In space, no-one can hear you scream. One of the best movie taglines ever conceived, this powerful statement adorned the lobby posters of Ridley Scott's Alien, perhaps the most terrifying horror/sci-fi crossover ever to grace a movie theatre.

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And while it's a simple observation on basic physics, it's also a succinct summary of the fear and claustrophobia available to horror filmmakers tackling a story set beyond Earth orbit.

Some of the best films ever made have been set in space. Just take a look at our list of the best space and sci-fi movies and you'll see what we mean.

Similarly, some of the best horror movies have been set in space.

Event Horizon, 1997. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)
Event Horizon (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)

And yet, for every Alien or Event Horizon, there is a Jason X or Leprechaun 4.

In other words, for every genuinely terrifying, well-crafted piece of cinematic terror that utilises the opportunities afforded a film set among the stars, there is a horror franchise running out of steam that decides the old 'set in space' trope is a good way of igniting a bit of energy into a worn-out formula.

That's not to say that we at BBC Sky at Night Magazine aren't fans of Hellraiser Bloodline or the aforementioned celestial instalments in the Friday the 13th and Leprechaun franchises: far from it.

As every horror fan knows, there's a time for considered, artistic, theatrical terror, and a time for a cheesy schlock fest. And if either happens to be set in space, all the better.

Here, then, in no particular order, is our pick of the most entertaining - and perhaps the best - horror movies set in space, and a few links as to where they can be bought or watched online.

12 horror films set in space

Event Horizon

'Where we're going we don't need eyes to see'. Laurence Fishburne stares hell right in the eye in Event Horizon. Photo by Paramount/Getty Images
'Where we're going we don't need eyes to see'. Laurence Fishburne stares hell right in the eye in Event Horizon. Photo by Paramount/Getty Images

A flop at the box office upon its theatrical release in August 1997, Event Horizon would eventually find an audience on home video, becoming revered as one of the most effective sci-fi horrors in recent memory.

In the not too distant future, a space rescue crew is tasked with responding to a distress signal coming from the Event Horizon, a ship that can travel faster than light by bending spacetime, and which mysteriously vanished during its maiden voyage.

Once the ship is recovered, an accident forces the crew to abandon their own vessel and board the Event Horizon, where they discover the aftermath of what appears to be a massacre of the original crew.

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As they piece together the clues and discover video recordings captured during the first voyage, the rescue team realise that, wherever the ship has been, it has brought back with it some unknown force from the depths of hell.

Clearly influenced by the works of H.R. Giger (Alien) and Clive Barker (Hellraiser), Event Horizon is gory and violent, but is also an atmospheric, creepy and unsettling horror film. In much the same way as 1990's Flatliners or Stephen King's IT, the film becomes very much a 'horrific-past-events-come-back-to-haunt-the-characters' setup, and once the proverbial excrement hits the fan, it's is an increasingly steep downward spiral into untethered mayhem.

Fantastic performances from the whole cast, including Lawrence Fishburne, Joely Richardson and Sam Neil, make this one of the best horror releases of the 1990s.

Planet of the Vampires

Mario Bava Planet of the Vampires
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

Aside from Dario Argento, Mario Bava is probably the name that comes to the mind of most English-speaking horror fans when they think of the golden age of Italian horror.

Bava's influence on cinema cannot be underestimated. So many of his films are credited with planting the seeds for some great horror titles, from Hatchet For The Honeymoon's influence on American Psycho to the undeniable aesthetic similarities (to put it mildly) between Bay Of Blood and the original Friday the 13th.

That's not to say Bava wasn't a success in his own right. He is one of the masters of horror and suspense, at any given time and in any given region of the world. Nevertheless his largely underrated Planet Of The Vampires is mostly known as a precursor to Ridley Scott's Alien.

The crew of two futuristic spaceships receive a distress signal coming from another planet and decide to investigate (sound familiar?). One of the ship's crew become seemingly possessed by an unknown entity and kill each other during landing. It's up to the surviving crew to solve the mystery and fix their own ship so they can get the heck out of dodge.

Along the way they discover the oversized skeletal remains of a previous crew that landed on the planet long ago (again, much like in Alien), and must fend off the possessed, reanimated corpses of their fellow crewmembers.

Planet of the Vampires really displays Bava's keen eye for colour, and the film has an ethereal feel as a result of its murky, misty setting. While certainly not the scariest film you'll ever see, this Bava classic is undoubtedly a forerunner for many of our favourite sci-fi/horror crossovers.

Lifeforce

tobe hooper lifeforce

Much of the action in 1985's Lifeforce takes place on planet Earth, but it nevertheless made our list as a result of the creepiness of scenes depicting the inside of the Churchill spacecraft at the beginning of the film.

