Not long after the events detailed in my very first Halloween blog entry I had an opportunity to step up to the Big Leagues and watch a real, bonafide, adult, R-rated horror movie. A movie that my trusty horror tomes had warned me about:
In Horrors: A History of Horror Movies Tom Hutchinson and Roy Pickard wrote that this film "gave a whole new impetus to the monster-making industry" and is "one of the goriest of all such horror stories". They go on to say that this flick "proved that there were now no limits or restrains on the special effects department" and that all that matters is that the film-makers the "reduced audiences to quivering jellies".
In The Encyclopedia of Horror Hutchinson (co-incidentally) wrote: "the monster here is barely seen: all we know about it is that it is growing all the time, and that it needs flesh."
And in Horror Films Nigel Andrews decreed that "its not too fanciful to see echoes of Vietnam in the guerrilla-style horrors" as the titular creature "ambushes the crew one by one and eats them". He goes on to say that the beast is "a master of camouflage. It hides in dark corners, it borrows color and textures from its surroundings, and it shocks the life out of us near the end by uncoiling from the very pipes and wires of a spaceship wall."
Naturally I was sold but how was I going to see it? The film was last in theaters back in 1979 when I was but a wee lad of only nine summers; way too young to sneak into our local theater. In the early Eighties home video was still in its infancy and to make matters worse we lived in a podunk town where everyone knew everyone else's bidness. In other words, there was little chance that I'd be able to rent it surreptitiously.
The answer came in the form of a prime-time television showing back around 1982 or so. I was only about twelve at the time so I needed special dispensation from my parents to stay up late and watch the thing.
"Is it one of them scary movies?" Mom quizzed, remembering the havoc that Night of the Living Dead and Poltergeist had inflicted on me a year earlier.
"Um, no, mom," I lied, "it's a sci-fi movie. Y'know, like Star Wars."
"Alright, fine," she reneged, "but you better have you ass in bed by eleven or you'll be too tired for school tomorrow!"
In reality had no idea when the movie would end, I just knew that it supposed to start in twenty minutes, at 9 pm sharp. In preparation I filled a mixing bowl to the brim with chips and pretzels and then proceeded to ensconce myself within irradiation distance of the television. To give the film every possible advantage to scare the wits outta I also turned off all the lights like a prepubescent masochist.
And so the table was set and the wine was chilled for my fateful date with Alien.
To recall the film's meteor-like impact on my psyche I recently re-watched the move. Here are both my recollections and my latest revelations concerning this timeless sci-fi classic.
P.S. If you just so happen to own a copy of the original theatrical cut watch it and then just look down here when you hit the appropriate time code!
8 Seconds In: Hey, look, it's the 20th Century Fox fanfare and logo! This is gonna be just like Star Wars!
18 Seconds In: Nope, no it's not! The creepy-ass credit sequence and scary music tells me that Darth Vader ain't got nothin' on what's comin' in this fright-fest!
55 Seconds In: Great, now it sounds like wind blowing through a haunted house. Wonderful. That's not freaking me out at all.
2 Minutes, 20 Seconds In: Hey, a large space ship is flying overhead! It is gonna be just like Star Wars! Hurrah! The interior of ship even vaguely looks like the Millennium Falcon, with cool l'il tchotchkes hangin' offa the rear-view mirror and everything!
5 Minutes, 50 Seconds In: The crew's starting to wake up. Okay, so it's not exactly like Star Wars; clearly these people don't know what a hyperdrive is.
6 Minutes, 50 Seconds In: Since the crew interactions during the "breakfast" scene are all ad-libbed and sounds 100% authentic to my youthful ears I start to wonder if I'm watching some sort of space documentary...FROM THE FUTURE. Adult me can't help but notice that smoking apparently had a big resurgence in popularity in the future!
9 Minutes In: Also in the future, the term "Mother" is a catch-all descriptor for any smothering, all encompassing, claustrophobic environment. Kidding, mom!
12 Minutes In: The ship's crew always seem to be bitching and moaning at one another, which I should've taken as an omen for my adult working career.
13 Minutes In: The film's techno-babble and special effects look completely convincing to me, so by now I'm totally onboard. The illusion is distressingly flawless and my young brain is having a really hard time convincing itself that what it's witnessing is some sort of artifice. This ain't good.
20 Minutes In: Does Ash seem kinda twitchy, or is it just me?
21 Minutes In: Cripes, the weather on this planet is even worse then Newfoundland in February.
22 Minutes In: As a put-upon middle-manager, Ripley has to deal with the ship's different personality types and temperaments, further foreshadowing my own future working career.
23 Minutes In: KITTY!!! I didn't know it at the time but the initially-comforting sight of this very-terrestrial feline would be short-lived.
