Released 42 years ago, the premise of the film is an uncomplicated one - set in deep space, the story follows the crew (and Jonesy the cat) of the Nostromo who receive a signal from a nearby planet and unwittingly release horror upon themselves when a crew member is subsequently attacked.
What ensues then can simply be described as a murderer hunting down their victims, a cat-and-mouse chase if you will. This is where the first of many successes is anchored in the film, with pacing that takes its time and silences that will make your heart want to burst out of your chest. The enormity of what the crew have discovered is illustrated through the almost minuteness of their actions: the interception of the signal, the descent to the planet and Kane’s (John Hurt) unfortunate fall into the rows of Ovomorphs. It is all this builds up to the iconic and infamous first chest-burster scene, as a pocket-sized alien bursts from Kane’s chest, and you realise the extent of the trouble the crew is in. Through this Ridley Scott solidifies his status as a master of suspense, building up the feeling of claustrophobia past its peak to something even worse.
However, the Xenomorph creature may not have become as iconic without the crew it hunts down or more specifically, the actors who play them. The strength of the ensemble cast makes it all the more distressing when their characters are inevitably killed off, with Ridley Scott’s use of pitch-black tunnels and dimly-lit storage bays playing off both the audience and character’s fear of the dark.
Her character is compelling and ruthless, showing herself to be more than capable of adapting to the hostile environment she is placed in.
Alien also introduces one of the most iconic and recognisable characters of all Sci-Fi and horror films, Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Her character is compelling and ruthless, showing herself to be more than capable of adapting to the hostile environment she is placed in. There is something about Weaver’s performance that defines boundaries, yet her status as the hero of the film is not revealed until around 45 minutes in. Scott’s decision to keep this information away from the audience pays off as it demonstrates that Ripley is the definition of a true survivor, she remains relatable as a character because the audience has time to get to know her.
The alien figure itself evokes a genuine terror as well, something which modern horror films sometimes fail in creating. There is an originality to the Xenomorph that forefronts it against other sci-fi film aliens, from it’s acidic blood to the signature attack from the inner jaw, that makes the close encounters entirely horrifying. What marks out the creature within the film is the unpredictability and freshness that Scott gives it - the audience literally sees it evolve on screen and so it is never truly clear what form it will take until it attacks.
The ‘stage one’ Facehuggers both fascinate and repulse, as it forces an embryo down the throat of the unfortunate host, and implants an image onto the audiences’ mind that remains long after the credits have rolled. An audience member could assume that the Ovomorphs on the long-lost planet would take the form of the humanoid alien we originally see, but the giant almost reptilian end result is infinitely more bloodcurdling. The clear portrayal that this creature doesn’t follow any rules of behaviour, or have anything other than the instinct to hunt and reproduce, places it among the most iconic of sci-fi and horror antagonists.
Featured image: IMDb