This is another space horror film with all the right credentials. It was directed by Tobe Hooper of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame, who was fresh off the set of his other big horror hit Poltergeist. The screenplay was written by Dan O'Bannon, who also wrote Alien and Return Of The Living Dead.

And while it perhaps doesn't display the same craft and ingenuity of Hooper's two other aforementioned films, Lifeforce is certainly worth seeking out.

Once again, a lost space crew is the hook that allows the plot to spring into action, but unlike Alien and Event Horizon, this time the audience is shown - partly, at least - what caused the mysterious disappearance. The crew of Space Shuttle Churchill find a strange spacecraft hidden within the coma of Halley's Comet, and when they investigate, they discover horrific bat creatures and a trio of humanoid beings locked in suspended animation. They attempt to return to Earth, but ground control loses contact.

A rescue team arrives and brings the suspended bodies back to Earth, and this is when the action really begins. A creepy space-based horror suddenly becomes an Earthbound story about life-sucking, shapeshifting vampires who are slowly infecting the populace.

Jason X

jason x movie poster

After Jason had conquered Camp Crystal Lake, Manhattan (see Friday the 13th Part VIII) and even death itself (see Jason Goes To Hell), where else was the hockey mask-wearing killer to swing his machete? Space, of course.

Jason Voorheese first graced our screens as the young son of Pamela Voorheese. In the original Friday the 13th, Mrs Voorheese enacts revenge for the drowning of her boy by slaughtering the local camp counsellors in numerous inventive ways. Subsequent films saw Jason grow up, take the lead, acquire his infamous hockey mask and become the iconic horror villain we know today.

In Jason X, actor Kane Hodder returns to play the eponymous killer, who is cryogenically frozen and taken onto a spacecraft in the year 2455. Naturally, Jason thaws out, breaks free and goes on a predictably violent rampage, chopping down anyone who happens to cross his path.

Jason X may not be the best in the Friday franchise by any stretch (my personal favourites being Part I and Part VI), but it's a Friday the 13th film. Set in space. What more could you possibly want?!

Apollo 18

apollo 18 movie

The Apollo programme to put human beings on the Moon ended the moment Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan lifted his foot from the lunar surface and climbed into the Lunar Module for the return journey to Earth.

Right?

This found footage horror movie imagines that there was in fact an Apollo 18 mission that landed on the Moon, but which never made it back to Earth. The entire mission has remained a closely-guarded secret, until now...

Found footage at its best is claustrophobic, the viewer forced to watch the action unfold from a single, narrow point-of-view perspective, but combine this with the claustrophobia felt by an astronaut trapped in a spacesuit on the Moon, and that feeling is tripled.

This relatively recent film has a great premise, and the idea to shoot it as found footage is commendable. It's certainly creepy, and has some real goosebump-inducing moments, particularly as the astronauts begin to discover the remnants of a previous mission-gone-wrong (there's that trope again).

And although Apollo 18 perhaps doesn’t follow through in terms of creating a memorable horror movie that will last through the ages like others on our list, it’s certainly worth a watch.

It! The Terror From Beyond Space

No, we're not talking about Stephen King's sewer-dwelling clown of the same name. In It! The Terror From Beyond Space, a team of astronauts is assembled to make humanity's second ever journey to Mars, in a bid to discover what happened to the crew of the first mission.

There they discover that the previous crew has been picked off by a terrifying humanoid creature that has seemingly boarded their own ship and is now continuing its rampage.

It! Terror From Beyond Space is an absolute classic of the genre, and one that still holds up today as an effective space-based thriller.

Films from this era will always struggle to terrify contemporary audiences, so if you haven't seen this one before, don't think of it as a film that will make you hide behind the sofa. Consider it more a foundation upon which some of the best horror and sci-fi movies were based, Alien of course being a prime example.

Life

Buy now from Amazon, eBay, HMV

Life is a big-budget, contemporary horror sci-fi film about a crew on the International Space Station who find themselves analysing Martian soil that potentially contains evidence of extra-terrestrial life.

What they discover, however, is a a multi-celled organism that quickly breaks loose and begins devouring anyone it comes across, growing in size as it does so. The crew find themselves faced with the tough decision as to whether to save their own skin, or prevent it from reaching Earth at all costs.

Life is yet another film with thematic connections to Ridley Scott's Alien. However, having been released in 2017, in this case it's a film heavily influenced by Alien, rather than itself having been an influence. It may be the film with the most illustrious cast on our list, starring big names like Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds.

Similarities to Alien are fairly easy to spot: the scientific intrigue caused by the discovery of alien life and the subsequent terror that unfolds as it becomes clear the life in question is incredibly hostile. Also, the fact that the alien intruder starts off small, then grows and grows as the film progresses, much like the xenomorph in Alien.

