Alien (Unseen Halloween Returns review)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Last October, Arrow in the Head presented a column called UNSEEN HALLOWEEN, in which the staff recommended movies that are by and large very obscure. This year, UNSEEN HALLOWEEN RETURNS! But with a twist! Each writer is now tackling a very popular horror movie that has somehow eluded them throughout the years. Yeah, we expect to hear it from you guys, but so what! It's Halloweentime, baby!

PLOT: For those of you poor souls who are in the same boat that I was in yesterday, here’s a brief recap. Third officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and six meatbags are the crew of the starship Nostromo, which intercepts a distress call on the way home from a mining operation. They discover a crashed ship on an isolated planet, and one crew member stumbles across a room full of slimy giant eggs. To his credit, he doesn’t immediately run screaming in the opposite direction, and his reward is a spindly creature that wraps itself around his face. Before long, an alien creature erupts from his chest and begins to pick off the crew one by one.

REVIEW: That’s right, I’m a horror news journalist and until today I’ve never seen ALIEN. Think of this as my Tiger Woods apology video. The single biggest gap in my horror film knowledge has finally been filled, and I hope that in time the world can learn to forgive me. Maybe the reason it took me so long is because I feel like I’ve already seen ALIEN. My dad went to high school in the 80’s, so it was his civic duty to make sure I saw James Cameron’s ALIENS. Between that and the endless parodies (SPACEBALLS, anyone?) and clips in documentaries, the film’s basic shape has always been in my mind. Now that I’ve seen the flick in all its gory detail, I have one thing to say: It was exactly the movie I was envisioning, but I’m sure glad I saw it anyway. 

OK, maybe there were a couple surprises along the way. Like the fact that Tom Skerritt is given top billing. In what universe would that happen outside of 1979? But the thing that shocked me the most, given ALIEN’s reputation as a classy, atmospheric horror film is how much it indulges in the baser instincts of the genre. The flick is full of grindhouse style close-ups of bloody grotesqueries, rubbing your face in the sheer grossness of it all (and hiding the limitations of its effects in a frame tighter than a Facehugger’s grip). There’s even an honest-to-goodness cat scare, for crying out loud. In f**king space! ALIEN is such a crude, brutally simple splatter film that it would make a FRIDAY THE 13TH sequel blush.

But do you know why nobody notices that? Because ALIEN is a damn masterpiece of visual design. H. R. Giger’s gooey, disgusting Xenomorph is brought to glistening, sinewy life by the effects team, and any screentime we get to spend with it is pure bliss. While the Xenomorph’s inhuman, ghastly design is genius, the environments it inhabits are also worthy of its majestic presence. The Nostromo is full of tight, claustrophobic corridors dotted with plumes of steam and vast spaces full of rattling chains and waterfalls splashing down from nowhere. It’s a sci-fi haunted house soaring through the inky black depths of space, and it’s certainly worth the price of admission.

For a guy like me who loves grimy 70’s horror and elegant art cinema, ALIEN is an ace in the hole. I have always had and will always have a problem with Ridley Scott’s sense of pacing, but I do think he captures a sense of the monotony and mundanity of space travel in the future in a much tighter, more exciting manner than 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY before the unforgettable action kicks in. And hey, at least Hannibal Lecter doesn’t ride a carousel in this one, the metric by which I judge all Ridley Scott movies. I don’t think ALIEN will play heavily in my rotation during future Halloween seasons, but I’m happy it’s out there.

DRINKING GAME: Take a sip of something green and viscous whenever…

  • The “futuristic” technology looks suspiciously like a 70’s monochrome computer
  • Somebody fails to close a door behind them when they know something is skittering around the ship trying to kill them
  • Jones the cat makes an appearance
  • You hear a heartbeat thumping on the soundtrack

WHERE TO FIND IT: If you want to join me on this adventure, you can pick up a copy of ALIEN right here.

FAVORITE SCENE: Tom Skerritt crawls through the air ducts hoping to flush out the alien, but ends up flushing the alien’s colon instead. Because he gets eaten. In the single most effective jump scare in the movie, Chestburster be damned.




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