24 Minutes In: The unnerving music makes a very unwelcome return. Suddenly everything grows distressingly still. The downed spaceship that the characters see in the distance is so weird and, well, alien-looking that I'm now screaming at the characters to turn around and go back. Oddly, they don't listen to me. Mom yells at me from downstairs to make sure everything is alright, which temporarily shakes me out of my panicked reverie.
26 Minutes In: Even as a totally virginal eleven year old kid my unconscious brain recognizes that the vulva-like entrance and ridged walls of the alien spaceship has some sort of unconscious sexual ramifications. Thirty years later I finally realize that Kane (John Hurt), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) and Dallas (Tom Skerritt) are actually sperm in this weird little psycho-sexual analogy.
28 Minutes In: I experience one of many crippling "WTF?!?" moments when the astronauts stumble upon a giant dead alien with a blown-out chest fused onto his space-seat. His chest "exploded from the inside", huh? Well, I'm sure that's not relevant. The character of Lambert suddenly reads my mind when she blurts "Let's get the hell out of here!"
30 Minutes In: After circumnavigating Ash's cock-blockery, Ripley discovers that the transmission they received wasn't a distress signal after all but "a warning". No shit, Sherlock(s)!
32 Minutes In: Wow, a giant cargo hold filled with huge eggs. F#cking wonderful. By now, every fiber of my being is screaming for Kane to come to his senses and scramble back up that rope. Instead he takes a closer look at one of the eggs which appears to be translucent with something gross, pulpy and decidedly Lovecraftian fluttering around inside it. And then, when the goddamned thing opens up like a bloomin' onion, the stupid toolbox actually leans over to look inside of it!
34 Minutes In: AAAAGGGHHHH!!!!
35 Minutes In: Ripley, once again the voice of reason, is overridden by Ass. Er, Ash. What the f#ck is that guy's problem, anyway?
36 Minutes In: Dallas and Ash use some sort of laser-tool to cut Kane's helmet off. I'm dying to see what's ins...AAAAAHHH!!! PUT IT BACK ON!!! PUT IT BACK ON!!!
39 Minutes In: Jesus, that thing stuck to Kane's face is freakin' hideous, like the worst possible case of spaces herpes. And it's got acid for blood?!? Good Lord, this is getting worse by the second.
42 Minutes In: Ash seems to be sporting w-a-a-a-a-a-a-y too much wood for this alien. Ian Holm is absolutely brilliant here, acting vaguely defensive when Ripley tries to rattle his cage. Even though I've probably seen this movie about a dozen times by now I finally notice that his drink of preference is a certain liquid known to "do an (artificial) body good".
46 Minutes In: Oh, gawd, the thing's not on Kane's face anymore...where f#ck did it go?!? An agonizing two minutes of painfully-protracted screen time goes by as Ash and Dallas poke their light-tipped dicks into every dark corner, practically begging to be Frenched to death by that slimy mcnasty.
48 Minutes In: Naturally, the repellent thing plops down dead onto Ripley shoulders. At the time I let a out a scream considerably louder then Sigourney Weaver's, prompting another matronly verbal check-in from down below.
49 Minutes In: Ash starts poking around in the facehugger's innards which nearly causes me to hurl into my snack bowl. I didn't know this at the time but director Ridley Scott had actually pulled a fast one and arranged a bunch of fish gusts and shellfish scraps into a prop facehugger to try to make the thing look as gross, real and weird as possible. Good show, sir! Ash says "I assume that it's not a zombie" but even back then I was well-read and knew that the best precaution against a zombie outbreak was to burn the f#cking body. C'mon people, what's wrong with a few precautions in this day and age of rampant space herpes?
50 Minutes In: Like the typical site manager, Dallas tries to pass the buck of responsibility off to one of his subordinates. His excuse is that "things happen because that's what the company wants to happen", once again foreshadowing my future work experience.
53 Minutes In: Hey, look! Kane's up and around as if nothing's happened! Oh, I'm sure he's fine...
54 minutes In: Man, Kane sure seems to be wolfing down a lot of food. It's almost as if he's eating for two, hmmmmmmmm. Oh, oh! Looks like something went down the wrong pipe!
Suddenly there's a burst of on-screen chaos: a series of guttural sound effects, actor John Hurt launches into a completely convincing fit of agony and Parker (Yaphet Kotto) tries to prevent him from swallowing his own tongue by forcibly jamming a spoon in his mouth. By this point I can safely say that me nerves are officially shot.
56 Minutes In: Wha...what in the almighty f#ck just happened there?!?
Oh...Sweet...Baby...Jesus...CAIN IS PREGGERS!!! Even long after the labor pains are over the sound of dripping hemoglobin and Kane's twitching fingers completely and utterly traumatize me for days and nights on end.
