Although in my opinion the golden age of science fiction films was the 1950s, there were high concept movies as well as grade Z trash produced in the last 40 years. The following are examples of the best and worst. The majority of the output of bad movies is usually direct to DVD productions, having mediocre acting and shoddy CGI effects.
BEST——–“Dark City” (1998)
A neo noir sci-fi film directed by Alex Proyas and starring Rufus Sewell, William Hurt and Keifer Sutherland. It was shot at the Fox Studios in Australia. It asks the question on what it means to be human and the relationship between memory and personal identity.
John Murdoch (Sewell) wakes up in a hotel bath, suffering from what seems to be amnesia. He receives a telephone call from Dr. Daniel Schreber (Sutherland), who urges him to flee from a group of men who are after him. During the call, John discovers the body of a brutalized, ritualistically murdered woman, along with a bloody knife. Murdoch flees the scene, just as the group of men (known as the Strangers) arrive at the room. Eventually he learns his real name, and finds his wife Emma . He is also sought by police inspector Frank Bumstead (Hurt) for a series of murders allegedly committed by Murdoch, who cannot remember killing anybody. While being chased by the Strangers, Murdoch discovers that he haspsychokinetic powers like them, and he uses these powers to escape from them. Murdoch moves about the city, which experiences everlasting night. He sees people become temporarily asleep at midnight, when the Strangers stop time and alter the cityscape, as well as people’s identities and memories. Murdoch questions the dark urban environment, and discovers—through clues and interviews with his family—that he was originally from a coastal town called Shell Beach. Attempts at finding a way out of the city to Shell Beach are hindered by lack of reliable information from everyone he meets. Meanwhile, the Strangers, disturbed by the presence of this human who also possesses psychokinetic powers, inject one of their men, Mr. Hand (O’Brien) with Murdoch’s memories, in an attempt to find him.
Murdoch eventually finds Bumstead, who recognizes Murdoch’s innocence and has his own questions about the nature of the dark city. They find and confront Dr. Schreber, who explains that the Strangers are endangered alien parasites who use corpses as their hosts. Having a hive consciousness the Strangers have been experimenting with humans to analyze their individuality in the hopes that some insight might be revealed that would help their kind survive. Schreber reveals Murdoch as an anomaly who inadvertently awoke during one midnight process, when Schreber was in the middle of fashioning his identity as a murderer. The three men embark to find Shell Beach, which ultimately exists only as a billboard at the edge of the city. Frustrated, Murdoch tears through the wall, revealing a hole into outer space. The men are confronted by the Strangers, including Mr. Hand, who holds Emma hostage. In the ensuing fight, Bumstead, along with one of the Strangers, falls through the hole into space, revealing the city as an enormous space habitat surrounded by a force field.
The Strangers bring Murdoch to their home under the city and force Dr. Schreber to imprint Murdoch with their collective memory, believing Murdoch to be the final answer to their experiments. Schreber betrays them by inserting false memories in Murdoch which artificially reestablish his childhood as years spent training and honing his psychokinetic abilities and learning about the Strangers and their machines. Murdoch awakens, fully realizing his abilities, frees himself and battles with the Strangers, defeating their leader Mr. Book (Richardson) in a battle high above the city. After learning from Dr. Schreber that Emma’s personality is gone and cannot be restored within her body, Murdoch utilizes his new-found powers through the Strangers‘ machine to create an actual Shell Beach by flooding the area within the force field with liquid and forming mountains and beaches. On his way to Shell Beach, Murdoch encounters Mr. Hand and informs him that the Strangers have been searching in the wrong place—the head—to understand humanity. Murdoch opens the door leading out of the city, and steps out to view a sunrise that he created. Beyond him is a dock, where he finds the woman he knew as Emma, now with new memories and a new identity as Anna. Murdoch reintroduces himself as they walk to Shell Beach, beginning their relationship anew.
WORST——–“Galaxy of Terror”(1981)
A sci-fi horror mess of a film produced by Roger Corman and directed by Bruce D Clark, starring Edward Albert,Erin Moran,Robert England,Ray Walston and Sid Haig. It has become something of a cult classic is recent years.
On a desolate, storm-lashed planet called Morganthus, the survivor of a crashed spaceship is attacked and killed by an unseen force.
On another planet a very long distance away, two figures are seen playing a strange game. One, an old woman, is identified as the controller of the game while the other, whose head is obscured by a glowing ball of red light, turns out to be an all-powerful mystic called the Planet Master. The two speak cryptically of things being put into motion, and the Master instructs one of his military commanders to send a ship to Morganthus.
Without delay, the spaceship Quest blasts off to Morganthus. Piloting the ship is Captain Trantor, a survivor from a famous space disaster that has left her psychologically scarred and unstable.
As the Quest approaches the planet’s atmosphere, it suddenly goes out of control and falls toward the surface, crash-landing there. After recovering from the landing, the crew prepares to leave the Quest and search for survivors. The team has a psi-sensitive woman among their number named Alluma (Erin Moran). Both she and the surface team have significant problems with the team leader, who is pushy and arrogant and totally unimpressed by Alluma’s inability to detect any life signs whatsoever.
Making their way across the landscape of the planet, they eventually reach the other ship. Entering, they find evidence of a massacre that took place. The rescue teams split into two and explore the craft. They find further evidence of something catastrophic having happened and, after disposing of the rest, take one victim back for analysis. The highly strung youngest member of the team, despite being reassured by his seniors, becomes increasingly terrified by being on the ship and, a short time later, he is killed by a mutant creature.
The crew discovers that something from the planet pulled them down, and in order to escape, they must investigate. After some exploration, they discover a massive pyramid-shaped structure, which Alluma describes as “empty” and “dead”. Their explorations of the pyramid lead to a serious of exceedingly violent and deadly encounters in which a malevolent force causes several crew members to be dismembered, burned, consumed, raped or crushed to death by monsters created out of each person’s personal fears.
Eventually, only two members of the team, Ranger (Robert Englund) and Cabrin (Edward Albert), remain alive. Deep inside the pyramid, Cabrin encounters the Master (Ray Walston), who has been masquerading as the cook onboard the Quest. The Master explains that the pyramid is actually an ancient toy for the children of a long-extinct race, built-in order to test their ability to control fear. Cabrin kills the Master for allowing his crew to die, but himself becomes the new Master.