The formula for horror is often times simplified to produce cheap thrills with characters the viewer cannot relate toward. At the end of the ‘70s, Ridley Scott’s Alien was one of the few movies set in space with some gravitas of seriousness. This was due to Star Wars ushering in the highest form of flattery. In some masterful stroke, Scott created the scariest horror film, and of all places told it in an area with a childcentric stigma.
Elements of horror films must keep the pace. The plot must be easily explained. This is necessary to allow focus to be placed on the nemesis of the protagonists. In Alien a deep space mining crew lead by Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) and Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), is awaken from sleep by a message intercepted through the ship’s computer. Under contract to investigate, the Nostromo lands on the planet LV-426 in search of the origin. There, they discover a spacecraft of unknown origin and a series of large eggs. A being spawns from an egg and attacks a crew member. Taken back to their ship with the being attached, the threat toward the remaining crew evolves.
Considering the freedom of today, with endless computer assistance, there is a remarkable amount of atmosphere found in this film, which has aged gracefully. The quality of the film loaded into the camera is remarkable, and had you not known any better, you would think this film was shot as many as 30 years later. Visual effects are mostly constructed by elbow grease, showcasing amazing miniatures and the epitome of creature costumes. The title character’s adult costume design is truly outstanding; if a picture is worth a thousand words, then the perfect costume is worth volumes. In summary it successfully manipulates the audience into being authentic. The genius behind it lies in a few key areas. The fact that the creature is so towering and yet slender like a spider, raises questions on how a human can fit in it. Beyond this there is a terrifying sensory device where eyes typically belong. It is a unique exercise in dehumanizing the creature; effectively creating a wall. It also features an arsenal of unique weapons. The tail is barbed, flexible, and has the appearance of bone. Most intriguing is the second jaw hidden within the mouth. Surrounded by dense saliva, it is metallic and as evidenced in the film, powerful.
Not to disclose too much to readers who haven’t viewed the film prior to this reading, the alien creatures are not the only thing working against the humans. Again, this is a very good idea for the screenplay. Subthemes in the film are something you can relate toward, more so than you would ever expect. The characters in the ordeal approach the problem in ways based on their job. The science officer wants to examine it, while those on the lowest rung want a bonus for going outside of their job descriptions. The top officers consult the ship’s computer, affectionately adorned “mother”. The way this plays out showcases the possibilities of a future controlled by corporations, as though we haven’t already reached that point in time.
I have see newer films of this genre (horror), which strike out. It isn’t that they don’t have an interesting foe, it’s that they don’t have an interesting set of heroes. The term “heroes” is often times not the correct word. More often than not, “terrified people” is more accurate. Alien’s terrified are of value because they are considerably older than those found in other films, with the Nostromo’s crew hovering around 40. The ship makes a great location for most of the action, because members of the crew need a job to explain their purpose for being aboard. So, each of the heroes are effective at their own jobs and avoid illogical choices. What happens in Alien is gripping, edge of your seat, excitement through all three acts. The film excels on every technical level. It sets the bar in pacing; giving just enough information for the background, while supplying steady twists. ****