Alien (1979)


Alien was the film that launched the career of Sigourney Weaver, Scott and a thousand face huggers. Beyond its legendary reputation was a truly great film. Alien is a brilliant atmospheric science fiction horror film that terrifies on several levels. The film’s cast, realistic world, and infamous creature make this much more than its seemingly B-movie premise.

More Than Victims, More Than a Simple Creature

The crew of  the mining ship Nostromo is on its way back to Earth. The ship’s crew, consisting of Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Kane (John Hurt), Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) are ordered to check out a distress signal. They land on an alien world, only to come in contact with a monstrous creature. Trapped on their own ship, the crew is hunted down one by one…

AlienRipley01 - Alien (1979)
source: 20th Century Fox/IMDB

Sigourney Weaver is great as Ripley, the character who practically created the term “strong female lead.” She isn’t a caricature or stereotype…she is human, a person with flaws. Like everyone in the crew she gets scared and makes poor decisions. Her toughness comes from getting past those flaws and adapting. She is the ultimate survivor.

The rest of the cast is solid. These aren’t particularly deep character portrayals, especially beyond some of the main characters. Skerritt is solid as the laid back Captain Dallas. He never overplays his growing apprehension as he slowly loses his grip on the situation. Holm is suitably unsettling as Ash, the odd newcomer to the crew. The others are okay, sometimes relying a little too hard on one personality trait to portray their characters.

But that’s not a too much of a problem. What makes the cast work is their very real dynamic. The comradery is there, but the relations are rarely perfect. They care for each other, but also grate on each other’s nerves…much like a real family. So it’s authentic when the one character mourns another’s death.

Designed by H.R. Giger, the Alien is a unique and terrifying creature. A strange blend of sexual imagery, technology and nightmare, the Alien strikes from the dark shadows of the Nostromo. There is no creature quite like it. The life cycle is a truly terrifying example of body horror, incorporating disturbing themes such as sexual violation.

AlienCreature01 - Alien (1979)
source: 20th Century Fox/IMDB

Director Ridley Scott wisely keeps the creature hidden from view for most of Alien, adding to the tension. You never really get a good look at it and only receive fleeting and tantalizing glimpses. When it strikes, you’re horrified, but also mesmerized. When it is seen, the Alien’s movements are graceful but creepy and inhuman. Dancer Bolaji Badejo breathes a very “alien” life into the creature, creating something completely inhuman.

Future Imperfect

Scott creates a futuristic, but grounded world that adds to the atmosphere in so many ways. The Nostromo is a “lived in” ship, like an old apartment building. In other words, it’s a very human world.

Scott creates two worlds: One is an grimy future for humanity, while the other is completely alien. In Scott’s vision of the future, technology is advanced, but not too advanced. The Nostromo is grimy and lived in, almost like an older apartment. It makes the futuristic setting much more relatable, which makes the horror of the alien stand out even more.

There is advanced technology that allows humanity to travel vast distances in outer space, but not enough to save the crew as they are killed one by one. In fact, it betrays them in an amazing twist later in the film.

AlienEggs - Alien (1979)
source: 20th Century Fox/IMDB

Scott and Giger contrast this run down future with a truly alien world. The origin of the Alien is incredibly striking and grotesquely beautiful. The look of the derelict ship is amazingly foreign, but with disturbing human connections. The bio-organic structures and the suggestive look of the alien eggs connect to female genitalia.  It’s the literal birthplace of the Alien, so in an unsettling way, it’s fitting.

“I Admire Its Purity”

Alien is a nearly perfect horror film that any film fan should see, regardless of how they feel about the genre.  It’s a master class in building tension by using the unknown and unseen. After watching it, see how easy it is to walk down a dark hallway.