The film that redefined a genre, launched Sigourney Weaver’s career and reinforced a fear of aliens and androids for a whole new generation. The famous tag line for Ridley Scott’s magnum opus (ok, maybe Blade Runner is giving it a good battle for that title), ‘In space no one can hear you scream’, belies what it actually is. A horror film in space, and boy, what a horror film.
In the decades since Sir Ridders started the franchise, it’s easy to forget that we see so very little of the ‘xenomorph’, as it has since been referred to in the likes of Aliens, on screen. For a huge portion of the running time, we see snippets: a glimpse here, an off-camera clank there. When the famous chest-burster scene happens you are genuinely shocked, but after that the terror very much lies in what you do not see. When you finally are introduced to the adult creature, H.R. Giger’s creation is a truly horrific beast – not only in appearance, but mannerisms and life cycle. The whole concept is terrifying, partially lying in the rapidly changed form – not only are you terrified at every turn, but you are not even certain what it is you’re waiting for to jump out at you.
The nature of the xenomorph, and its parasitic beginnings, play on some of our greatest fears with the conscious or subconscious. The facehugger envelops the face and impregnates through the mouth, before the host is violated in the most horrific manner, eventually developing into an amoral, violent and instinct-based phallic apex predator. The suspense is heightened by the construction of the film. Alien is a film that lingers. It lingers in darkened rooms, it lingers on tentative steps down disconcerting corridors and as a result it lingers in the mind.
The entire cast, with particular props to Weaver and Ian Holm, are superb – conveying the terror, frustration and helplessness that engulfs the crew. Although we know the trajectory of the Ripley character by now, at the inception she was very much part of an ensemble.
The production design of the original is a sometimes under-credited aspect of Alien. The title refers not just to the creature itself, but its setting. LV-426 and all of its trappings lend the whole piece an eerily disquieting air before any life forms make an appearance at all. Although the creature itself is what has spawned numerous sequels and spin-offs, it is the atmosphere, imagery and intelligence of Alien which means it remains as terrifying and timeless over three decades since its release.
A truly remarkable film that hasn’t aged a day, thanks to the horrific and inspired Giger design work, miniatures-based special effects and the tone Ridley Scott created. So many factors combine to make Alien a classic of both the sci-fi and horror genres. If you haven’t watched it, then do so. If you have, do it again.
Best bit: The ‘John Hurt moment’, you know the one.
Best line: ‘I admire its purity, its sense of survival; unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality’.