It is important to me to provide comprehensive content warnings, but you should always trust yourself when deciding whether or not to watch a movie. Horror movies are meant to push you to the edge of your comfort zone, and that is one of the reasons why I love the genre so much. You can always expect frightening imagery, loud noises, scenes of intense peril, and gore even in the smallest amounts. If you have any questions, I am always happy to talk about movies.
acid and burns
fire and burns
animal in peril (survives)
eggs and parasitic organisms
Starring Sigourney Weaver
Run time: 1 hr 57 mins
Won 1 Academy Award for visual effects
Yes. I read you. The answer is negative.
I recently asked my friends on Facebook what was their favorite horror movie. The first comment was “Do you consider Alien (1979) horror? If so, then Alien.” Multiple comments later and it was obvious that Alien was going to be the clear winner. Instead of writing about why you should watch it, I am going to write about why it is still frightening almost 40 years later.
Why You Should Like Alien
Alien is horrifying, but why? At its core, it is a man in a rubber suit monster movie. There is something else about it that creates a perfect storm of scream inducing scares. If you read what Dan O’Bannon (the brain behind the story) has written about the movie, or if you are familiar with the themes of H.R. Giger, then what I’m about to say won’t be a surprise. If you haven’t, then prepare yourself.
Alien is a movie about rape, specifically male rape and impregnation. The imagery is all there, and it is obvious once you see it. The egg for the chestburster is implanted by a phallus shoved down Kane’s throat. The trauma of birth theory, initially mused on by Sigmund Freud and further expanded on by Otto Rank, postulates that birth causes significant trauma which people spend their entire lives trying to overcome. Uterine life is peaceful and the fantasy of returning to the mother’s womb outweighs all other fantasies. Alien takes the safe and blissful mother’s womb and turns it into a horrifying, violent gore explosion. The importance of the ‘birth’ happening during a meal can’t be overstated. The dining room is fresh, white, and sterile. Culturally, the dinner table is the cornerstone of building social relationships. It is a place where friends and families meet to bond and share a meal, couples go on dates and have dinner, diplomatic connections are strengthened during state dinners. Having the idyllic peace interrupted by a violent birth is deeply upsetting beyond the surface gore.
Alien skillfully harnesses our fear of the unseen and unknown menace. Even with the xenomorph getting minimal screen time, the audience is genuinely just as scared as the crew. Building tension through sound effects, soundtrack, shadows, and the actors reactions isn’t an easy task. One of my favorite stories out of the Alien production involves the infamous chestburster scene. The actors were told what was going to happen, and that there would be some blood. I have a feeling that they were expecting something more like a squib, which is not what they got. The reactions to the fountain of blood are real (especially Veronica Cartwright’s screaming). Sometimes it is the small things that can take a movie to the next level.
Why You Will Not Like Alien
Alien is a slow build. The first thirty minutes are incredibly laborious with extended shots of ‘space things’, people talking about ‘space things’, and lots of wondering when this alien will finally show up. Even after the face hugger appears, it is another 30 minutes until we get to see the xenomorph. The reason for all of the panic and death has 4 minutes of screen time and no clear full body shot until the last scene. It definitely builds the tension in the movie, but the pace can be painful at times. If you are expecting a super splatter gore fest, that isn’t Alien.
Computer effects weren’t around (or feasible for small budget movies), so all of the effects are practical. I appreciate the elbow grease that goes into setting up practical effects, but there are several points where it is obvious that a dummy was used. No, they didn’t actually smash in Ian Holm’s head. Most of the effects stand up against the test of time, thanks to the crew’s intense eye for detail. For the casual movie viewer, the obvious effects and outdated technology might ruin the experience.
There are a few plot holes that can ruin the movie if you think about it too much. Ash is the cause of most of the plot holes and convoluted explanations. There has been some attempt to correct with sequels/prequels, but it is easier to move past them as quickly as the movie does. I think the one that caused my eyelid twitch was that if they had just followed protocol, none of this would’ve happened. There is a reason why rules exist! And yes, I know that was our first hint that Ash wasn’t on the level, but come on! No one was suspicious about why the science officer is suddenly breaking the rules? No one?
Alien will definitely continue to be on the top of horror movie lists. It has a great balance of gore, scares, and the creeping unknown. Even with the continued watering-down of the Alien universe by prequels and sequels, the original will always be a classic.