The Test of Time: Alien (1979)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they continue to be must see? So…the point of this here column is how a film stands against the Test of Time, if the thing holds up for a modern horror audience.

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, and Yaphet Kotto  

So……sci-fi movies seem to be kinda popular once again, right? Especially ones set in space with some really, really big ships that brake for no one. Yes, STAR WARS fever is now an official CDC level 4 virus, and chances are you can’t avoid it. Listen, I love those movies as much as any geeky fan, but holy shit I can’t recall a level of saturation seen with this new JJ flick. Point being that with space movies back on the masses radar, there’s probably no better time to revisit what many consider the best space horror adventure ever placed on celluloid. 

Under the examination: ALIEN.


THE STORY: In the future, the towing ship Nostromo is out there in space heading back to Earth when they encounter a mysterious SOS signal which they must investigate. The signal leads them to a foggy, uninviting planet where they discover a massive cave filled with giant eggs. One of them bursts open and, whatever was inside, attaches itself to a crew member (poor John Hurt) implanting an egg inside him. Things don’t work so well after that, as the alien inside grows really, really big and starts to kill off folks one by one. Thankfully, no one could hear them scream because it’s, you know, space.  

Lord Helmet would be pleased. 

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: I’ve maintained for years that ALIEN is without a doubt one of the scariest films ever made in terms of atmosphere, tension, and its villain. I’m not going to change my stance now. It’s a haunted house movie set in space, but with a hint of reality that we hadn't seen before and seldom has come since. The impact of ALIEN on horror and science fiction I don’t think can ever be fully quantified. It’s that good. 

Writer Dan O’Bannon essentially wrote a version of ALIEN a few years before with John Carpenter’s DARK STAR, but along with co-writer Ronald Shusett, they recreated some of the elements of DARK STAR, creating a deadly serious tone. But let’s face it, so much credit for ALIEN can go to two men: director Ridley Scott and designer H.R. Giger

Never has something so scary been so drooly 

For H.R. Giger’s part, his alien design is just so…badass. I should be able to conjure up better word choice, but it’s such a unique and utterly horrifying design that no other word really works. Think about the first time you viewed ALIEN and the monster’s slimy mouth opened, then his tongue slid out only to reveal another oozing mouth. Shit balls. That’s the stuff of nightmares. 

And then there’s Ridley Scott, I think he did for ALIEN what Hitchcock did for PSYCHO. It elevated the genre. Think about it. No space horror movie before this one was ever taken seriously or even given a mildly straight-forward treatment. Scott gives us that in spades. He directed the shit out of ALIEN: the pitch black corridors, the hum of the ship, the isolation, the realistic portrayal of the crew, and the use of the alien. Scott smartly went the JAWS route, only showing off the alien killer in spots, leaving it mostly in the dark. He also smartly made the crew of the Nostromo seem absolutely tangible. We weren’t forced to learn a bunch of quirky things about each character. Instead, it feels like we woke up out of hyperspace with them, jumping in the middle of about 7 conversations. Take that first dinner sequence. Half the time everyone talks over each other, but it just makes everything seem authentic, and not set up (thank God). I love the fact that blue collar crew members Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto) keep bitching about their pay and want bonuses for sticking their necks out.

They gotta get paid. 

Speaking of the crew, Scott could not have assembled a better group of actors. Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm, and John Hurt all bring the good. My favorites though have always been Stanton and Kotto as they play the everymen. They’re not heroes, just a couple of dudes earning a paycheck. But let’s face it, this is Sigourney Weaver’s show, and she bitch slaps her biggest opportunity to become the most iconic female action star ever. She’s tough, stern, sexy, and still manages to show enough emotion to make her believable and relatable. It’s the role of a lifetime, and Weaver didn’t blink. 

Standard space outfit. At least this wasn't Harry Dean. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Not much in my book. Ok, a lot of shit is outta date, even more so than something like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which was released 11 years earlier. So many little 13 inch screens, stiff looking keyboards, and a plethora of blinking lights that don’t do a damn thing. Is the pacing a bit on the slow side? Well, sure but it is a 1979 movie. People back then didn’t suffer from ADD. Also, I’ve never fully understood Ash going bonkers (I know his programming and all that), but the magazine down the throat and the looney toons after that never quite worked for me. 

THE VERDICT: ALIEN stands the test of time as a piece of perfect filmmaking. Between this and BLADE RUNNER, Ridley Scott will always have the freedom to make anything he wants. We can only hope that future filmmakers continue to take note from this on how to make an iconic horror movie. 




Just lay there...nothing will happen. 



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