“In space, no one can hear you scream.” We all know that infamous tagline, but the movie it’s attached to maybe even more so: Alien, or depending on who you talk to, the scariest movie of all time. It seems like a pretty high claim to give: “the scariest movie of all time”- how can a film get such a powerful title? Well, just by being just that: scary.
Alien is by far one of the greatest horror movies ever made, as well as one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made. With Ridley Scott at the helm, Alien is a work of art, with horrifically gorgeous visuals as well as some pretty haunting musical scores. Props to Jerry Goldsmith for crafting the score and especially to H.R. Giger for the design of the Alien and Space Jockey- i.e. that big alien in the chair.
So why does Alien work as well as it does? A few brilliant reasons, first being the small cast. By having just seven characters, we’re able to get attached to them easier, so when bodies start dropping, we never know which one will be next. After all, who would have thought that Ripley would be the last one to live. A woman, surviving a horror movie? Impossible, says audiences of the 70s. And truly this cast is amongst some of the best in movie history. Everyone works off of each other and everyone feels like they have a right to be there. Ian Holm, John Hurt, and Sigourney Weaver probably stand out the most as Kane, Ash, and Ripley, but Weaver is clearly the breakout star, turning Ellen Ripley into a mainstay when it comes to best female/horror icons.
The next reason for Alien’s success is the visuals, as it won best VFX for a reason. Forty years after its release, Alien still holds up as a VFX marvel. It really is unparalleled in terms of design. The Nostromo: large, bulky, and beautiful. The derelict ship: spooky, ominous, and gorgeous. The Xenomorph: humungous, looming, and awe-inspiring. Every design choice made was one that was well thought out and crafted carefully by people with passion and a clear vision. But really, it’s H.R. Giger that makes this movie what it is. His design choices are so haunting and yet beautiful that to take your eyes off the screen would be as impossible as not checking your phone when you’re bored.
The symbolism of Alien‘s grotesque iconography is something that many have tried and failed to replicate. The facehuggers being a metaphor for sexual assault is still one of the creepiest aspects of this movie that I have ever seen. The bio-mechanisms of the ships and the creature is something that I could never have thought up. It takes a truly disgusted mind to craft the imagery we see here and I am all the thankful for it. Not only that, but also the feeling of isolation.
In space, no one can hear you scream; that’s the tagline for a reason. Shots of the ship floating lonely in space are used so effectively. Characters are seen doing their jobs by themselves. Mix those shots in with shots of the ship being dwarfed by larger planets makes for an unsettling, but effective viewing experience. You feel alone and tiny while watching Alien, and in the absolute best ways possible. I cannot think of another movie that has made me feel the way Alien did. Well, Aliens is close, but that’s an action movie.
And finally, there’s the horror itself. What makes Alien so damn scary is the lack of answers that we get from this story. Sure, we do get some questions answered, and yes the Alien popping out in the vents is still bowel emptying, but that’s not what makes the movie linger in your memory. When the credits roll and you’re left to your own devices, you start asking questions. Questions with seemingly disturbing answers. How did the ship get there? How did the eggs get on the ship? How long has it been there? If the Company knew it was there, how long have they known? What happened to the Space Jockey before it was murdered? These are questions that are never answered, and because of this, we the audience, must form the answers ourselves. We’re given just enough information to piece things together, but not enough to see it. It’s like fog; sure we can see the silhouette, but we don’t know exactly what it is.
I first saw Alien back in 2009, a life-changing year for me personally. I was twelve and had gotten a taste for the more adult things in entertainment. I wanted blood, I wanted to be shocked. So I saw Avatar, which has since been the inspiration for my journey as a filmmaker. I saw Saving Private Ryan for the first time — That one particularly affected me. And I saw Alien, alone, at night, in my parents’ bedroom. I had locked myself in as I heard this was the scariest movie ever made and wanted to prove that nothing can scare me, that Alien was just the same as every other movie…
Boy was I wrong. I screamed in horror during the vent sequence and paused the movie. I ran-walked downstairs to my mom and acted casual, trying to hide the fact that I had almost peed myself while watching a movie. We still talk about it years later.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 Stars
Are you really surprised? To give Alien a score lower than 5 would be an absolute travesty — a shame to those that have watched it and to those that made it. It’s a masterpiece and there is no argument that can be made to justify otherwise. With the Coronavirus isolating most of us, I think it’s best to take advantage of this feeling and watch something scary. Something that reflects that isolating feeling.
So if you haven’t seen Alien, why are you still reading this, go check it out, and if you have seen it, watch it again. I mean, what else are we supposed to do?