September 24, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Alien

starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, and Yaphet Kotto
directed by Ridley Scott
screenplay by Dan O'Bannon
20th Century Fox (1979)

Alien is one of the scariest science-fiction films you'll ever see in your life. It exemplifies the best of what can happen when you blend science-fiction and horror. And the strange thing of it is that if not for the decision to cast a woman (Sigourney Weaver) in the lead role to make the film stand out from the boys club of action films, Alien might have been considered average when it hit theaters. Actually, the movie did get some mixed reviews during its release. One reviewer of the day went so far as to call the movie "an empty bag of tricks." Wow. I wonder if that guy stands by his review.

Set in the late 21st century, a towing vessel is hauling a payload of minerals back to Earth when they receive a distress signal. They find only a corpse and a chamber full of ominous alien eggs. One opens and the hatchling attaches itself to the face of Kane (John Hurt). Everybody hauls ass back on board the ship and heads for home only to discover Kane has an alien growing inside him. And when the thing bursts out of his chest and scurries across the mess hall table like a coked-up squirrel, the rest of the crew have to figure out how to catch it and kill it before they all wind up as human incubators.

I first saw this movie during my tween years in the early nineties and it scared the daylights out of me. Ridley Scott presents the movie in the beginning in such a way as to lull the audience into thinking it might be more sci-fi mystery with some suspense thrown in. But when John Hurt's death scene occurs, the explosion into a relentless horror film is jarring to the senses. A claustrophobic feeling of terror courses throughout the movie, as the crew gets picked off one by one. Somehow, it avoids being a body count movie and turns into something a bit grander.

Sigourney Weaver plays a great bad-ass in the movie, especially when she starts taking the fight to the alien. Tom Skerritt, meanwhile, is always a great a-hole and plays a good foil of Ripley. John Hurt and Ian Holm are always welcome on the screen, too. As far as the design of the alien is concerned, it's iconic. Dan O'Bannon was influenced by artist H.R. Giger in particular when it came to the aliens sleek and sensual arachnoid appearance, and even had Giger hired on to design a great deal more. I dare say that despite strong performances by the cast--all notably older than typical horror film teen fodder--the alien steals the movie. It must have been memorable, because there's apparently a piece of the original alien costume at the Smithsonian.

Alien is simply one of those films I doubt I'll ever grow tired of watching. The sequels are less memorable with me, but that's to be expected given the nature of cinema. The seemingly endless rivalry/duality between Ripley and the alien in those movies is an intriguing one, though. And it all started with this excellent film.


  1. I really enjoyed Alien too (was in my late teens seeing it in the theatre). Yes, there was some gore but the scariest scenes were when you didn't see the creature at all. The build up of suspense is everything.

  2. Agreed. The buildup alone in this movie makes it worth watching.

  3. This is my all-time favorite movie. As a child, I snuck out of my room one night and caught glimpses of it while my older sister was watching. Scared me to death. You would think that would have left me traumatized, but instead it made me a fan for life :)