When I was a young’n, I’d frequent the local public library – one of the nearly 2000 across the country with Andrew Carnegie’s name – and occasionally would dip into the Adult Non-Fiction section, primarily for a certain category of books: A series of grimly black books on the supernatural, almost all of which concerned the apparent scourge of aliens.
Many of these were “historical” in nature – Area 51, Roswell, allegedly and loosely documented crash sites, the unusual nature of certain metals that when crumpled would revert seamlessly back to their original shapes, markings of unknown languages, bizarre otherwordly materials present at one or several sites, etc, etc, etc. In short, shit was generally weird and couldn’t be explained. Normal alien stuff.
Others of the book series, however, were concerning abductions, specifically both accounts of abductees and illustrations depicting the alleged events (done in various forms of skill, from the child-like drawings from those abducted to sketches from professionals). These stories, almost all of which had a bend toward sexual organ exploitation and extraction/implantation, absolutely rattled me.
I’d sit alone at one of the long tables of the adult non-fiction section poring through diagrams of how Grays would probe the vaginal canals of a seemingly-frozen victim, their emotionless captors scientifically harvesting eggs from us. In some cases, both a male and female captive would be subjected to mind control and forced to copulate (re: bang) in a sterile, metallic environment, all under the cruel, soul-barren gazes of their alien captors.
This was also peak in the heyday of two contributing factors to furthering my fears:
- Unsolved Mysteries, hosted by Robert Stack, usually in re-runs on A&E
- Various “ALIEN AUTOPSY – NEW SHOCKING VIDEO” type-bullshit that was making a resurgence on television
Unsolved Mysteries, which is now making a fabulous return to form on Netflix, had a substantial number of segments dedicated to aliens and ghosts, and watching these in a dark basement was, well, not a great call. It’s bad enough that the show had a scary theme song (which to this day makes my hackles rise), but there was also the possibility that each segment would end with an UPDATE, complete with its own independently horrifying theme. Half the time I’d be watching wide-eyed expecting Robert Stack to tell me that the missing murder had been seen in the Charleston, Illinois area, right near YOUR BASEMENT WINDOW, OH MY GOD.
The Alien Autopsy stuff surfaced in 1995. It’s…a little loose, but it was 17 minutes of manufactured footage which was intended to be a reconstruction of a real documented video of an alien autopsy performed in the 1950s. It was pretty horrid, but to have the roles reversed – an alien being sliced open and its organs/brains/viscera being navigated by faceless human scientists – gave me a serious case of doubt and willies about what I thought I knew about aliens.
I think stuff like this was a large part of why I got so into the light, colorful novelty that was professional wrestling, but you can read more about that whole deal here.
Anways, as time went on, there were natural integrations into such fascinations: Bigfoot/Sasquatch (and all manner of cryptozoology beasts), ghosts, demons, possesions, exorcisms, haunted places, and the like. None of them quite grasped onto me like aliens did, and media portrayals of them in the years since had varying degrees of success in capitalizing on that paranoia.
Notable films – Independence Day, Aliens, Men In Black, Starship Troopers, E.T., Cloverfield – are not in the vein of alien material that makes me shiver. That stuff is just plain ol’ fun. There’s only been a few movies that really find the proper tone with handling aliens:
- Alien (1979): Perhaps the greatest modern sci-fi/alien movie ever made, it treats the Xenomorph as an absolutely uncontrollable and primal evil. Sequels have unfortunately taken far more of an action bend, tarnishing the majesty of the franchise’s original mastery.
- Signs (2002): If you can forgive the remarkably stupid method with which the alien race is defeated, and instead look at the plausibly terrifying arrival of aliens into our world, it gives a ton of pause, especially if you vividly recall the weeks immediately after 9/11 where people were glued to the television news networks.
- Arrival (2016): The plot gets a little hairy toward the end, but the first third is a vivid and purposeful likelihood of how the world would indeed stand still for such a remarkable moment.
Contact is another movie that tonally got it right, but I haven’t seen it in so long that I don’t want to give my opinions on it just yet.
Unsolved Mysteries (2020 Netflix version) has a UFO-centric episode, and it’s not half-bad. The matter is given as much of a serious tone as possible, trying hard not to portray the strange people involved as nutcases or mentally unwell, but in the end? I feel a part of me wants to hold onto the plausibility of all abduction and existence tales, the other part, however, feels like the bone is picked clean, and that no real mysteries remain.
Mysteries on a microscopic, oceanic, and astrological scale no doubt still and will always exist, but is there a 10-foot tall ape man trundling around the woods of the Pacific Northwest? No, probably not. Are people regularly abducted and probed by alien beings? Doubt it. Are the souls and spirits of our dead thriving among us in an ethereal plane? Eh.
I’ll put them all with Santa Claus, and I feel like that’s honestly very good company to keep.