Directed by Ridley Scott.
Starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartright, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto and John Hurt.
The crew of the cargo ship Nostromo receives a distress signal from a nearby planet and while investigating, one of the crew is attacked by a parasite which implants an embryo in his body. This embryo soon gruesomely erupts from man’s body before escaping into the shadows, stalking and picking the remaining crew members off one by one.
It’s the 1st of October and you know what that means? It’s time to kick-start another series of October Horrors, the hopefully annual series (provided I don’t get fired between now and the 31st) in which I spend every day of this ghoulish month spotlighting cinematic horror from across the years. Well, mostly the 80s. Cause I like the 80s. A lot.
We’ve got a packed month of gooey body horror, space vampires, Lovecraftian nightmares, foul mouth teenagers cursing at clergymen, a double dose of Jeremy Irons, psycho killers and lots from Stephen King.
So without further delay let’s get this monster mash started by looking at a true classic of the genre. It’s the film that taught us that in space no one can hear you scream – it’s Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Obviously one can’t discuss the Alien films without discussing Sigourney Weaver’s now iconic role of Ellen Ripley. However, while she is undoubtedly the star of the franchise, judging by her portrayal for the half of this first installment you wouldn’t think it, with Weaver playing Ripley as a kind of box-ticking authority figure who always insists that things be done “by the book”. Traits that make the character seem somewhat unlikeable early on and come off as the sort of character that you would expect (and hope) is killed early on.
However, this is part of what I consider to be a clever trick on the audience, mainly because by making Ripley initially seem unlikeable it plays brilliantly against our expectations when much to our surprise she emerges as the protagonist of the film.
This is reflected in the changes that the character undergoes throughout, with Ripley becoming much more sympathetic as time goes on and you root for her to survive and succeed eventually triumph against the double mouth beast. It’s a terrific performance that has deservedly become iconic with Weaver in the decades since.
The supporting cast is also on top form with the terrific chemistry between them creating an atmosphere of friendship, with their friendly arguments about pay and whose cooking sucks the most giving off the impression that these people have known and worked together for years and have seen it all and done it all. An element that makes each of their deaths all the more tragic.
Tom Skerritt’s Dallas is, in particular, an interesting character when you watch the film for the first time, mainly because the film tries to trick you into thinking that he’s going to emerge as the star of the film (Skerritt even gets top billing in the opening credits).
Skerrit expertly imbues the character with a likeable heroic quality that almost guarantees he’s going to survive to the end. He is the captain of the ship after all, and you can’t kill the captain of the ship.
Then Alien pulls the rug from under you again and kills him off in arguably the scariest scene of the whole film, with Dallas being pursued by the alien in the ships cramped air duct system. It’s a shocking and terrifying scene of such tension and suspense that my buttocks could crack granite with the sheer force of clenching that it caused.
Of course, aside from Weaver’s Ripley, one cannot discuss this film without looking at the equally iconic performance from the late great John Hurt. Hurt was surely one of the finest actors of all time with many great performances under his belt, but let’s be honest, he really doesn’t get to do much in Alien that demonstrates this range. Instead, Hurt comes off as the quintessential idiot of sci-fi horror cinema with the simple act of sticking his face right into a gooey alien egg.
However, that’s not why we remember the late Mr. Hurt today. Oh no. What we do remember about Mr. Hurt is that of all his great roles on both stage and screen, he will be forever fondly remembered for having what is easily the most iconic and horrific death scene in cinematic history.
That moment when he starts to cough and choke still unsettles me because I know that at any moment his chest is going to be a blood-soaked crater.
The titular acid-blooded alien itself has become the stuff of horror legend with much written about it’s rather “suggestive” design, with many critics viewing the alien creature and the means in which it births itself, among many aspects, as some kind of dark sexual metaphor.
Regardless of its metaphorical sexual connotations, it’s still an incredibly frightening and memorable monster that despite not being on-screen much, still manages to create a terrifying presence that hangs over every scene. You feel like that the acid-blooded bugger could be hiding anywhere, just sitting and waiting to entrap our heroes.
The overall visual style of the film is some of the finest in horror cinema with the atmospheric cinematography expertly emphasising the claustrophobic nature of the Nostromo’s halls with every dimly lit corner feeling like a potential death trap.
On top of the brilliant cinematography, the film also boasts some incredible set design whether it be the dark and cramped halls of the Nostromo or the eerie quiet of the nest of alien eggs that Kane stumbles across.
My personal favourite piece of set design comes in the form of the formidable and mysterious sight of the figure dubbed the “Space Jockey”, with the huge scale of its turret and the general mystery surrounding its origins still having a significant impact even after several viewings and even after Ridley Scott’s attempt to ruin it with Prometheus.
Is there really anything else I can say about Alien?
Led by a star-making performance from Sigourney Weaver, a dark foreboding visual style coupled with brilliant and claustrophobic set design and, to top it all off, a truly terrifying antagonist straight out of a Freudian nightmare, Alien is a classic of the genre plain and simple.
If you’ve never seen it before do yourself a favour and get the Alien box set and get this film watched.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★