Critics are always saying that horror movies are about fearing vaginas, but they're wrong. Sure there's vadge imagery aplenty in horror (just watch the run of Alien movies if you don't believe me), but the scariest science horror flicks of the last thirty years are actually about everything that can go wrong with a dude. I'm not just talking about the malfunctioning penis that blows up Tokyo in Legend of the Overfiend. I'm talking about something deeper. And yes, maybe even . . . harder.
For my money, two of the scariest science horror flicks out there are David Cronenberg's 1980s version of The Fly, and Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. What stands out about them, aside from the fact that they are eat-your-arm scary, is that they are both sustained, visually-arresting movies about men going apeshit because they are men.
The Fly is a simple tale of a guy who has invented a teleportation pod that has a bug in it — literally. One day when our mad scientist Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is zooming between pods a fly gets stuck in there with him and the computer decides the best way to deal with the situation is to merge the two creatures genetically and create BrundleFly.
The film's special effects sometimes look strange and jerky to our CGI-trained senses, but Cronenberg manages to use a puppet-and-prosthetics infrastructure to his advantage by sticking to visuals that look as real as possible. When our mad scientist Jeff Brundle merges genetically with a fly and starts to transform, we are truly grossed out by his mulchy face and sudden need to eat sugary food by barfing on it first and then slurping it up fly-style.
Brundle is a stereotypical male science geek, totally obsessed with his machines and teleportation experiments to the point of caring about little else (though he does take some time out to get with Geena Davis — who wouldn't?) He's your basic guy nerd who doesn't give a crap about his body or meatspace. It's all about the machines. Brundle's rapid physical deterioration into half-fly, half-man is as pathetic as it is terrifying: He makes us gag and we feel sorry for him, so when he goes lethal, we sort of understand why. His gooey revenge is exactly what the Star Wars Kid has in mind for us.
28 Days Later draws its frenetic horror from another stereotypical idea about what dudes are like when given the chance. A virus turns most of the population of England into bloodthirsty, mindless superzombies, and one of the only holdouts against the diseased hordes is a military squadron holed up in a fortified mansion in the country. Our heroes, who have also managed to survive and escape London, join the military dudes for safety.
But then they discover the truly scary shit. These military guys, led by Christopher Eccleston at his most eye-buggingly Naziesque, have been trying to lure women into their little lair so that they can imprison them, rape them, and "restart the human race." Unfortunately, two of our heroes are female and now they're trapped between zombieland and a dark, dudely place.
This is a gory movie, but its horror doesn't come from looking at decaying bodies like it does in The Fly. Instead, it's scary because we're watching a decaying society. In Boyle's vision of the apocalypse, a bunch of guys with guns are more horrifying than any genetic disaster. He seems to suggest that men automatically revert to a state of violence and rape when provoked, and the inevitability of that transformation is what terrifies — the fact that these men seem so blind to the fact that they've become monsters.
And yet one of the heroes of 28 Days, Jim, is a guy who refuses to join Eccleston and his rape gang. He has no interest in possessing his female companions, and his blood-soaked rescue of the women takes up the latter half of the film. I think seeing the evil military guys through the eyes of another man who doesn't want to be like them makes this movie even more of a nail-biter. It would be easy for Jim to join up, to stay safe in the house protected by their guns, and to have a little gang rape for fun on the side. But he fights tooth and nail (literally) to stop that from happening.
In fighting the monstrous men, of course, Jim has to become a little bit like them. Those fight scenes are some of the most chair-grippingly intense I have ever seen. Scary, gory, shocking.
That's true horror, people. And never a vadge in sight.