops mix the two together. Texas Chain Saw Massacre IS NOT science fiction, period!

    As for Lex and Firefly… I don’t see a problem there. Both are science fiction and simply because they contain a few elements of horror now and then, that doesn’t toss them out of the sci-fi genre.

    We’re not talking moderation, we’re talking extremes. A movie or episode that is DOMINATED by elements of horror IS HORROR, not sci-fi. Yes, there is a difference.

    #76931

    alnexi
    Member

    I agree that there is a difference but not always a big one. Nick-Z. makes a valid point when speaking about the fear, and “sensation of fright” used as the main device or tool of entertainment in certain films presented as sci-fi. I just don’t think we can take fear (or filmmakers intention to cause it), even when it dominates the plot, as something that separates sci-fi from horror.

    I still feel that the science fiction “setting” – if given enough space and significance, and if it is executed in at least somewhat meaningful if not completely “believable” way, AND if it is an integral part of the plot – is one of the main factors that qualifies a film as science fiction. In other words, I don’t thing a film loses its “right” to be called a sci-fi only because there is something that is supposed to scare viewers for most of the time.

    Film is, to a large extent, a visual art. Much more than a book, where a specific setting is subjectively interpreted, and, in most cases at least, this process of subjective visualization is far far less important to a reader than the plot and/or characters. Not so in the film. What you see is given, what you see plays an important role in the entire visual experience. There are exceptions, of course, but that’s the reason why I think “Cube” is a sci-fi. (I am not defending the movie, I loathed it exactly for the reasons Nick-Z so accurately describes.}

    I just don’t think there is – or should be – a clear line between the two genres, or that the “fear” should be used as a common denominator for the entire category (oh the hateful word) of “horror”.

    In defense of the horror genre: It is equally irksome, if not offensive for me as a person who enjoys a few vampires, one or two nice housebroken werewolves or a good old-fashioned fun like The Dawn of The Dead, that those films (with, admittedly, zero fear factor) are lumped together in the same category as movies driven by depiction of meaningless, realistic, revolting brutality which I cannot stand in any so-called genre (and from my point of view, that includes Saw, Texas Chainsaw, and nearly all Martin Scorse’s films, as well as those sadistic Japanese things I don’t want to call films at all). Considering both types of the “horror” films are sitting on the same shelves of videostores, no wonder if Nick-Z feels that the horror as a film category is deeply below sci-fi in basically any sense of the word.

    But if I decided to hate the entire “category”, how many great and fun movies I would miss? And how many great books I must have missed because some moron in a bookstore put them among “Romance” or something like that? The problem is not the moron but all that endless, and always, always arbitrary, dividing of everything into groups, subgroups, labeled shelves etc. You see, I don’t want someone somewhere to decide that “Cube” is a horror, therefore a sci-fi fan will not like it, therefore it must be removed from a sci-fi shelf and put with horrors. No. I want “Cube” under “C”.

    On a bit different note, I really like what Nick-Z said about “reasonable chance of survival”.

    [quote] In true science fiction, there must be some reasonable chance of survival, by scientific means. In the movie “Cube” there is no such reason or scientific means. Simply solving a jigsaw maze isn’t really scientifc method, it’s merely a child’s guessing game, and a guessing game is not real scientific method, it’s a form of gambling. Gambling is not science. It is simple math, yes, but not science. [/quote]

    That is quite fascinating way of looking at movies – and very eloquently put. Definitely a food for thought.

    #76939

    Nick -Z.
    Member

    Thanx for the thoughtful responses. Exactly what I was looking for. This is a subject, imo, that deserves some clarity and thought. After all, there does seem to be some confusion involved. What better way to resolve it than an intelligent discussion?

    [quote]Quote:The idea that another culture lives in the same relative time and space and possesses greater technology and/or natural ability to insert themselves into our simple earthling lives is part of the terrors of technology and sci-fi.
    [/quote]

    Well, sure, a bit of terror is basic to much sci-fi. But terror isn’t quite the same as horror. Terror can be caused by super-weapons. Horror, however, is basically a monster thing and much more personal. This fact is part of the exploitation of horror as a fright device, because there’s a greater shock-filled fright sensation involved in the “up close and personal” perspective.

    [quote]Quote: I agree that there is a difference but not always a big one. Nick-Z. makes a valid point when speaking about the fear, and “sensation of fright” used as the main device or tool of entertainment in certain films presented as sci-fi. I just don’t think we can take fear (or filmmakers intention to cause it), even when it dominates the plot, as something that separates sci-fi from horror.

    I still feel that the science fiction “setting” – if given enough space and significance, and if it is executed in at least somewhat meaningful if not completely “believable” way, AND if it is an integral part of the plot – is one of the main factors that qualifies a film as science fiction. In other words, I don’t thing a film loses its “right” to be called a sci-fi only because there is something that is supposed to scare viewers for most of the time.
    [/quote]

    Well, that’s more or less what I’m getting at; the extent of the difference. In quite a lot of sci-fi movies, there are elements of horror and fright but not to such an extreme extent that it can be disqualified as science fiction. But on the other hand, imo, if horror and fright completely dominate the movie, as in Alien, Cube, or Jason X, I really don’t agree that the setting alone can qualify it as sci-fi. But this is simply my opinion, these are the blurry lines we don’t all agree upon.