I breath a sigh of relief as a timely "word from our sponsors" momentarily causes the horror to abate. I try in vain to collect my frazzled wits as ABC gamely attempts to sell Whoppers, Cheerios and/or Fruit Roll-Ups to me.
57 Minutes In: From this point on Alien becomes a standard haunted house scenario. Unfortunately it's also one of the most effective and consistently scary haunted house movies ever made.
101 Minutes In: The interiors of the ship look so believable that it's just as creepy as any abandoned school or condemned insane asylum. BRRRRRR!!!!
102 Minutes In: F#CKING CAT!!! Jesus, that thing just scared the kitty litter out of me!
103 Minutes In: Ripley and Parker send Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) out alone to look for Jones. In their defense, the last time they saw the alien it was only as big as a garter snake. Still, would it have killed them to stick together a little while longer?
105 Minutes In: Okay, the alien is shedding its freakin' skin! Even as a stupid kid I knew what that meant!
106 Minutes In: Man, this friggin' ship is so huge it apparently has its own climate The sound of rain and clinking chains is a nice touch. Such creepy. Much haunted house. Very scare. So incontinent.
107 Minutes In: Um, what the eff did I just see? The cat, Brett, trust the cat!!! DON'T LOOK NOW BUT THERE'S SOME SORT OF BIO-MECHANICAL PSYCHO-SEXUAL PHALLIC-HEADED XENOMORPH STANDING RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!! BEHIND YOU MAN!!! oh god it's got jaws within its jaws I'm immersed in a goddamn Freudian nightmare right now.
109 Minutes In: In another moment that foreshadows my future work experiences, upper management (I.E. "Mother") proves to be completely useless when Team Lead Dallas asks for some much-needed support. As a result, Dallas decides to venture alone into the air ducts in an attempt to flush out the alien. Sounds legit.
110 Minutes In: Dallas's delightful delve into the vents is pure sustained, sweaty, claustrophobic terror. The music, editing and sound effects all conspire to horrify me like nothing I'd seen prior or hence.
Things get ten times worse when Lambert picks up the alien's signal on her motion tracker. In 1986 James Cameron would derive considerable inspiration from this scene, delivering one of the best sequels in cinema history.
150 Minutes In: Dallas descends a ladder, turns a corner and then run smack dab into Grabby McBiteypants. My bladder shows it's appreciation for this scene's craftsmanship by partially venting itself.
116 Minutes In: Ripley decides to call an impromptu (and decidedly dysfunctional) staff meeting that foreshadows my own future work experience. Sigourney Weaver is so completely believable here that, if you look closely, you can actually see her becoming a star right before your very eyes.
119 Minutes In: In a moment that, once again, foreshadows my future work experiences, Ripley learns that all employees are "expendable" for a company obsessed with nudging up their profit margin. Sadly, this is the most realistic bit of horror in the entire film.
121 Minutes In: In an odd moment of solidarity / synchronicity (solinicity? synchrodarity?), Ripley's nose spontaneously starts bleeding at the exact same moment that mine does while sitting there watching the film at home as a kid. Weird.
In stark contrast, Ash begins to sweat milk out of his pores. Ridley Scott then uses his hand-held camera to convey dizzying levels of disorientation as Ash casually attempts to murder Ripley to death. His creative use of a rolled up porno magazine is particularly disturbing, instantly evoking thoughts of a twisted, mechanical psyche.
122 Minutes In: Jeezus, this little dweeb is STRONG! Parker bombs in and then smokes Ash right in the shoulder clubs metal canister, causing him to suddenly spazz out.
123 minutes In: Annnnnand off with his head! Up to this point in my very short life, Kane's unconventional birthing scene was the most messy, organic, nasty and visceral thing I'd ever had the misfortune to witness. That is until Parker knocked Ash's block off with that fuel canister. By then I wanted to be watching the movie on VHS so I could stop the tape, pop it out and then bury it deep in the back-yard where it belongs.
There weren't enough Tootsie Roll and Wendy's ads in the world to make me recover from this level of psychological trauma.
125 Minutes In: What's left of Ash describes the alien as "a perfect organism". Well, if the creature's sole raison d'être is to scare the ever-lovin' shit outta people then, yes, I'd say that's an apt description.
128 Minutes In: What are you people doing?!?! Don't split up!!! Even if someone needs to take a poop, all three of you need to go together!!!
129 Minutes In: The film is betrayed by its first major script contrivance which ends up tarnishing the illusion for me quite a bit. Ripley, who up to this point has been the only sensible one, wanders off to look for Jones the f#cking cat. This gives every single male watching the film an opportunity to roll their eyes and say "Hmph, ain't that just like a woman?" Even as a kid, I though that this was lame, mainly because it gave the alien an opportunity to sneak around her and get onboard the shuttle.
