Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the Most Terrifying Movie Ever Made by Thomas S. Flowers

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the Most Terrifying Movie Ever Made

By: Thomas S. Flowers, author of the Subdue Series
Conceiving, Book Three, is Out Now!

In the glamor of watching a Steven Spielberg film, it is easy to understand how caught up we can get in the chaotic wonder of colorful kaleidoscopic strobes blinking over and over and superb John Williams magnum opus scores. But I have to wonder, while we were in that childlike stupor, did we see what was really going on? The visuals dazzled us, no doubt there, but is there a subversive message behind all the pizazz? Okay. I’m not really sure how subversive we’re talking here. Certainly, there is something to be said. Something to meditate over. And maybe even some revelation, some hidden fear to cause us to cower. Since watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I’ve kept a somewhat precarious eye on the night’s sky, glaring into the dark depths of the cosmos and wondering who or what is out there. And not only who or what, but what capabilities do they have? What technological power do these “beings” possess? Mind control? Abduction? Electromagnetism? Blackouts? Radiation burns? Sickness? Madness? All these are terrifying symptoms, no? If you’ve paid attention you’ll find the terrifying powers listed above are all in that Spielberg film we’ve loved and adored since 1977. And this is why I think Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the most terrifying surreptitious movie ever made. While we were dazzled and awed, strange elongated aliens were abducting children in a blaze of orange fog. While we giggled and cooed over the keyboard synthesizers and light show, a husband and father of three aggressively and tragically lost his mind, eventually being taken away by these so-called visitors. If we sit back down and watch this movie again, carefully, point for point…well, I’m sure you’ll agree: Close Encounters of the Third Kind IS a cosmic horror movie. Why? Well, this goes back to that ole Lovecraftian fear, not knowing “what’s out there” or “why they’ve come,” and having zero control over “what they do.”

Since the movie’s release in 1977, Close Encounters of the Third Kind has grossed over $337 million worldwide.  Ray Bradbury declared it the greatest science fiction film ever made. The film was nominated for several Oscars; having only taken home one in cinematography. Had Star Wars not released the same year, I’m certain Close Encounters would have won all the eggs. No surprise there, if you’ve seen the movie then you know there is no denying the film’s powerful dream-like quality. There’s nothing uber complicated with the plot or story structure. It’s actually rather cut and dry, in which some may say is a tad slow for our rapid-fire attention spans. I too recall watching this when I was a kid on VHS and thinking it had its fair share of boring scenes; however, as an adult now, I think the movie has a fantastic pace in which every moment is important in some way. I think a part of why we never watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind with the idea that it is a horror movie is because of the simplicity of the story, we glaze over and…Again, cue the musical numbers and flashy bulbs. Look at the film, watch the movie, even those on screen, especially at the end, the characters are all moon pied as if they’ve surrendered to some kind of trance or hypnosis. AGAIN…isn’t that in itself a terrifying factor? Losing our will.


And we have to ask, what exactly do these aliens really want? If they’ve been abducting people for generations, what do they want with the one man crazy enough to have made it to Devils Tower? If they’ve been taking people all willy-nilly since before WWII, or even longer, well…it goes to say they probably already have a clear understanding of human anatomy. And if they can insert images and thoughts into our minds, well… this begs the question, how much more of us do they really need to know? To me, it all seems like a subjective test. A greater intelligence than our own giving humanity the equivalent of a SAT exam. Consider this bit from an article published by Keith Phipps:

“When Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a humble lineman for an Indiana electric company, investigates a power outage, he witnesses an unidentified flying object, a run-in that leaves him with what appears to be a severe sunburn. Nearby, 3-year-old Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey), follows some lights outside as his mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon) chases after him. Both Roy and Jillian, who soon meet, are fascinated by their experiences, but this feeling soon takes a turn. Having strayed from his duties as a result of his sighting, Roy first loses his job then seems to lose his mind as he becomes fixated on alien encounters while his family looks on in horror. Jillian’s life turns even more dramatic than Roy’s when the UFOs return and draw Barry to them as Jillian fights their efforts to avail, in a scene Spielberg stages like an otherworldly home invasion, with Barry’s unwitting delight only amplifying the horror. Something from beyond Earth has arrived, but its intentions remain vague, as does its respect for human life.”


And at the end, we get the impression of open communication with the whole sign-language gag. But I wonder…how open is that communication really? Roy Neary was still taken. He was obviously still insane, giving no thought or hesitation of leaving behind his wife, two sons, and daughter. My impression is that these intelligent aliens are still rather indifferent about humanity. And indifference can be dangerous. I question the “friendliness” of the final encounter, the film to me reeks of its post-Watergate-pessimistic era of misguided trust. Sure, they are taking Roy Neary to some place that might be benevolent and beautiful, but how do we know, and to make matter worse, we’re never guaranteed his return. Will they bring him back as they did the countless others? (Did you see the billboard with all those names and pictures of people they believe had been abducted? Freaking insane number, right?) The final act is the answer to the entire mundane meets the spectacular and secretive undertone of the movie, we don’t know, we don’t know if Roy Neary will return, we don’t know what they’ll do with him, and we have absolutely no power to stop them from taking him. For all we know those seemingly kind disco-friendly aliens dissected him, leaving his amputated parts floating in murky glass jars as they cruse the solar systems jamming to KC and the Sunshine Band. And this begs the most horrifying question of all, as the credits roll and the spaceships float away, would we ourselves want to take a ride with these cosmic visitors? Could we stop them even if we didn’t?