    When Alien was first sold to the public, it was sold as a sci-fi thriller and the word “horror” wasn’t even mentioned. After seeing it, I was extremely disappointed. Sure it was a sci-fi thriller, but it was more of a sci-fi horror flic than a simple thriller. The word “thriller” is used too loosely by the marketeers. A thriller can be anything from a James Bond action film to a perverse display of human entrails and a puddle of puke, it seems, as far as they are concerned.

    But the point about horror that I’m really trying to make is based within its actual Hollywood roots. Horror movies were an exploitation of the monsters of myth (Frankenstein, Dracula, vampires, zombies, etc…) when they were originally made popular sensations. I use the word “exploitation” because that is exactly what the producers of horror movies do. They “exploit” the monster element beyond any realistic or scientific base, for sales and profits.

    The simple fact is, horror movies were poplularized by young teenagers looking for excuses to hold each other in the dark of theaters or their cars. I’m not making this up, it’s the truth. Young teenage boys didn’t take their girls to the theaters or drive-ins to see sci-fi “thrillers” or monster flics for the interesting plots or the science fiction. They took them to scare them into their arms, and that was the effect. Once in their arms, the “making out” activities came much easier. I kid you not.

    Producers of traditional horror movies trashed science fiction when they decided to exploit the “alien” and “mutation” factors in sci-fi for the same profit-motivated reasons. Think about it for a second. Why should I waste my money and time on something designed specifically for insecure teenagers hoping to get into each other’s arms if I am looking for a good science fiction story?

    Now, see the problem I have with this is the numbers of young people who grew up with the idea that science fiction was all about monsters scaring young girls into the arms of their guys and nothing else. There is quite a lot of vanity and ignorance involved there. The movie producers gave them what they wanted and they got to make out with their girls. Why? Because there was a lot of profit in it, not because it was good science fiction.

    Fast forward to the 80s and suddenly, not only do we have young people that confuse science fiction with bad horror-for-exploitation movies, we also have some pretty spoiled Hollywood brat directors and producers doing the same thing. So, what do they do? Instead of making better science fiction, they make better horror (more realistic), and put it in a sci-fi setting so they can call it science fiction.

    See what I’m getting at? Their main problem is, they’re still just into exploitation of horror for profit, and in my honest opinion, if that is the case, then they are not producing good science fiction, they are producing high-budget horror. If that is the case, then the least they can do is give us a better warning when they sell it, by including the word “horror” instead of simply “thriller”. Examples: Alien and Jason X sold as sci-fi “thrillers” without any mention of horror. Likewise with Cube.

    My final word is, I’m not trying to draw any definite lines for everyone to go by, I’m simply stating my personal opinion on the subject and saying what i know. It bothers me how some people exploit art (and science) for profit and mislead the masses along the same ignorant path. I learned some time ago that, just because something is “popular” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for the body or the mind. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

    Suggestion: Maybe a clearer line should be drawn between a sci-fi thriller and a sci-fi horror? I dunno, not a big deal, just an idea.

    Sorry for the long post. One of my fav subjects, i guess.

    #76984

    alnexi
    Member

    [quote]…to scare them into their arms….[/quote]
    Lovely. I like idea – that the entire industry was created so that girls can pretend to be scared and give boys an opportunity to engage in whatever it is teenagers do in the dark. And to think I’ve never even been to a drive-in! What a deprived life I have been leading.

    [quote] Suggestion: Maybe a clearer line should be drawn between a sci-fi thriller and a sci-fi horror? I dunno, not a big deal, just an idea.[/quote]

    I totally agree. I think we can also make a distinction between more or less intelligent framework of a “real” sci-fi movie script and instances when “science” (or whatever the witless little brains of Hollywood industry people consider to be “science”) is only a token premise of yet another idiotic, collective-brainstorming-and-endless-compromise-made junk. Usually: a scientific experiment went bad. Man, they really think all science fiction fans are mindless infantile creatures … Sorry about the rant – I just saw “Doom”, a total waste of practically everything. I wish the filmmakers gave those money to the nearest animal shelter instead.

    [quote]It bothers me how some people exploit art (and science) for profit and mislead the masses along the same ignorant path. I learned some time ago that, just because something is “popular” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for the body or the mind. Of course, that’s just my opinion.[/quote]

    No argument here. However, it would be useless to protest against the image of their “audience” the movie industry apparently operates with. Their collective wisdom is obviously based on the old publishing truism – the intelligent audience constitutes a commercially negligent fraction of the entire market. (I am not sure they aren’t entirely wrong.) What scares me (and not only in the movie industry) that there seems to be less and less of an alternative, some sort of a side stream that would offer something exciting and time-worthy to those of us who aren’t buying all this pre-fabricated, overblown and completely thoughtless c**p. It’s like – there is almost nothing else to watch nowadays. And I think that’s what really irks Nick-Z. Dear movie people, give us – once in a while – something smart, and different, and challenging, and surprising. Something not based on a computer game or a theme-park ride. Something we can watch without feeling like idiots. Isn’t science fiction supposed to free the writers from the laws of the reality, open the door for boundless imagination? Looking at the shelves of video stores and the pathetic offer of the U.S. sci-fi channel, it looks like all those endless possibilities of plots and characters, despite all the technical capabilities and CGI effect, remain unexplored.