131 Minutes In: FUCKING CAT!!!
132 Minutes In: Hey, Parker n' Lambert, is there any way you might be able to make just bit more noise there?
We're then "treated" to some of the best full-body glimpses of the alien, and, let me tell ya, kiddies, it's light-years away from the bug-eyed, tentacle-flailing, Muppet-footed cliches that scared the fertilizer outta me in The Green Slime. First off: this f#cker is taller then Hakeem Olajuwon. And *ick* we get to see some real, spring-loaded extendo-jaw action after the alien clobbers poor Parker with a nasty tail-whip.
And, sorry, but I can't shit on Lambert's paralysis too much. If I was her I'd be doing my best "deer in headlights" impersonation as well.
135 Minutes In: With Lambert's mournful screams now reverberating down the darkened hallway, the ship has literally become a Funhouse of pure terror. Ripley decides to nuke the place from orbit (it's the only way to be safe) and we get to witness the most genuine-looking self-destruct procedure in cinema history
138 Minutes In: Smoke, strobe lights and frantic dashes down industrial-looking corridors: once again we get a sneak preview of the movie Aliens, which followed seven years later. Ripley's adrenaline and stress are palpable as she vainly tries to abort the self-destruct sequence. I was on pins and needles as she scrambled back to the shuttle. At that stage, I knew that the alien could be lurking anywhere, waiting to pick her off as soon as those first few hunger pangs hit.
140 Minutes In: Aaaaand it's gone! *Phew* Look's like everything's comin' up Ripley!
143 Minutes In: Ridley Scott throws all the stoners out there a bone by delivering the most blatantly "Whoa, man!" technicolor explosion in cinema history.
144 Minutes In: "I got you, you sonavabitch!" Wow, talk about counting your facehuggers before they're hatched!
145 Minutes In: Sigourney Weaver strips down to her Underoos™, giving 12-year-old me (and 44 year-old-me for that matter) an unexpected thrill that, for once in this damned movie, has absolutely nothing to do with violation, murder and death. Now, some people might say that this scene diminishes Ripley's strong character but I don't agree. She is planning to hit the ol' cryo-pod after all. What, do you wear your space suit to bed? Whatever.
146 Minutes In: No fair! That bastard's camouflage is perfect!
148 Minutes In: DAT JAW!!! *Ewwwww!!!* Meanwhile Ripley continues to display her smarts, courage, moxie and fortitude, which more then makes up for her previous feline-related gaffes.
150 Minutes In: Ripley uses the SUPERFLUOUS INTERIOR EXHAUST SYSTEM to blow the critter right outta its hidey-hole. The creature's resulting screams are pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel.
151 Minutes In: We get another regrettable eyeful of H.R. Giger's most famous creation and realize that the dearly departed mad Swiss genius had a unique talent to tap into our worst unconscious psychological fears.
153 Minutes In: After a well-earned victory, an angelic-looking Ripley sleeps contentedly in her stasis tube, oblivious to what she'll hafta deal with just fifty-seven short years later.
This movie scared the crap out of me in a way no other film had. It wasn't a fifteen year old (at the time) black and white flick like Night of the Living Dead or a horror movie with training wheels like Poltergeist. Because of Alien I didn't sleep properly for nights on end.
Now, remember, it terrified me in spite of three important insulators:
- I watched it in the re-assuring confines of my own living room.
- The tension was periodically alieved by incongruously-cheery ads for margarine and car insurance.
- Since it was shown on prime-time network television, what I saw was likely heavily edited.
For days I kept asking "Why do I keep subjecting myself to these patently awful things?" and "Why do I wanna do it again sooner rather then later?". I swiftly came to the conclusion that, as a sheltered child without any siblings, I wanted to use the medium of horror to toughen myself up.
Looking back I realize that I was a pretty astute kid.
Now, don't mistake my intent, Gentle Readers: I'm not saying that kids should be exposed to dark subject matter at an early age, quite the opposite in fact. I'd much rather see kids remain kids for as long as they can, which is no small feat in this media and communication-soaked age of technology.
But I also know that the world is a nasty and scary place; an ugly truism that all of us must confront at some point in time in our lives. And I can't thank film-makers like Ridley Scott enough for taking me by the hand and guiding me along my first few baby steps towards this unfortunate but pragmatic realization.
EPIC DOC Wanna know all there is to know about this timeless horror classic? Then enjoy this amazing doc. You're welcome.
FAIL-URE OF ORIGINALITY Granted, Alien wasn't 100% original, but, like Wolverine, it's the best at what it does. These films, not so much.