Today we have a film that transcends the horror genre. When you think of this film, you primarily think ‘sci-fi masterpiece’. It goes to show how good a film it is that it can be described as one of the finest in two different genres, even if those genres do sometimes intertwine as these do. Its Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece, Alien!!
Now, a good many people will claim that its sequel, Aliens, made by James Cameron in 1986, is the superior film of the whole Alien saga. I am not one of those people. In my eyes, the two films are wildly different and can’t really be directly compared. The second is an all guns blazing sci-fi action whereas this one is a brooding, claustrophobic, terrifying sci-fi horror. Myself being a much bigger fan of the horror genre than I am of the action genre, it’s easy to see why I prefer this one…although not to take anything off Aliens, it’s still an excellent film.
Let’s start with what I think is the most important part about Alien, the hero, or in this case, heroine. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is the definitive movie heroine and one of the definitive movie heroes of all time. Your film can’t possibly be bad if that’s the case. Ripley has become a pop-culture icon and for good reason. ‘Aliens’ solidified her status as a total badass but ‘Alien’ is what started that off. The resilience, determination, strength and intelligence she shows in this film are incredible and Weaver portrays all this equally as incredibly.
Sigourney Weaver will forever be remembered as Ripley and rightly so…it is one of the best female performances in horror film history. Like I said, she doesn’t become an all out badass until Aliens. She does take up the role of something I talked about in my Halloween Article, ‘the final girl’ whereby she ‘transforms’ (symbolically) into someone capable of taking down the Alien…so if you were interested by what I had to say about ‘the final girl’, it’ll interest you to know that Ripley also fits the bill.
But of course, the title of the film is not ‘Ellen Ripley’ so let’s talk about the Xenomorph shall we. Although it isn’t called the Xenomorph until the sequels. The Alien (I’ll just call it that to save typing Xenomorph a lot) is one of the most terrifying things ever put to film. The unpredictability of the creature is what makes it truly terrifying. The scene where the crew of the Nostromo (the spaceship where the film is set) find out for the first time that the Alien has acidic blood capable of burning through metal is incredibly frightening as you begin to realise more and more that there is no way out for these characters. The Alien also has a habit of lurking in dark shadowy areas of the Nostromo, areas where it’s large head blends in with the pipework so when it reveals itself in these instances, it gives the viewer a heart attack…as any good jump scare should.
Don’t get the film wrong though. It does not solely rely on jump scares and a big scary monster to scare the audience…what really does it, is the psychological aspect. That’s what sets Alien apart from any other sci-fi horror film. It’s more Rosemary’s Baby than Godzilla. It’s a more intense, slow film that builds up the dread at a brilliant pace. There are those instances when the film becomes quick and intense and slightly more action-packed, but the beauty of the film is in between these. The ‘edge-of-your-seat’ scenes where you’re waiting and waiting and you know it’s there but dont know where and the ship starts getting smaller and smaller and smaller when you realise there’s no escape from the Alien. Even when Ripley takes an escape pod out, leaving the Nostromo behind and you think she’s actually escaped, no no no, the damn thing’s still there.
Its just an absolute must watch…quite unlike anything else of its kind.
I never like going into the story too much and I won’t here either, but for those who haven’t seen it, just know that a group of astronauts wake up from hibernation on their way back to Earth from a deep space mining mission. They notice an unknown signal and stop off on a nearby planet on which they find a huge mothership and hundreds of large eggs covered in a thick mist. One of these eggs is opened by Kane (John Hurt) and a ‘facehugger’ leaps out and well, I think it explains itself. Back on the ship, Kane is kept in medical until, inexplicably, the creature detaches itself from Kane’s face and has gone missing. Kane is awake and all seems well.
Then they have a meal and I’m sure every movie fan out there knows what happens to Kane at this meal…if not, the name ‘chestburster’ might give it away. That’s where the terror really begins.
That’s about all I’ve got to say on Alien other than a quick mention of the cast. As I’ve said, Sigourney Weaver is terrific as Ripley, and the rest of the crew, Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Ash (Ian Holm), Kane (John Hurt), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto) are all perfectly good in their roles…it’s not difficult to see who stands out here though.
Anyway, go an watch Alien if you haven’t, you definitely will not regret it.
Next up we have another absolute classic, from the following year, adapted from a book by Stephen King and centres around a man who can’t seem to leave his hotel…and likes his axe. Okay so that’s wasn’t subtle but you were going to find out anyway…
The Journey Continues