"In space, no one can hear you scream"
Horror and Sci-Fi are often grouped together as if it was a natural thing. It’s interesting that there are so few space/ horror films. It’s just something that doesn’t happen very often and in 1979 it was all but nonexistent, and then came ALIEN.
ALIEN opens up as a very quiet film. A seven person mining crew awakens from suspended animation after two years under. They assume that they are home but in actuality they are nearing an alien planet. “MOTHER”, the artificial intelligence onboard the ship has detoured to this world after picking up a distress signal. As a commercial starship, the crew argues that basically, this is not their job. It doesn’t make any difference.
Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) takes his Executive Officer, Kane (John Hurt) and his Chief Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) and heads out to the downed derelict spacecraft. While there, they discover a large humanoid alien sitting at a consol of some sort, his chest having exploded from the inside out.
As King looks deep into a chamber, he discovers a large nest of eggs. Upon closer inspection, he is attacked by the most disgusting creature ever seen. It leaps from the egg, burning through his face mask and attaching itself to him. Dallas and Lambert return him to the ship desperate to get him inside; however Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the ship Warrant Officer, will not let them in, citing that they need to be quarantined for 24 hours. Against her wishes, the ship Science Officer, Ash (Ian Holm), let's them in, and with the alien on board, it only gets worse.
While trying to remove the alien species from Kane’s face, they discover that the blood coursing through its body is some sort of molecular acid that nearly burns a hole through the hull of the ship. At this point tension is building between the crewmembers, who are angry with each other over decisions made in the heat of the moment, then things turn. The alien creature has detached itself from Kane, and after finding the creature dead, they assume that life is back to normal.
We all know what happens next, one of the most horrifying scenes ever put on film, and absolutely mind blowing if you were lucky enough to see in the theater back in 1979. The alien face hugger had laid an embryo within Kane's throat, and the newborn baby bursts through his chest. There is an alien loose on the ship.
Alien is basically a Gothic horror film set in space, Its long dark corridors and movement in the shadows. It's the fear of things that go bump in the night. Like its namesake, the ALIEN film is perfection. You get a real sense of who these characters are without spending much time with them. The alien threat grows bigger and bigger with every incarnation. It's hunting the crew down one by one in glorious Agatha Christie fashion.
ALIEN was the second film from director Ridley Scott. It is a masterpiece unparalleled in the science fiction and horror genres. I know that sounds pretentious but the proof's in the pudding. There is nothing that comes close to this film not even James Cameron's sequel. Every detail has a lived in pseudo-cyberpunk look to it. The world is believable and tangible.
Tom Skerritt as Capt. Dallas is the essence of future cool, by way of the 79. His mannerisms suggest someone who does his job, doesn't want to deal with a lot of headache, and at the end of the day just wants to go home and relax.
I always felt the Veronica Cartwright was rather spastic as Lambert. I always felt that she had some sort of a crush on Dallas only to have Ridley confirm that they were in fact sleeping with each other. This explains her emotional deterioration after his death.
Harry Dean Stanton as Brett was the picture of blue-collar worker in Middle America. He is the kind of man on earth that would drive a Ford pickup with a rifle on the back window and an open container in his hands.
Yaphet Koto as Parker, the other engineer in the group, is more the disgruntled worker, the kind of guy that stirs up trouble when he is discontent. Parker is a hard worker, no doubt, but the biggest thorn in your side when he's unhappy.
Kane, as played by John Hurt, with all the cool is that comes with being a first officer. He's the kind of guy you wouldn't mind working for; smart, authoritative, but pleasant to work with. He is a man who gets his hands dirty and unfortunately it cost him.
Ian Holm is Ash, a man with more secrets than pleasantries. There is a certain arrogance that would come with being the ship's science Officer, but Ash definitely takes it to the next level. The less said about him the better.
That brings us to Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. Ripley does not become the main character until halfway through the film, but, when she does step up she holds the screen better than any man on the crew. There is calmness and a strength that comes through in her eyes that leads to little doubt on who was running that ship.
But what about the alien you say? H.R. Giger designing the alien based on his painting Necronom IV. It was the first time anything as original as this had been seen on screen and many would argue the last. Everything about the alien is phallic and threatening. Its structure is essentially black boned with a giant phallus for a head. Its sole purpose, it would seem is to reproduce. Since it stops at nothing to do so, the alien can be seen as misogynistic, since it will take what it wants when it wants it (and leave a bun in the oven to boot).
Much has been made of the film being very sexual and that isn't without merit. The whole film is the act of sex and reproduction. The ALIEN comes from an egg and grows up; the alien head is phallic shaped. Its tongue protrudes and penetrates. It Implants seed and its alien babies are birthed. In simple terms ladies and gentlemen, if the Alien meets you, you are fucked!
The cycle of life is repeated over and over in the film. The crewmembers are all birthed from their egg shaped sleep chambers. The first sexual act is against Kane, impregnating him with an unwanted child. When the child is born King dies, and from that point forward the cycle of life and death repeats again and again. However, just as the film opens with an isolated set of births (the sleep chamber emergence), the film concludes with an isolated death. The alien, who has latched on to this family, is attacking its mother, Ripley. She shoots the alien with a grappling hook, its cord creating a link between her and the unwanted child. The alien is pushed out the door and the cord is cut, leaving the child to fend for itself just as we all must. Ripley is left with one child, Jones the cat, the unofficial mascot of the crew. The film ends with one child and one mother asleep in the egg shaped chamber, waiting to be born again and for life to start anew.
Others have tried to elevate their film by having H.R. Giger draw a poster for them. It’s more than that, it’s not just the man who paints the painting, it's what the image represents, and that will never happen again.
Another great thing about the film is more subtle, the world rings true. Now we never see Earth or is it talked about, but we see the average working Joe, and we can relate to him. I can go on all day about the perfection that is alien, but I won't. If you have never given ALIEN a shot, please do. It is a film unmatched by its contemporaries as well as its namesakes. You could do worse but you'll seldom do better.