Alien Riff: Sci-Fi Horror B-Movies Playing off of a Classic

Alien was a groundbreaking film by merging the horror and science fiction genres. The film’s success opened up the opportunity for countless rip-offs. We take a look at some of the most infamous. 

Outer space is the most dangerous place mankind has ever visited. It is utterly inhospitable – radiation, extreme temperatures and pressures, unshielded energy rays, and of course lack of a breathable atmosphere. And then there’s the great unknown. Anything could be out there. Anything is possible, even the terrors of our worst nightmares. In fact, the most terrifying attribute of deep space is what we don’t know about it. Even with everything we know about how it CAN kill you, there are a seemingly infinite number of other ways we haven’t even realized yet. 

This makes deep space perhaps the most compelling setting for a horror film, or at least the source of terror. Think about all of the alien invasion films you have seen, the unknown organisms transferred to Earth from exploratory missions only to reveal themselves as very lethal agents of destruction. In film, aliens are depicted in a variety of ways, many times being disturbingly grotesque, frighteningly aggressive, or hyper intelligent. At other times, they look human. That’s how they blend in and take over our civilization without us even realizing.

But for all of the benefits and potential of setting a horror movie in space, many entries into the field tend to tell the same type of story over and over again. Alien, released in 1979, was the first major film to blend bloody traditional horror and science fiction. The special effects were real enough that people ran out of theaters during the infamous chest-burster scene. The film was a hit at the box office, and was in many ways a ground-breaking achievement for its inventiveness and shocks. 

Of course, success breeds imitation, especially in the horror genre. As studios realized the success of Alien, they repurposed its premise for their own gain. The concept behind Alien was simple enough: one murderously grotesque extraterrestrial that is surprisingly difficult to kill, and a confined space full of human victims who often make dumb decisions. Replace “extraterrestrial” with tortured-psyche human, and you have a slasher film. And as Halloween, the first slasher film, found itself awash in a sea of similarly-plotted competitors in the decades following its release, so did Alien.

Alien’s premise was easy enough to replicate, and it didn’t require top-dollar special effects to pull off. Anything dark and murky would do. So, unsurprisingly, Alien has since become one of the most replicated movies ever made. And studios didn’t just use the concept of Alien as their jumping off point like many studios did with Star Wars. Those films which tried to replicate the success of Alien did so by shamelessly ripping it off. I’m not just talking about films with a similar creature-feature premise (most recently LifeUnderwater), I’m talking about films which copied the look, the sounds, the story, the characters, the title, even entire lines of dialogue! Let’s take a look at some of the most famous rip-offs, in chronological order… 


Contamination / Alien Contamination

 

Year: 1980

Premise: A derelict container ship’s crew is dead, and upon inspection there are alien eggs aboard which explode causing death to anyone who is near (you better bet the film shows people getting near!). The source of the eggs is traced back to an astronaut who returned from Mars under the psychic influence of an alien who wants to infect the planet. 

Italian or American? Italian

Similar Attributes: Alien eggs, freight ship, dead crew, violent exploding deaths, and the title. The film was originally going to be called Contamination: The Alien Arrives on Earth

Is it any Good? Not really, but in the realm of Alien rip-offs it isn’t the worst. Good things include an espionage-like plot and music by Goblin, who frequently provided scores for Dario Argento’s films. 


Alien II: On Earth

Year: 1980

Premise: A spacecraft returns to Earth with its crew missing. People start finding blue rocks which are actually eggs and hatch an alien which attacks their faces, ripping them off to get inside their bodies. The film follows a group of people who go caving and are attacked by the aliens underground. 

Italian or American? Yes. 

Similar Attributes: Alien eggs, derelict ship, aliens that attack the face, aliens that explode out of the body. 

Is it any Good? Nope. It’s exactly as bad as you would expect for an unlicensed low-budget sequel that has to change just enough of the original material to prevent trademark infringements.  


Inseminoid / Horror Planet

Year: 1981

Premise: On a desolate plate, a group of explorers find ruins of an ancient civilization. Glowing crystals begin taking over the mind of one of their crew who begins trying to kill the others. Later, a monster emerges and impregnates one of the crew, who becomes influenced and begins attacking the others. She gives birth to bloodthirsty twins who escape the planet on a rescue shuttle. 

Italian or American? British

Similar Attributes: Ancient alien temple on a desolate planet, general atmosphere of the film, mess hall scene, forcefully violent small aliens, stow away at the end. Film critic Alan Jones has said “… here is the basic idea contained in Alien taken to its sleaziest extreme.”

Is it any Good? No. It’s terrible towards women, exploitive, tasteless, and explicit. 


Galaxy of Terror

Year: 1981

Premise: On a desolate planet, a rescue crew find an ancient pyramid. As they explore the pyramid, each crew member is killed in gratuitous fashion. Some of them are attacked by horrifying monsters, others by tentacles, and one even by a clone of himself. It turns out the pyramid turns people’s fears into reality and forces them to face them or die. A superior race built the pyramid as a toy to test their youth. 

Italian or American? American (Roger Corman)

Similar Attributes: Ancient alien temple on a desolate planet, crew responding to distress call, blood thirsty aliens, killer xenomorph-like alien monsters. 