But where space fans are most likely to gain enjoyment from the film is in the familiarity of the International Space Station as a setting, and sequences like the terrifying spacewalk that calls to mind instances such as Luca Parmitano's hairy EVA back in 2013.

This is a polished, big budget Hollywood blockbuster, with enough scares to keep horror fans excited and enough nods to contemporary crewed spaceflight to please space fans as well.

Hellraiser Bloodline

Hellraiser Bloodline

Clive Barker's original Hellraiser is without a doubt one of the best horror films ever made. Released in 1987 at the tail-end of the first slasher boom, Hellraiser gave horror fans weary of endless summercamp slashers a much needed jolt with its chilling aesthetic and articulate, intelligent anti-hero in the form of the lead Cenobite 'Pinhead'.

Many sequels followed, and while only Hellraiser II truly holds up to the original film, this fourth instalment is certainly much better than those that came after it. Oft-cited as 'Hellraiser in space', Bloodline is really more of a prequel, revealing the origins of Pinhead and the Lament Configuration Box to a greater extent than is explored in Hellraiser II.

Nevertheless, some pretty cool scenes at the beginning and the end of the film onboard the Minos space station are just enough to shove this comfortably in the 'space-based horror' subgenre.

Dark Star

A poster for the German release of John Carpenter's 1974 science fiction film, 'Dark Star'. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)
Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

While not actually a horror film in the true sense, Dark Star should be on every horror fan's 'to watch' list due to its having being the directorial debut of John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, Escape From New York etc. etc.), and co-written by Dan O'Bannon (Alien, Return Of The Living Dead etc. etc.).

In fact, the film began life as Carpenter's student film while at university, and it really is a fascinating look at how the young director started his illustrious career.

It follows the adventures of a colonising space crew in a malfunctioning spacecraft who are becoming increasingly bored and slowly losing their mind. Oh, and there's an alien that looks remarkably like a beachball. Need I say more?

Pandorum

pandorum movie

What if you were among the last humans alive, left alone on a spaceship drifting in outer space, entirely alone?

This is premise behind Pandorum, a 2009 film starring Denis Quaid in which the remnants of the human race are packed onto a ship and sent on a long journey to reach Tanis, a supposed Earth-like exoplanet.

Awakening from hypersleep, the passengers are faced with the effects of 'pandorum', a state of hallucinatory psychosis that can affect space travellers.

Bouts of amnesia among and a series of twists make this a decent film that holds its audience's interest for the duration.

Pandorum is the sort of space horror movie that will stay with you long after watching, as it invites you to consider the future of humanity, and the loneliness of finding yourself drifting alone in space, with no way back.

Leprechaun 4: In Space

leprechaun 4 in space

The original Leprechaun movie is perhaps best known for starring an unknown Jennifer Aniston, and it's a fun horror film that, in retrospect, was something of an inevitability. Of course someone, somewhere, would make a horror film in which the antagonist is the mythical Leprechaun of Irish legend.

Numerous much weaker sequels have followed, including 'Leprechaun In The Hood' and 'Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood'. but the one that has caught our eye for obvious reasons is the fourth instalment, which is set in space and concerns a completely crazy plotline involving space princesses, mutant spider humanoids and a gigantic Leprechaun at the film's finale.

There are plenty more utterly absurd goings-on in Leprechaun 4, but really it has to be seen to be believed.

Alien

'In space no-one can hear you scream'. Alien, 1979. Credit: Sunset Boulevard / Contributor
'In space no-one can hear you scream'. Alien, 1979. Credit: Sunset Boulevard / Contributor

We've saved the best for last. It's been interesting composing this list and seeing just how many times 'Alien' seems to crop up, either as a film that has taken influence from films before it, or as having itself influenced films that have come after.

In terms of space-based horror, Alien is the film by which all other predecessors and successors seem to be judged.

Ridley Scott's chilling sci-fi adventure is a cinematic masterpiece, and one that must have absolutely astounded audiences at the time of its release. While contemporary viewers have been saturated by all manner of sequels, Alien Vs Predator films, Prometheus, comic books, video games etc., as a standalone film Alien is entirely shocking, but at the same time a beautifully crafted piece of cinema.

We all the know the story by now: a mining crew receive a distress signal and are sent to investigate. They discover an abandoned spacecraft and strange egg-like pods. When one of the pods hatches and a parasite attaches itself to a crew member's face, they bring both the injured crewman and the parasite back onto the ship.

Chaos ensues as the alien visitor hatches and escapes. As it picks off the crew one by one, it grows larger and larger, leaving the survivors wondering how they will ever make it back home alive.

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What are your favourite space-based horror films? Let us know by emailing contactus@skyatnightmagazine.com.

Authors

Iain Todd, BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Iain ToddScience journalist

Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Content Editor. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.

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