The Scariest Sci-Fi Movie That Will Never Be Made (& Why)

The Scariest Sci-Fi Movie That Will Never Be Made (& Why)

Even though it is a seminal text in the dystopian sci-fi horror sub-genre, author Harlan Ellison’s most infamous story remains stubbornly un-filmable.

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The Harlan Ellison short story I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream would make for a superb sci-fi horror movie, but this adaptation is unlikely to ever be made—and there are good reasons for that. In recent years, computer-generated imagery has made novels that were previously thought to be unfilmable much more accessible for filmmakers since the technology can render the impossible visible. The advent of the internet, meanwhile, has resulted in a loosening of censorship norms, as more extreme content has become freely available on many streaming platforms.

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As a result, filmmakers can create ambitious, visually immersive worlds while simultaneously even extremely gory horror movies like Terrifier 2 can earn mainstream acclaim and financial success. Despite this, some literary works remain impossible to realize on-screen. Harlan Ellison’s seminal 1967 short story I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, the tale of a sentient supercomputer torturing the last survivors of an apocalypse into insanity, is one such work. I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream is incredibly bleak and full of upsetting visuals, but it is the story’s reliance on an internal monologue that makes the tale so effective and so impossible to adapt.

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Why I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream Can’t Have A Proper Movie Adaptation

Harlan Ellison at LA Press Club in 1986

The bulk of I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream consists of the last five people on earth desperately searching their vast prison for food while a supercomputer tortures them physically and psychologically. Like another classic, supposedly unfilmable story, HP Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream ends with the hero losing his mind in an icy cave after an encounter with an inconceivable evil. However, much like “At The Mountains of Madness,” Ellison’s story is also extremely heavy on internal narrative. The final fate of the main character is harrowing when the reader can only imagine what happens to him, but this tactic only works on paper.

Why I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream’s Ending Is Best In Book Form

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

Ellison’s story works best in book form because the main character’s eventual fate could look unintentionally comical if realized on screen. The sentient supercomputer that kept him and four over humans alive is frustrated when the other humans kill themselves and each other out of frustration, so the machine spends years softening the main character until he can’t hurt himself, hurt anyone else, move, or do anything else. While horror anthology shows like Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities have attempted to bring Lovecraft’s monsters to life on-screen, Ellison’s ending for I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream only seems like a gruesome predicament because the reader can’t see it realized.

Like the prospect of a supercomputer torturing humans for fun or the idea of a global apocalypse, this image is unsettling in the original short story. However, the ending would be tricky to bring to life onscreen, as would the general plot of I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream. Many of the scariest elements of the short story are deeply felt and, while it is disturbing to envision an endless, hopeless search for imaginary food in a pitiless labyrinth, this could translate to watching characters wander around pointlessly in a movie adaptation. As such, Ellison’s classic sci-fi horror story I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream remains unfilmable even with all of the advances made in visual filmmaking technology and the loosening of censorship rules.

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