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Alien (1979)


“In space, no one can hear you scream.”

Thus the world was introduced to one of the most terrifying movie monsters ever, a nearly unstoppable killing machine designed to pour on the paranoia fuel in every possible way, including its nightmarish breeding cycle.  The Alien franchise would go on to span movies, books, video games, and eventually an official crossover with the Predator franchise to create one of the biggest franchise grudge matches this side of Freddy vs. Jason.

The original Alien was written by Dan O’Bannon (who would go on to direct Return of the Living Dead) and directed by Ridley Scott (who would follow his success with Blade Runner and Gladiator).  It starred Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton as the crew of the commercial towing spaceship Nostromo whose return trip to Earth is sidetracked by an apparent distress signal from a derelict ship, where they find the pilot is long-dead, his ribcage apparently exploded from within, the rest of the crew is not in immediate evidence, and a lower hold is filled with leathery eggs.  When Kane (Hurt) investigates one of the eggs, it hatches, releasing a spiderlike organism that attaches itself to his face.

Over the objections of Ripley (Weaver), Ash (Holm) allows Kane and his passenger back on board the Nostromo, carried by his teammates Dallas (Skerritt) and Lambert (Cartwright).  In the infirmary, the crew unsuccessfully attempt to remove the parasite, discovering in the process that it has corrosive acid for blood.  Fortunately, it ultimately detaches on its own and is found dead, while Kane recovers apparently unharmed.  However, over dinner, the crew discovers that the true terror is just beginning, in a scene that has been referenced and homaged many times since, most notably when Hurt himself reprised his role for a cameo in Spaceballs.

Alien still holds up well today as a tense horror movie set in the “used future” that would be depicted in future sci fi films, and the Alien itself (designed by H. R. Giger, the master of biomechanical body horror and symbolic penises, and amazingly played by a 7’2 Nigerian design student named Bolaji Badejo in a suit) continues to terrify even today, with its overall design blending in perfectly with industrial surroundings, and its chilling, insectile efficiency letting you know right off the bat that it does not care about you.  If you are lucky, you are food.  If you are unlucky, you will be an incubator.

It is worth noting that the original script did not specify the genders of the seven leads, making Sigourney Weaver’s casting as Ripley less a matter of her being the Final Girl of a horror movie and more an inspired bit of serendipity that would lead to her pioneering the Action Girl archetype later in the franchise.  Indeed, the crew of the Nostromo are not action heroes – just government contractors who discover that EvilCorp Weyland-Yutani is quite willing to throw them to the wolves if it will get them the finest weapon they could ever hope to find.  The role of W-Y regarding the Xenomorphs continued to be explored in the Expanded Universe, showing savvy viewers that sometimes the worst monsters are completely human.

Overall, Alien is an excellent example of science fiction/horror subgenre.  The characters are sympathetic and believable, and the creature effects still hold up well and make us believe that this is a monster that would gladly eat your face as soon as look at you.  If you want an example of a hostile alien movie done right, look no further.

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