In the future, during its return to Planet Earth, the spaceship Nostromo receives a distress message from a far-off moon. The crew are woken from their deep-sleep, and the spaceship then descends on the moon. On an exploration expedition, a three-member-team discovers a barren spaceship and a big room inside, containing many thousands of eggs. When Kane (John Hurt) gets too close, the egg’s parasite attacks him, rendering him unconscious. Abroad the ship, with the ‘face hugger’ attached to his face, the crew need to work out how to get it off. After a while it dies, but everything seems normal, or is it?
“In space, no one can hear you scream” is the film’s tagline, and it’s bloody great. At its release in 1979, it was privy to as much hype as Star Wars (1977). And thus, the sci-fi genre was changed again, adding a horror element into the mix, which was also psychological, compelling and a knockout. Something that hadn’t been seen since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Alien has spawned four sequels, one prequel and a spinoff duology that we don’t speak about. Suspense is the name of the game and Alien is a prime example of it, an element in film that I think hasn’t been done properly since the days of Hitchcock.
The Alien in Alien is the most scarily designed creature I’ve seen in any movie ever. It is haunting. Having only watched this for this time the other week, even nearly forty years after its original release I was freaked. Though, that may have something to do with me watching it at the cinema as part of a double feature with Prometheus. Acquiring the ‘Alien Superticket’ is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Alien on the massive cinema screen is not something I’m likely to forget. I can only imagine that the uneasiness I felt was tripled in comparison to viewers who watch the DVD/Blu-Ray-editions at home in the comfort of their living rooms.
The Alien is super freaky. It’s a ruthless and conscienceless parasite completely free of any civilised characteristics that humans are used to. It has a humanoid form, but that’s the only thing homosapien about it. It has no weaknesses like emotion or attachment, or civilised intelligence. It is the opposite to everything that defines the human soul. It is more adapted to the ship’s interior than our characters are. In essence, this film is a chase between Alien and prey. They are caught in a tunnel of human tensions in an unlivable ship. To top things off, the perfect predator comes to hunt them down, not because it is hungry and needs to eat, but just because it can.
Just when you think the monster is gone, it turns up in the most unexpected places. Another tagline for this film should “expect the unexpected” because it comes out of nowhere, and the suspense entwined with the uneasiness and mixture of visuals and sounds really knocks your fear factor for six. Not to forget to mention the tight spaces of the ship suddenly make the very spacious cinema screening incredibly claustrophobic. The use of sounds and visuals made me think I was on the ship as well, with Mr Alien and the crew. The music done by Jerry Goldsmith plays into the spookiness, and it’s a job well-done. This might have become one of my favourite films of all time.
This is not a film about heroes who combat evil. It’s about facing our true fears and demons, it just happens this one is without a face. It’s a fear that can’t be reasoned with, and the goal is to survive. Survival of the Fittest. Everyone is expendable and this creature does not care. It’s a narrative where some strike back (Ripley) and others succumb to their fears (Lambert) and ultimately, Alien, who must be given his dues for killing in creative ways. There’s no hierarchy on who lives and dies. Only the fittest survive. If you’re slow, you die. None of them are heroes or villains, but there are some who cross moral boundaries that can be perceived as an evil act.
I’m not one for horror movies, but this one is a keeper. With excellent performances, a great set and a viciously well-designed monster, Alien still holds up to this day, even if some of the dialogue is very 1970s.