On May 25, 1979 the world first learned a horrifying truth – ‘In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.’
Ridley Scott’s seminal classic Alien managed to terrify audiences in a way that few other science fiction films had managed to accomplish. Nearly 40 years later, Alien is still considered to be one of the best science fiction films ever made. In many respects it is timeless. And who would have known that it was all thanks to Tobe Hooper.
Story goes that Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon was blown away by Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Ridley Scott was by no means a horror fan, but O’Bannon eventually convinced Scott to watch the film with producer Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours). The horror film mesmerized and horrified the two men so thoroughly that Hill could not finish his hamburger. And that’s when Scott realized his vision for Alien. He decided that his sci-fi flick would encompass all the best elements of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but in space!
So, instead of the gruesome Leatherface, there would be the “perfect organism” — the Xenomorph.
With the tone of the upcoming film set, Scott needed a truly original atmosphere and creature design for his film. That’s where famed gothic and surreal artist, H.R. Giger, came in. Giger’s artwork and sculptures had given him a truly unique reputation for producing some of the world’s most disturbing visual stimuli. Heavy on bio-mechanical (and erotic) imagery, Giger’s style is considered beautiful, grotesque and horrifying.
Scott wanted his Xenomorph to not only be original in its appearance but completely frightening as well. To get the best reactions from his cast, Scott ensured Xenomorph actor Bolaki Badejo reamined secluded from the rest of the cast. When each character sees the creature for the first time on screen, their frightened reactions are legitimate. Can you imagine how frightening that would have been for Tom Skerritt (Captain Dallas) when he turned around in that duct and saw the beast reach out from the darkness for the first time?? Talk about close encounters!
The success of the film is not only due to the tension and fear, both on and off screen, but also it is due to the originality of the titular creature. The egg, which leads to the Facehugger, which leads to the Xenomorph, gives the audience a species of perfect killing machines.
When the crew of the Nostromo intercepts a mysterious beacon, they encounter an alien ship unlike anything they’ve ever seen. While investigating the ship, Kane (John Hurt) finds a particularly disturbing sight in the downed vessel. He is the first to lay eyes on the leathery eggs and, like a jack-in-the-box, out pops the Facehugger.
The idea of a creature that can move lightening fast, has the strength to punch through an inch of glass, attach itself to your face, and keep you in a coma-like state as it… impregnates you, is pretty damn frightening. Not to mention, the bastard has acid for blood!
Some time later, the Facehugger removes itself from Kane and dies. With a seemingly clean bill of health, he joins the crew for their last supper before cryo-sleep. But a few laughs and spoonfuls later, Kane begins to choke and react violently. A moment of panic and confusion follows and then a sudden burst of blood from his chest erupts and shocks the crew into silence. We hear bones breaking, flesh ripping and then the high pitched squeal of the baby Xenomorph in it’s second stage of a villainous life-cycle. It looks over the room and crew before suddenly slithering away.
With the introduction of such a brilliantly original creature, Alien also gave us one of the most badass heroes in science fiction. I am talking, of course, of the first officer of the Nostromo, Lieutenant Ripley (played by the lovely Sigourney Weaver.) Ripley is a fantastic character because, although our final girl, she doesn’t actually lead the cast until the third act of the film. Throughout the beginning, when the crew investigates the supposed distress beacon from an alien vessel, it’s Ripley that questions the beacon and its purpose. She does this from the background though. She is also the only one that is leery of the newly added science officer Ash (played by the wonderfully charming Ian Holm.)
It is not until the demise of Captain Dallas that Ripley takes full charge of the crew. Unfortunately the rest of the crew is picked off one by one by the duct dwelling creature and it falls to Ripley destroy it. In the final scene, Ripley is in the tight confines of the escape vessel and she has blown up the Nostromo. Little does she know, there is a stowaway. The tenseness of the scene is increased as Ripley’s breathing is focused on, there is a deliberate omission of music once again from the scene, and the calm hissing of the Xenomorph in it’s final form.
After a pretty kick-ass boss fight, Ripley leaves a recording of her story before going into cryo-sleep. A perfect ending because all ends are tide up in a satisfactory way but also leaves plenty of space for 8 sequels, including two prequels and a crossover series with Predator. There have also been numerous novels and comic books written which have expanded the Alien universe greatly, forever evolving the Xenomorph into a more perfect lifeform.
Alien is an absolutely classic film of countless influence with one of the most impressive creatures, even by today’s standards. When did you first see Alien? Let us know on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!