Last week I picked out five of the most iconic non-human good guys in science fiction. This week it’s the turn of the bad guys. And selecting just five has been difficult. I’m spoilt for choice. But in the end I concentrated on the word ‘iconic’ – these must be the entities that have strong visual associations, the ones that genre and non-genre fans alike would recognise instantly. The entities who’ve made their way into popular culture and have built up a mythology around themselves. So, great though they are, there was no room for Frankenstein’s Creature (too many different visualizations), the Morlocks from The Time Machine (maybe no longer so well-known), the Thing from The Thing (1982) (no definitive appearance), the Tripods from the The War of the Worlds (vehicles rather than the Martians themselves) or the monstrous plants from The Day of the Triffids (again, probably not well-known enough).
So which bad guys did make the cut? Here are the five non-humans who have wormed their way into our consciousness with all kinds of darkness and hostility to humans. And we love them for it:
- Alien – Alien and sequels
Giger’s vision of the alien seems dredged up from the darkest places of the id. A creature with multiple jaws and acid-for-blood whose only intent is to either kill or gather biological incubators for its offspring as they metamorphose from face-hugger to the phallic-shaped chest-buster. Creepy isn’t the word for it. Even thirty years after the first movie’s release, this still remains the definitive alien life form. When anyone talks about The Alien, we all know which one they mean.
- Terminators – The Terminator and sequels
Products of Cyberdyne Systems, Terminators come in many models but the best known and most iconic is Arnie’s T-101 (or T-800, depending on which Terminator movie you’re watching).Single-minded and merciless, terminators are nothing you’d want to get on the wrong side of. Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) sums it up when he tells Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), in one of my favourite movie scenes, “Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or defeat. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead“.
- HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey
Not so much “computer says no” as “computer says die”, as the HAL 9000 decides it knows better and tries to get rid of the two astronauts on the Jupiter mission, Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood). Under Kubrik’s masterly direction the unblinking red light of HAL becomes increasingly menacing, particularly in the scene where it lip-reads as Bowman and Poole discuss how to deal with it in what they think is the sound-proofed privacy of a EVA pod.
- The Borg – Star Trek various episodes and movies
The Borg are actually cyborgs rather than non-human but they get included here due to their iconic appearance and mantra, “Resistance is futile”. (Try dealing with any minor bureaucracy these days and you’ll feel the truth of that statement.)Belonging to a hive mind, the Borg roam the universe in the Borg Cube, absorbing other races when they come across them. With their enhanced, implanted bodies, their bad habit of insisting on assimilation and creepy Borg queen (Alice Krige in Star Trek: First Contact) the Borg are bad guys I’d like to see more of.
- Predators – Predator, sequel and spin-offs
Aggressive, mean, violent and fond of hunting humans like prey, the Predators are aliens on a mission. Ugly as sin, packing lethal weaponry and highly intelligent (they have mastered interstellar travel, after all) their joy in life is to collect trophies of the prey they have hunted and killed. Trophies like skulls and other body parts. I love the Predators and although the movie Predators went some small way to restoring the franchise, I’m still waiting for one to match the first movie with Arnie at his finest. (I’m not going to mention the AVP franchise here. I’ve only seen the first one but the Aliens seemed somehow diminished and the human characters were so sketchily drawn I found it difficult to get involved.)
And finally, from the sublimely bad to the faintly ridiculous, here’s one last set of non-humans with a questionable attitude. In 1967’s Quatermass and the Pit, excavations in a London Underground station have caused some strange goings-on. Turns out a buried alien vessel from Mars has been disturbed and is manifesting telekinetic type of effects – and the aliens aren’t friendly. Only trouble is, when we finally see the Martians they look like something knocked up by a bunch of 10-year olds in an art class. And the visions of them ‘hopping and skipping and jumping’ about on Mars resembling demented kangaroos on sticks rather than scary-shit aliens are more likely to provoke snorts of laughter than shivers of fear. It’s a great movie, I love it.
The trailer below has a fine bit of hyperbole (“there are five million answers…..”) with several slices of ham on the side and a voice-over delivered in the kind of plummy BBC accent that only royalty use these days. You even get a brief glimpse of the aliens. Watch and enjoy.