There are few places where you can observe the vastness of space with such clarity as with the desert. Far from the city’s light pollution, the cosmos seem infinite with its millions of stars and planets twinkling in the black emptiness of the void.
Perhaps it is because of this that so many close encounters occur out in the desert. Perhaps our connection with the night skies is at its strongest far away from civilization. Or maybe, there is something about the dry, dusty earth, that calls out beyond our galaxy towards something beyond our comprehension. Whatever the case, there’s no question aliens love the desert! So here are 10 Sci-Fi Horrors Out in the Dusty Desert!
10. Phoenix Forgotten (2017)
This film draws inspiration from the true phenomenon of the Phoenix Lights in which thousands of residents of Phoenix, Tucson, and various surrounding communities witnessed unexplainable lights hovering in the night sky. Phoenix Forgotten follows Sophie, who, searching for her missing brother, discovers his tapes chronicling the events following the Phoenix Lights incident. This leads Sophie on a journey out into the Sonoran Desert in an attempt to glean some understanding. This film is a classic found footage film with some great acting and a couple of unexpected twists. Definitely one to check out!
9. Night Skies (2007)
Another found footage film, Night Skies follows a group of friends on a road trip to Las Vegas. Somewhere along the desert highway, however, they spot some strange lights in the sky which causes them to crash the RV in which they are traveling. They come upon another stranded driver and together are hunted by aliens. This film really takes a darker turn in the third act, and I won’t spoil it, but the ending of this film really leaves you with the creeps!
8. Area 51 (2015)
Ok so maybe like 90% of this list is found footage, but really found footage is one of the best subgenres of alien movies! What’s scarier than coming face to face with a physical embodiment of existential dread? In any case, Area 51 follows an abductee who plots to infiltrate military base “Area 51” in an attempt to expose their secrets. Along with his friends, he sets his plan in motion only to find that the military base is holding secrets beyond comprehension. This one is really a fun ride with some awesome found footage scenes of the Area 51 facility. With last year’s failed raid, this may be the closest look we ever get inside!
7. Skinwalker Ranch (2013)
A little outside the realm of aliens, Skinwalker Ranch follows a group of scientists investigating strange occurrences at a remote Utah ranch which culminate in the disappearance of the ranch owner’s 8-year-old son. I wouldn’t say its not related to aliens at all. I would call it alien-adjacent. The premise is simple, but the suspense is intense and well-executed. And yes, it is another found footage film!
6. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Taking a break from found footage, we’ve got 1996 cult classic Mars Attacks! Ack! Ack! Ack! I know, the film doesn’t entirely take place in the desert, but the various times the US government attempts to deal with the Martians, it is in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Plus, the climax of the film takes place in Las Vegas, so I’d say it counts! In case you are not familiar, Mars Attacks! is a sci-fi comedy dripping in satire. It explores humanity’s stupidity and naiveté all set to a Danny Elfman score. There’s a reason Mars Attacks! is a classic. It’s funny, it’s got an ensemble cast, oh and did it mentions it’s directed by Tim Burton?
5. The Objective (2008)
This film not only captures the horror of isolation in a desert landscape, but also that experienced by US service members in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. The Objective follows a group of special forces along with a CIA agent in search, they think, of a clergyman who is well known in the area. As strange occurrences progress, the group realizes there is something else at work in the Afghan desert. This one is pretty bleak and doesn’t offer a lot of answers, but the questions it poses are terrifying.
4. Aliens: Zone of Silence (2017)
Similar in premise to Phoenix Forgotten, Aliens: Zone of Silence, features a woman in search of her missing brother. Also in found footage fashion, she sets off into the Sonoran Desert to find answers about her brother’s disappearance in a location deemed the “Zona de Silencio” (zone of silence). This film takes an approach similar to V/H/S in its exploration of found footage within found footage, but the acting of lead Sarah Hester really brings it to a different emotional level. If you’re looking for something more introspective and brooding, this one is for you!
3. Unaware (2010)
Keeping in the found footage subgenre, Unaware provides a horrifying look at a couple who, while visiting grandparents, are terrorized by alien life forms. After finding the grandparents missing and a literal dead alien in the shed, the couple seeks help from the FBI. When they do not believe the couple, they attempt to flee only to find that it is too late. But everything is not what it appears, even in terms of aliens. I won’t spoil it and leave it to you to do discover the reveal of one fact that changes the entire story.
2. Unknown Project (2013)
Have you ever wondered how an outdoors Paranormal Activity film would work? Well, Unknown Project has an answer for you and it involves 24/7 RV cams! That’s right, more found footage, and this one follows documentary filmmakers on their way home from Burning Man when they decide to camp in the desert for the night. If you can find it, this one really rewards multiple watching as you’ll pick up on little queues throughout the film that you may not have noticed the first time around. Definitely a great watch especially for those familiar with the Burning Man/indie scene, you know who you are!
1. The Phoenix Incident (2015)
This is probably the quintessential desert alien movie. Now, I may be biased seeing as I have lived in the Sonoran Desert all my life and am pretty darn familiar with the Phoenix Lights incident, but this film really takes it to an entirely different level. This film is done in a “mockumentary” style with interviews with local authorities mixed in with your traditional found footage. Think Poughkeepsie Tapes only with more aliens! But my favorite aspect of this film is its tie-in with Heaven’s Gate and the Hale-Bop comet from the 1990s. Incorporating those aspects really brought a sense of realism for the film as that is exactly what was happening at the time. Paired with excellent acting and a thorough explanation of conspiracies involving the Phoenix Lights, this is definitely a must-watch!
Well what did you think of these 10 Horrors Out in the Dusty Desert? Did we miss any of your favorites? Have some desert aliens that aren’t found footage? Let us know on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street SubReddit, and the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!