Plot: A mining ship, investigating a suspected SOS, lands on a distant planet. The crew discovers some strange creatures and investigates.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Dan O'Bannon (story), Ronald Shusett (story)
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt and John Hurt
In space no one can hear you scream
With the fast approaching "Prometheus" Ridley Scott's return to the world of "Alien" for the first time in 33 years now it's the perfect time to revisit his masterpiece of space horror, one that's yet to be beaten as the scariest movie ever taking place in space. We follow the events concerning the crew of Nostromo and the mysterious monster whose only agenda seems to be slaughtering them with excitement and with true horror. I wasn't yet born when the movie premiered in 1979 and I was too young to see it when it was re-released in theatres in 2003. But I remember the first time I saw "Alien" as if it was yesterday, in broad daylight, in a house filled with people, the movie still managed to scare me, turning my blood cold many times and sustaining the almost unbearable tension from the opening scene to the very end.
There are so many things that worked brilliantly in the movie - first the setting. We are always with the crew, whether they are on Nostromo or on a bizarre planet. We know as much as they do - we have no idea what the strange eggs on the planet are, what is the facehugger creature that attaches itself to Kane's face and finally we have no idea what is Alien, where does it come from or what does it want. It's almost like it's punishing the crew with its brutality and viciousness, for whatever reason. Or it's much more simple - it simply needs a host to reproduce.
What makes the movie so scary is that there is only one creature and it easily makes it way through the guts and blood of Nostromo crew. Unlike in overhyped "Aliens" where Sigourney Weaver sometimes manages to kill a creature in the matter of seconds, here the crew is struggling to survive for the entire movie. There is also of course the horror movie cliche when the bad guy you thought is gone, comes back. But boy, oh boy, if it ever worked in the movie, it worked here.
But the most unique thing that distinguished this movie from other horror cult classics like "Predator" and "The Thing" is the atmosphere of the film and the creature itself. The dense, creepy and almost suffocating ambiance drips with tension and the fear of unknown. With the accompaniment of Jerry Goldsmith's chilling score we enter the sterile ship and then bizarre planet, where every rock, every stone and every wall seems as it had a life of their own.
Some even said that the movie is really about rape or giving birth. Both elements are prominent in the story - Kane is raped in a sense his organism is penetrated and he is forced to give birth. Also there is a way, very bizarre way indeed with which Ash chooses to attempt to suffocate Ripley. And then there is that famous outfit Ripley wears near the end of the movie. Perhaps all of that is one of the reasons for which the movie is so petrifying. Is there something more scary than a monster or even a person trying to invade the most private area of human's existence?
The creature is never filmed directly facing the camera due to the humanoid features of its face. Ridley Scott, determined at all costs to dispel any notion of a man in a rubber suit, filmed the beast in varying close-up angles of its ghastly profile, very rarely capturing the beast in its entirety.Scott was petrified people won't be scared because they will see that it's just some guy wearing a costume. The fear was justified, but people ended up being scared. The few scenes where Alien looked a lot like a person in a costume were cut. We always see him in a mist, smoke or only for a split second.
The rumor that the cast, except for John Hurt, did not know what would happen during the chestburster scene is partly true. The scene had been explained for them, but they did not know specifics. For instance, Veronica Cartwright did not expect to be sprayed with blood.There was a puppeteer sitting underneath the chair, casually drinking coffee. When the scene played out, with the puppet, the fake blood, screams and shock, reportedly few people actually rushed to the toilet to vomit. It was worth it. It is now considered to be one of the scariest and most disturbing moments in the history of cinema.
To get Jones the cat react fearfully to the descending Alien, a German Shepherd was placed in front of him with a screen between the two, so the cat wouldn't see it at first, and came over. The screen was then suddenly removed to make Jones stop, and start hissing. And Jones the cat must be my favorite cat in any movie. Alien doesn't chase him unlike other living creatures on Nostromo. Jones the cat survives, while others run around with weapons, the cat simply runs around the ship, ending up victorious in the end. I always found it to be very humorous.
And then there is a protagonist, Ellen Ripley in a legendary performance by then unknown Sigourney Weaver. Ripley who is now one of the most famous heroines in films is a strong woman, but she also remains ordinary. When Alien attacks she simply does everything she can think of to survive. She is still scared, still has no idea what is going on. But she is able to find the courage within. The moment where she signs lullaby to calm herself near the end of the movie is my favorite moment of Weaver's acting in all of the series.
"Alien" 33 years after its premiere remains just as it was all this time ago - compelling, disturbing and paralyzingly scary. Can Scott top it with "Prometheus"? I doubt that, but if he at least gets close to making such an impression on the audience as "Alien" did, it will be a success.