Release Date: June 22nd, 1979 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ridley Scott Actors: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto
ark, foreboding, macabre, and intense, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” is the finest example of horror and science-fiction fused together in the history of cinema. Often copied but never equaled, this Grand Guignol tale of survival manages to be creepy, deathly serious, undeniably frightening, and somehow within the boundaries of nightmarish believability. The scares that aggrandize are stunning in their setup, carefully executed with artistically eerie sets, highly unique biomechanical alien compositions, and an abundance of steam, flashing sirens, and thick slime. The set designs, cinematography, and editing are nothing short of spectacular, working to create visuals and an atmosphere that are absolutely unforgettable.
Utilizing nothing more than the camera quietly panning around lengthy, isolated, ill-lit corridors is enough to muster chills. And that’s just the opening scene. Static-filled transmissions, computerized voices, screeching machinery, a brilliantly nerve-wracking motion tracker gimmick (an idea amplified further in the sequel), and a tough-as-nails heroine set the stage for heart-pounding, must-see horror – and an introduction to one of the most formidable screen villains of all time.
In the cold depths of space, a crew of seven officers awakes from hypersleep aboard the commercial mining ship Nostromo, a terrifyingly remarkable spacecraft housing shadowy passageways and claustrophobic ingresses. The group discovers that they were awoken far in advance of their Antarctica destination – somewhere near a mysterious planetoid emitting an otherworldly distress signal. Bound by regulations from the corporation that employs them, a small search party descends to the planet to investigate the dilapidated remains of an alien vessel. Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), and Kane (John Hurt) realize all too late that the SOS beacon is actually a warning message; while examining a massive room full of pulsating eggs, Kane is attacked by a spider-like parasite that affixes itself to his face.
He’s brought back to the infirmary where science officer Ash (Ian Holm) attempts to remove the creature, only to discover that the leggy critter bleeds molecular acid. This is not before third-in-command Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) tries to dutifully quarantine the trio of explorers. Within a few hours, however, the “facehugger” falls off of its own accord, and Kane regains consciousness. Following his foggy revival is one of the most memorable and gut-wrenching horror segments ever filmed. As shocking as the shower scene in “Psycho,” “Alien” features a nasty little moment in which a serpentine, toothy little brute tears its way out of Kane’s chest, spewing blood and viscera across a dinner table of appalled coworkers. And then there were six. Attempting to catch the monstrosity, the dwindling group is slowly picked off one by one as the alien grows rapidly in size and deadliness.
The characters are very natural, gravitating toward moderately stereotypical personas: annoyed engineers concerned with a paycheck; by-the-books company men; a nonchalant, order-consuming captain; an intrigued scientist; and later, survivors concerned about safety or panicky fighters unfamiliar with isolation protocol. Yet all are amusingly believable in this unexpected, frenzied environment. It’s a convincing build toward one of the most unique aspects of the film: the maturity of the characters. While slasher flicks make use of screaming teens that run frantically from a deranged killer, “Alien” instead employs an assemblage of adults. Perhaps unintentionally, the older crew has a hardened, experienced, reasoning feel about them, creating a more realistic sense to the game of cat and mouse. Few projects have been able to genuinely capture the immediacy and seriousness of antagonistic alien situations. Most suffer from goofiness, but “Alien” circumvents every common misstep that could steer it in the direction of overdone.
H.R. Giger, a popular Swiss surrealist, was assigned the daunting task of creating the ultimate alien life form. His design is astounding, primarily due to the ingenious reproductive cycle he envisioned, along with the adult monster’s blend of organic qualities and machinelike external embellishments. Director James Cameron would later alter the concept by creating a queen in the first of several sequels, but the main idea remains the same: an egg bears a parasitic spider, which lays another egg in the victim’s chest. After bursting out of the body (killing the host), the wormlike thing would grow to a bipedal, humanoid ogre, complete with a banana-shaped head and a tongue lined with teeth. In the original blueprints, the alien drone would be capable of mutating the bodies of victims into an egg to start the process again. It’s a twisted yet intriguing creation that would spawn numerous sequels, crossovers, comic books, novels, action figures, apparel, and countless other forms of merchandise – now forever engrained in pop culture.
– Mike Massie