Dare To Discuss, I Robot?



Welcome to Dare to Discuss, a bi-monthly event for readers, reviewers, and bloggers to have in-depth discussions about books. Anyone and everyone is welcome to participate and join the discussion. But first, here’s a few rules.


  1. Be polite. All opinions are welcome in this discussion and contrasting viewpoints are encouraged, but be respectful and polite. This discussion is about the book. Check your personal vendettas at the door. Thank you.

  2. Feel free to link to your own review of the book in the comments, but please keep the discussion here. That way everyone can join in!

The Book

The three laws of Robotics:i-robot
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
2) A robot must obey orders give in to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

With these three, simple directives, Isaac Asimov changed our perception of robots forever when he formulated the laws governing their behavior. In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: from its primitive origins in the present to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future–a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete.

Here are stories of robots gone mad, of mind-read robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world–all told with the dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction that has become Asmiov’s trademark.

The Reviews

David @ The Scary Reviews says:

What happens when robots become so advanced that we can’t distinguish them from a human being? I Robot was so far ahead of its time it’s scary. We haven’t arrived in this possible future yet but when we do I hope we don’t forget the three rules that Issac Asimov invented. I’m sure if we make robots this advanced we are in for a world of hurt. [Full Review Here]

Melanie @ MNBernard Books says:

Frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about this book because it was interesting, but maddeningly confusing. Each of the experiences with robots was unique and offered a new look on robotic technology and how they would be important and how they would evolve in future society. At the same time, there was so much technological terminology that I just felt like I was fumbling around in the dark most of the time. [Full Review Here]

Lilyn @ Scifi & Scary says:

Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot deserves it’s place in the Hallowed Halls of Classic Science Fiction. This collection of short stories, which showcases the development of artificial intelligence, is exquisitely well-crafted. I can only imagine how groundbreaking these piece must have been when they were written. Even though AI hasn’t taken the exact steps that Asimov lays out, it’s still a near prophetic look at it’s development. From the robot nanny most of us had not heard about, to the deceptive robot everyone knows from the Will Smith I, Robot, it’s a believable evolution of robotics. [Full Review Here]

The Discussion

Please note that spoilers are acceptable and likely to happen! You’re encouraged to ask your own questions about the book for other discussioners, but in case you don’t have any, I’ve listed a few below to get the ball rolling.

  • How far away do you think we are from the creation of AI that can pass for ‘real’?

  • What do you think influenced Asimov to come up with his 3 laws of robotics to begin with?

  • Where is the line crossed from artificial intelligence to the creation of a new life form? Will we be able to tell when we cross it?

  • What defines artificial versus natural intelligence? In 100 years, will we be able to tell?

Isaac Asimov – I, Robot Review

As with most books that are made into movies I hate to watch the movie first. I’m convinced it will wreck the book for me. I could cite plenty of examples, but that’s for another time. I remember loving the movie I Robot, and luckily the movie is completely different. In the book the story is told from the point of view of Dr. Calvin, a leading psychologist in the field of Robotics. Dr. Calvin recounts her experience with the first robot a family had as nursemaid and companion for a child. This first short story is an interesting introduction to robots but the writing is very dated and felt out-of-place in contrast to the rest of the book.

As robots became more advanced it didn’t take long before they were banned on Earth, except for research purposes. The three laws of Robotics had some flaws and in the stories that follow and we see how each scenario is worked out. The problem becomes, how do we give some rules more importance than others and still keep the three laws valid. Another problem that was unforeseen, and one I found really interesting, was a robot that had enough self-awareness to exhibit curiosity about his own existence. This is a frightening thought! Now the robot is smart enough to question the facts he is given. He is convinced that he was created by a higher power and humans aren’t smart enough to have made him.

Law number one states a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. What if physical injury isn’t the only way a robot could harm a person, what if lie would cause harm? Law number one is more encompassing than first thought. I love this twist, leave it to a robot to take the rules to the next level. I Robot steps us through multiple scenarios where one or more of the laws make it difficult for the robot to do a task and all of the endless scenarios fascinating. Another really fascinating question was asked, what if the death of a human being is temporary, would that break law number one? What happens when robots become so advanced that we can’t distinguish them from a human being? I Robot was so far ahead of its time it’s scary. We haven’t arrived in this possible future yet but when we do I hope we don’t forget the three rules that Issac Asimov invented. I’m sure if we make robots this advanced we are in for a world of hurt. I saw the terminator, that went poorly and in the movie version of I Robot it didn’t end well either!