by Fallon Morey
Directed by Ridley Scott
Twentieth Century Fox
Disclaimer: this author has always considered Alien (1979) among the scariest movies of all time. Ridley Scott’s commercial directorial debut showed the world that science movies can be scarier than their psycho-killer-in-a-mask counterparts. It launched Sigourney Weaver’s acting career in her first starring role as Ellen Ripley and brought artist H. R. Giger’s work into mainstream visibility.
During routine voyage, a group of space-miners aboard The Nostromo are awakened from cryostasis to respond to a distress call from deep space. Upon reaching the foreign landmass, the astronauts investigate the eerie landscape but find no signs of anyone in distress. The danger begins when one member becomes a host to some type of parasite and is brought back aboard the ship. After killing its host, the newly birthed creature turns into a fully grown, nightmarish killing machine within just a few hours, complete with acidic blood and a mouth-within-a-mouth full of lethally sharp teeth. The monster slashes its way through the crew and ultimately, it is up to Ripley to save herself and attempt to rid the ship of the alien’s presence.
Script writer Dan O’Bannon reportedly conceptualized a sci-fi horror concept as a college film student but brought the idea to fruition only years later after seeing the work of H. R. Giger. Giger’s monster, a work of art sculpted from reptile bones, human skull, latex, and even car parts became the centerpiece of the script and continues to terrify across an entire franchise. While most viewers today may be habituated to billion-dollar special effects budgets, the much simpler effects here do not make this movie feel overly dated and even nearly 40 years after its release, Alien stands the test of time.
The terror is not built solely on depictions of gore, though there is some of that present (we did mention acid for blood, right?) The horrible and gorgeous visuals work in concert with the steady reveal of the danger of the situation aboard Nostromo to build suspense in a smooth crescendo. (We’re not even going to discuss the murderous robots). By the time the full extent of the horror is revealed, it is too late, and survival for anyone seems unlikely. Ripley’s all-out, frenzied push to survive allows the viewer to enjoy the thrill ride with reckless abandon.
As the original tagline says: “In space, no one can hear you scream.” While the person watching the movie with you may be able to hear you scream, go ahead. It makes the movie that much more enjoyable. (Also, watch the sequel—Aliens, 1986. You’re welcome.)