A Sci-Fi Honey Review by Katie

Fire in the Sky (1993)

“Horror nostalgia” is a funny thing; we consume all kinds of popular culture growing up, and whether they are intended to frighten us or not, we inevitably come across a moment that we are not mentally or emotionally mature enough to process. If we revisit this work later in our lives, we usually discover that it’s not as scary or entirely different than we’d always imagined. One of the most significant horror nostalgia moments for me was a key scene in Robert Lieberman’s 1993 alien abduction film, Fire in the Sky – a scene which engendered scores of nightmares as well as a profound curiosity and love for all things extraterrestrial. After not seeing the film again for nearly twenty years, I recently watched Fire in the Sky hoping to reexamine the scene in question with adult eyes and find that it is not as harrowing as I remember. I soon discovered, however, that it is also possible to regress to that moment of childhood trauma, and relive the terror all over again – a testament to the film’s visceral power all these years later.

Arriving in cinemas a full six months before conspiracy theory zeitgeist The X-Files made its debut on television, Fire in the Sky explored similar themes surrounding alien abduction stories, government investigation, media scrutiny and attempts at cover-up. Based on an allegedly true story, the film was adapted from a 1978 book entitled The Walton Experience: a firsthand account of logger Travis Walton’s alleged UFO abduction and experimentation by extraterrestrial beings. In the film, Travis (D.B. Sweeney) and pals (led by Robert Patrick) spot a strange light in the sky while driving home from work through the remote White Mountains of Arizona. Fascinated, Travis steps out of the truck to get closer to the light, and is rendered unconscious when struck by the beam. The loggers flee the scene fearing for their lives, leaving a presumed-dead Travis alone in the woods. When they report the incident to law enforcement and return to the mountains in search of him, he is nowhere to be found. Less than a week later Travis resurfaces at a gas station – alive, but unwell: naked, severely dehydrated, disoriented, suffering from exposure, and clearly having just been through a traumatic experience of one kind or another.

This is what happens when you go near the light. Don't do it.
Travis’ disappearance was a horrific event for his family, friends, and a community that rallied together to find him – but his return didn’t resolve the issues it drudged up. Travis’ companions that night were subjected to countless hours of interrogation and were even administered lie detector tests under suspicion that he’d been murdered. Though the event and aftermath of the UFO encounter is a central element of the film, most of Fire in the Sky plays out like a mundane crime drama, with James Garner as the seasoned detective in search of the truth. The ‘truth’ that Travis communicates upon his return isn’t easy for him to ascertain – his recollection of the incident is fragmented at best – and what finally does come out is not easy for anyone in his life to accept. Later in the film, Travis is triggered by a sensory impression and enters a dissociative state where he can finally remember what happened to him after he was struck by that otherworldly beam of light. The next five minutes certify that Fire in the Sky contains the single scariest alien abduction scene in cinematic history.

Nope nope nope nope nope
Let’s take a moment to separate fact from fiction: the abduction scene in the film bears very little resemblance to the firsthand account given by the real Travis Walton in his memoir. Films that are based on true stories often take liberty with their source material, but Fire in the Sky screenwriter Tracy Tormé created such a different interpretation of the abduction event that it is the most science fiction element of this supposedly nonfiction story. Setting aside its utter disregard for accuracy, at least in staying true to Walton’s own words, the scene is still just as terrifying and impactful as it was over two decades ago. From the claustrophobic incubation period in a pod of viscous goo to the horrors Travis is subjected to on the examination table, the film has had an undeniable influence on many sci-fi films in its wake, from The Matrix to last year’s Extraterrestrial

Pictured: years of my nightmares.
Despite the fact that the film plays fast and loose with the “truth” surrounding Walton’s own narrative of his abduction experience – which, if you believe it, is horrific enough – the film succeeds at depicting an unforgettably chilling version of events that has not been matched or surpassed by any film about alien abduction that’s come before or since. While the film’s scenes that do not take place on a spaceship sometimes leave much to be desired, this is an important work in the annals of extraterrestrial-centric cinema and will likely be imitated for years to come. Today’s generation of filmgoers may watch Fire in the Sky and shrug it off as something they’ve seen many times before, but for this Sci-Fi Honey, full of horror nostalgia… I’m still that frightened and fascinated eight-year-old girl at heart.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four out of five Greys – at least two are for the abduction scene alone.

Fire in the Sky is available on Amazon Instant Video, iTunesYouTube VOD, Google Play, & DVD/blu-ray

Is there a sci-fi film that scarred you as a child?
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