Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
Many horror movies have science fiction underpinnings or, to put the same thought the other way around, many science fiction movies have underpinnings of horror, as the tagline for the movie Alien, for example, clearly indicates: “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
However, this uneasy alliance between the two genres notwithstanding, Vivian Sobchack has devised an interesting, perhaps useful division of the menaces which appear in science fiction movies (creatures and human monsters) and horror films (monsters). However, in judging her distinctions according to the science fiction creatures and human monsters and the monsters of horror that appear in a variety of literary media, including novels, short stories, films, comic books, and video games, it soon becomes apparent that there is a good deal of overlap between Sobchack’s neat, twofold dichotomy and that things that go bump in the night are not as simple as her classification suggests. Perhaps her insights are useful to both science fiction and horror writers not because of the alleged differences between these genres’ respective menaces but because they suggest different ways by which creatures and monsters, human or otherwise, may be employed in fiction and the various existential, moral, and natural threats and, indeed, cautionary warnings, that such entities may represent.
The following charts are based upon her classification scheme and the words and phrases in its columns are taken directly, word for word, from chapter 9 (“The Narrative Principles of Genres”) of Peter Verstraten’s Film Narratology (translated by Stefan van der Lec), page 180.
Sobchack, Vivian. Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998.
Verstraten, Peter. Film Narratology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009. Print.