Dead Man's Shoes
The Last Horror Movie
Shaun Of The Dead
The Weekend Murders
Kiss Of The Vampire
The Devil's Men
Three Cases Of Murder
Darklands
O Lucky Man

Alien
1979

It had been a very long time since I'd seen this little gem (you might have heard of it), and I wondered whether it would still hold my interest - let alone scare me. Back in the early 80s, along with An American Werewolf In London and Jaws, this was part of an unholy trilogy of films that were shown far too early in the evening on telly. All three scared the crap out of me. American Werewolf has still got it (see the review) and Jaws still has (although there's no review - it's not British), but could Alien cut the mustard, twenty years on?
Well, yes and no. It's a beautifully shot, brilliantly written film for sure, but it's just not scary any more. Perhaps it's just a case of seeing it once too often - all the shocks now seem telegraphed too far in advance, and compared with a lot of films, you just don't see much (the chest-bursting scene excepted). Anyway, here goes:
The beginning sends shivers of recognition down the spine - the camera pans across the empty blackness of space as the letters "A L I E N" appear, very slowly. Unfortunately, the Nostromo doesn't appear half as impressive as it once did - it's basically just a load of Airfix kits stuck together. As the computers on the ship burst into life, with their screens reflected in the emergency helmet visors, you're struck by how the film hasn't dated (unlike the stuff that came later - ie Inseminoid).
As the crew wake up from their hypersleep (John Hurt looks like shit in his big nappy) and mumble their way through breakfast, the modern viewer begins to wonder how so little action can be such compulsive viewing. There have been few films since that have dared to show how humdrum life in the future will probably be (ignoring the idea of huge scary monsters biting people's faces off, for the time being).
Outside the ship, space looks fantastic - distant galaxies and colourful planets. In fact, the whole film is a lot more colourful than you might remember. The sequels are all very drab, but in this one even each space suits is a different hue.
Of course, you all know the story (if you don't where have you been?), and after a very light touchdown on the uncharted planet, every panel in the ship decides to explode for no discernible reason. And while we're at it, why have they all gone down to the planet's surface? Why has no-one decided to stay on the Nostromo?
Ash's clowning around as the others set off to check out the alien ship looks far more sinister when you know what he's up to - as is his reaction to Ripley's deciphering of the message as a warning: "By the time it takes (us) to get there, they'll know if it's a warning or not..."
John Hurt's character is a real hero-type, first to volunteer for the mission - and the bloke who goes into the hole. He's also pretty bloody stupid - I mean, would you poke at a huge "leathery egg" if there was something moving around inside it?
The egg burst doesn't quite scare you as it once might have done, and the face-hugger itself looks a bit crap. Of course, Ash breaks all the rules and lets everyone back in to the ship, and they discover the alien's "defence mechanism" (the scene where it's acidic blood melts through the hull is a great set-piece).
Then this vicious, fast-moving, acid-spitting alien menace disappears. So what do they do? Wander into the room where it obviously still is, armed with sticks with lights on the end. Luckily, it's already dead, and the crew is soon sitting down to a celebration meal (surely Hurt should be in some kind of solitary after what's just happened to him?), which is wrecked when Hurt forgets his table manners and explodes all over everyone. This scene seems to get shorter and less bloody every time I see it - either there's the censor's scissors at work, or I'm just getting old and jaded. And if the speeded up exit of the baby alien isn't supposed to be funny, then it was a very bad bit of SFX work, because it is (funny, that is).
Of course, after that it's out with the cattle prods and the home-made alien detectors (which unfortunately also pick up cats), and the wholesale slaughter of the crew begins. What strikes you now is how the ship looks like a real, working thing - the room with the chains and the dripping water, the cool iris hatches in the corridors.
Famous last words:
"Here kitty... ah, kitty crap. Jones? Jonesy?"
And of course:
Ripley: "It's moving right towards you!"
Dallas: "Erm..."
Ash's "death", peculiarly, is the most disturbing - considering there's no blood. As is his attempt to kill Ripley by shoving a rolled-up jazz mag down her throat. And of course, the deaths of Parker and Lambert give us our first good look at what's been scaring the crap out of us for the last hour-and-a-bit - a man in a wet suit. Brrrr.
Ripley (who has already proved herself to be the real hero of the film several times already) then decides to blow up the ship. Then tries to save it. What's the point of a five minute warning when it takes 30 seconds to stop the process? That only makes it a four-and-a-half minute warning.
The explosion's quite good, and then of course we get the twist - that she's blown up that huge ship for no reason at all. The strobe lighting helps hide the crapness of the alien outfit, and she finally manages to kill it. This alien is a lot tougher than anything that comes along in the later films. Not only does Ripley scald it, throw it into a vaccuum and shoot it with an enormous harpoon, but it only actually dies when she fries it in the ship's rockets. In fact, I'm not convinced that even that does it. It's still in once piece as it floats off, anyway.
Alien is a great film - but is one of the few examples of a film being outclassed by its sequel in almost every way. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt. But whatever way you look at it, it's been hugely influential - no sci fi film has been the same since.

Alien (1979)
Director: Ridley Scott Writer(s): Dan O'Bannon (story) Ronald Shusett (story)
Cast: Tom Skerritt - Captain Dallas, Sigourney Weaver - Ripley, Veronica Cartwright - Lambert, Harry Dean Stanton - Brett, John Hurt - Kane, Ian Holm - Ash, Yaphet Kotto - Parker, Bolaji Badejo - 'Alien', Helen Horton - Mother

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Alien

Alien

Alien

Alien

Alien