    #77016

    Nick -Z.
    Member

    [quote]What scares me (and not only in the movie industry) that there seems to be less and less of an alternative, some sort of a side stream that would offer something exciting and time-worthy to those of us who aren’t buying all this pre-fabricated, overblown and completely thoughtless c**p. It’s like – there is almost nothing else to watch nowadays. And I think that’s what really irks Nick-Z. Dear movie people, give us – once in a while – something smart, and different, and challenging, and surprising. Something not based on a computer game or a theme-park ride. Something we can watch without feeling like idiots.
    [/quote]

    Exactly! This is why it is so wrong to base the entertainment industry upon profit-motivation and popularity alone. Just because a movie or series is not popular does not necessarily mean it is not good. It merely means that a majority of spoiled-brats weaned on violence, special effects, and other sensationalism devices doesn’t want to take some time out to think, see, and imagine a little more than they are comfortable with.

    Take the movie “Hanger 18” ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080836/ ), for example. This is an example of a good science fiction movie that would have been more popular had it been in the theaters a decade earlier. When it went out in the early 80s, people were being all psyched out by the evolution of special effects in science fiction (think Star Wars or Alien). Because the special effects in Hanger 18 were nothing extraordinary (the story was the thing), it was mostly ignored by the majority of viewers, despite the fact that it really was excellent science fiction, in the strictly hard science department.

    The point is, special effects may help to make many movies and series more realistic, but just because there aren’t lots of explosions and blood and guts, that does not mean a movie or series isn’t good. It is also true that lots of cool special effects alone do not necessarily make a good movie or series. But even though this is the case, it is not clear that the majority actually sees it that way, as is evident when a movie or series without high budget special effects does poorly in the ratings, despite a good plot or storyline, and a movie or series with high budget special effects does well in the ratings, despite a poor plot or storyline.

    [quote]Isn’t science fiction supposed to free the writers from the laws of the reality, open the door for boundless imagination? Looking at the shelves of video stores and the pathetic offer of the U.S. sci-fi channel, it looks like all those endless possibilities of plots and characters, despite all the technical capabilities and CGI effect, remain unexplored.
    [/quote]

    Quite right, there is too much garbage clogging the industry. As for those rare examples of good science fiction movies that contain moderate elements of horror and/or terror without losing touch with the sci-fi theme, plot, and storyline, I just picked up “[b]Dark City[/b]” ( [url]http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118929/ [/url] ) on DVD and it fits the package perfectly.

    #77025

    mandara k
    Participant

    [quote]I just picked up “Dark City”[/quote]

    Great choice Nick Z; like that flick a lot! I also enjoyed the movie Brazil greatly.

    I don’t know; what scares me more than the gore of horror films and the lack of oirginal sci-fi is the remake factor. Why do something that has been done well before?

    There are so many ideas for new sci-fi floating around in books and no one makes those. I, too am tired of the teenage date scare movies; I want to see something that is different. I don’t mind if the movie spawns a gaming following; I don’t want it to come from a game.

    And um, drive-ins are long gone but they were fun…. 😀 You get a big car, shove as many kids into the parent’s boat as possible and pay one fee, clip the mike on the visor and bring your own snacks and well voila’ entertainment.

    That’s probably why drive ins went out of style.

    I’m beginning to feel sorry for you alnexi, you should take a girl to a horror flick and try it out. 😉

    Me? my beau and I snuck up to the balcony for that! And it wasn’t horror, well I guess it would depend…. it was the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ.” He was a very avant garde kinda guy. 🙄

    #77045

    Nick -Z.
    Member

    [quote]I also enjoyed the movie Brazil greatly.

    I don’t know; what scares me more than the gore of horror films and the lack of oirginal sci-fi is the remake factor. Why do something that has been done well before? [/quote]

    Yes, Brazil was quite enjoyable. Great dark satire mixed with a sci-fi/fantasy alternative 1984-like realm. I dunno that there was much horror in it (the torture scene was more satire than horror), but it was a good contemporary sci-fi fantasy, the kind I’d like to see more of.

    As for the remakes, I agree. I think remakes are a waste of time and money. Apparently, however, this gets to the root of the problem. Profits are put before aesthetic or original entertainment value. My best guess on this is that remakes are like famous popular actors; they represent guaranteed sales.

    New and original projects are often considered too risky and unpredictable as sales profits go. A majority of dumbed-down couch potatoes have a tendency to waste their time and money on remakes out of curiosity and the fact that the originals were popular enough to be quite profitable. They figure that if the original was so popular then the remake would have to be at least as good if not better due to technological upgrades.

    I wouldn’t waste time on remakes unless I thought there was a powerful message that the new generations needed to appreciate. But then again, that message can be passed on in original works, so it’s not the only way to go about it.

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