In space no one can hear you scream, but it comes across loud and clear in the theater. Decades after its release, Ridley Scott’s Alien still stands as one of the scariest movies you will ever seen in a movie theater, and it remains the apex of the dark side of science fiction. It’s one of the great movies, period.
Alien is one of those films that very easily could have never happened. If Alejandro Jodorowsky’s tripped out version of Dune actually been made, there would be no Alien. But when that movie fell apart screenwriter Dan O’Bannon wrote something he called Star Beast, and he brought into it the collaborators he met on that failed movie, including Swiss artist HR Giger. If Star Wars hadn’t been a hit Star Beast might have been made for Roger Corman instead of 20th Century Fox, which means Ridley Scott — fresh off his debut film, The Duelists — would never have his career-launching success. And if Alien hadn’t been made… well, I don’t even want to contemplate that world.
Alien was made, and Alien was a masterpiece. Giger’s biomechanical Xenomorph design is one of the most recognizable monsters in the history of cinema, and the film’s blue collar aesthetic, on the heels of George Lucas’ dinged and used Star Wars aesthetic, forever changed the way we thought about space travel. All of a sudden the people piloting us to the stars weren’t smiling beacons of patriotic goodwill, they were space truckers looking to make a buck. And Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley became one of the prototypical badass movie heroines, breaking out of the Final Girl cliche (which, on some level, Alien helped create).
None of the other films in the Alien franchise have ever matched Scott’s original. The sense of creeping dread is overwhelming, punctuated by bursts of bloody terror. The first chestbursting scene, with John Hurt writhing on the breakfast table as seemingly gallons of blood spurt from his chest, is an indelible pop culture moment that is so good no amount of parody or repetition can dull its brutal edge. And the characters are among the best in science fiction history, lightly sketched with masterful performances that continue giving us new nuances to discover.
What’s so brilliant about Alien is that it works as a psychosexual creep out — the phallic imagery and the penetration violence sticks with you forever — as well as a wonderful in the moment fun house. That’s true horror — something that has you jumping in your seat while still scarring you in the long run. Sink into the sticky, hot embrace of the Xenomorph and enjoy one of the greatest movies we’ve ever shown on this screen.