Is it any Good? It isn’t quality per se, but it has its interesting qualities. One is good special effects thanks to early work by James Cameron. Another is a story that rips off many elements from other sci fi films such as Solaris, Forbidden Planet, and yes, Alien. So, at least it isn’t a complete waste of time. 


Forbidden World

Year: 1982

Premise: On a desolate planet (sound familiar?) a research team creates a new lifeform which attacks its creators. It metamorphosizes in stages by creating cocoons. A man and his robot/android assistant are sent to help after there are a number of mysterious deaths, but the disappearances continue. They find that the creature removes DNA from its victims, transforming them into cellular matter which it absorbs. 

Italian or American? American (Roger Corman)

Similar Attributes: Desolate planet, cocoons and metamorphosis, mysterious disappearance of the creature, creature looks like a xenomorph, robot assistant, corporate secrets, truth being withheld to protect scientific knowledge, Nostromo-like corridors and research facility. 

Is it any Good? Not good, but unforgettable, and enjoyable in a trashy way. Very explicit, full of gratuitous nudity for no reason. Otherwise, re-uses many of Alien’s best ideas but in a cheap, and non-serious way. 


Parasite

Year: 1982

Premise: In a post-apocalyptic world, a powerful organization forces a scientist to create a parasitic life form which will help the organization maintain control. The scientist infects himself with the parasite in order to escape, but when he is ambushed by another faction, the parasite escapes. 

Italian or American? American

Similar Attributes: Evil organization wants to use the deadly creature for their own benefit, creature attaches itself to its victims, creature bursts out of its victims. 

Is it any Good? Not at all. Unlike most of the other movies on this list, this one is boring. That’s a cardinal sin for a campy horror flick. 


Creature

Year: 1985

Premise: On Titan a team of scientists find an alien laboratory with an egg which hatches and kills them. The corporation who sent the scientists decides to send an explorational team in to investigate. When they arrive they find a distress signal from a rival team, and in the effort of landing crash their ship. They find an alien creature which infects its victims with parasites in order to control them. The controlled victims act out in ways to lure their crew mates to the same fates. 

Italian or American? American

Similar Attributes: Desolate moon, alien hatches from egg, alien attaches itself to victims heads, similar atmosphere, crew comes up with plan to suck alien out the air lock, alien comes back after everyone thought it was gone

Is it any Good? It depends. As a serious film, no. As a cheesy rip-off with decent special effects, yes. Widely considered the best of the Alien rip-offs, but that isn’t saying much. Was nominated for Best Horror Film and Best Special Effects at the Saturn Awards.  


Alien From the Deep

Year: 1989

Premise: A chemical corporation is disposing of radioactive waste by dumping it into an active volcano. When two environmentalists capture evidence of this, they are hunted down by the evil corporation. However, the collection of radioactive waste has created a monster which spawns out of the Earth, attacking everyone. 

Italian or American? Italian

Similar Attributes: Evil corporation, the alien looks very similar to H.R. Giger’s xenomorph, with the same type of skin and body, the alien is very large and results in a confrontation at the end not unlike in Aliens

Is it any Good? It is tolerable at best. Less exploitive than the rest of the films on this list, but it doesn’t really become a monster movie until the last half hour. Also, doen’t really rip off Alien as much as everything else on this list. 


Shocking Dark / Terminator 2

Year: 1989

Premise: Venice is sinking and loses contact with the outside world. An evil corporation sends in soldiers to find out what happened and also steal from the museums. Meanwhile, genetic scientists have created a mutant creature which escapes into the city which begins attacking the soldiers. A man arrives who is later revealed to be a cybernetic soldier who tries to capture the mutant so he can use it for his own benefit. 

Italian or American? Italian

Similar Attributes: So this film is more of a direct rip-off to Aliens than Alien, but I had to include it on this list just because it is so ridiculous. The general idea of “sending in the Marines” is taken from Aliens, as are some of the characters (Ripley, Newt). There’s an evil corrupt corporation trying to cover up its nefarious ways by sending in the soldiers, people trying to capture a monster to use as a weapon, and the film rips off entire dialogue exchanges from both Alien and Aliens

Is it any Good? Lol. Perhaps the worst movie ever made? Its most consistent attribute is how nonsensical it is. The plot is complete rubbish, the actors have near-to-zero experience, and it shamelessly regurgitates a lot from Aliens and Alien and then at the end takes a sharp right turn to become a rip-off of The Terminator. This movie is quite literally a disaster, but some people do find disasters entertaining in some regard…. 


Xtro II: The Second Encounter

Year: 1990

Premise: In a top secret underground facility, scientists have devised a way to travel to other dimensions. They send in three people to test it, but only one survives and he brings an alien creature back with him. With a breach in containment, the facility will automatically eradicate everyone, so they send in a group of armed soldiers to hunt down the creature.

Italian or American? Canadian

Similar Attributes: When the creature first appears it bursts out of the chest of its victim, the militaristic approach is not unlike Aliens and Predator, and the film’s protagonist appears to be modeled after Ripley

Is it any Good? This is a direct to VHS low low budget Canadian science fiction film. I don’t think good is possible in the first place. At the very least, it exists, and I guess that is something.