Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Night of Terror #31: Alien

Last year I wrapped up the blog with John Carpenter's Halloween, so I thought it would be cool to go with another giant, perfect horror classic on Halloween this year. And since it was playing at the Paramount Theater in Austin, I went with Ridley Scott's Alien.

I'm not using the word "perfect" lightly here - every time I see Alien I'm struck by how relentless it is at building suspense and creating a frightening atmosphere from only the highest-quality ingredients. The characters, unlike the ones in most horror movies before or since, seem like fully fleshed-out human beings, despite there being a minimum of exposition or explicit "character development" in the plot. It's mostly due to the performances by the actors, and the willingness by the filmmakers to let those performances breathe and bounce off of each other like real people instead of just props.

And then there's the monster, who in some sequences seems terrifyingly human(oid) rather than just believably so. That's probably because he's meant to be a hybrid of human and xenomorph - that idea of sinister procreation goes along with all the creepy sexual imagery that the beast embodies. I read a review once when I was a kid that said he had a "dripping, vaginal mouth." How about that??

Anyway, I guess I don't have that much to say about Alien, partially because I saw another movie afterward that sort of fried my brain but mostly just because, like, what more can I say? So to close us out I'll do my best to describe my favorite sequence in the movie, one that would make an appropriate closing to our month of scary movies since it ends on a classic "boo" shock:

The scene is set thus: Our hero Ellen Ripley is alone (or is she?) on an escape pod in deep space after blowing up the Nostromo and presumably the alien creature that killed the rest of the crew with it. She's leisurely making her way through the shuttle, checking on various doodads and whatsits while stripping down to her underwear and getting ready to go into hypersleep. Then, the audience notices a row of oxygen tanks along the wall of the shuttle that look suspiciously like the alien's head - "wow," the hypothetical audience member thinks to himself, "this movie is really getting to me. I'm seeing that monster's head in those oxygen tanks! What a good movie this is, ha ha!" The shot holds ... just long enough for our hypothetical audience member to convince himself that it is indeed just an oxygen tank, when suddenly ... the alien's claw pops out of the wall, grabbing at Ripley and jolting all of us in our seats! I've probably seen Alien a dozen times and this scene always "fools" me even though I know it's coming, and it always, always makes me jump. To me it's the greatest jolt in the history of horror movies, and it's Scott's restraint and patience as a filmmaker that makes it so.

Happy Halloween, everybody! Thanks to everyone who participated, and hopefully we can do it again next year.


  1. I have two things to say, one of which you will definitely find interesting and the second of which is a "maybe" in that particular department. First and foremost, great blog post, buddy, and great series all around. In all seriousness I think this intensifies the specialness of this Halloween season by like at least twentyfold, if not thirty-. Secondly, and this is something I don't know if you or anybody else cares about, but in the beginning of the novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard (which provided the basis for Quentin Tarantino's landmark JACKIE BROWN) Ordell and Louis are having a conversation while watching TV and Ordell goes off on this tangent about how, during the scene you described here, Sigourney Weaver is in her underwear and the alien inexplicably does not get turned on. That's always tickled me.

  2. Thanks!

    And weird - I have read Rum Punch but I don't remember the bit about Alien.