“A word of warning…”
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Synopsis: The commercial vessel Nostromo receives a distress call from an unexplored planet. After searching for survivors, the crew heads home only to realize that a deadly bioform has joined them.
Never was there a more memorable entrance in the movies than the explosive one made by the infant alien John Hurt’s ill-fated Kane unwittingly harbours in his abdomen. It’s easy now to forget the impact Alien had when it was first released – there’d never quite been a film like it, even though it basically melded the claustrophobic confines of a haunted house movie with the stalk-and-slash mechanics of a conventional horror movie.
On their return to earth, the crew of the mining ship Nostromo intercepts an SOS signal from a nearby planetoid. When investigating it’s source, one of the crew (John Hurt) is attacked by a skeletal, spider-like creature which attaches itself to his face. After a short period in a coma, Kane eventually re-awakens after the creature detaches itself and dies. Seemingly ok, he joins the rest of the crew for a meal, but after taking a few mouthfuls, he begins to choke. As the crew come to his aid, a small creature bursts from his stomach and flees before it can be caught. One by one, the crew is picked off by the alien, which is growing at an accelerated rate.
Alien is the movie that made Sigourney Weaver. Her character, Ripley, is a tough – but feminine – crew member who occasionally seems to teeter between polar acts of smashing an antagonistic colleague in the face or bursting into tears. In a movie in which all the characters were devised as universal (i.e. they could be either male or female) it takes a little while for Ripley to emerge as the heroine, and where this film differed from the crop of stalk-and-slash horrors that were just beginning to become popular is in the way that all its characters are capable of taking care of themselves. The closest we get to a screaming cheerleader shaking loosely clenched fists in front of their screaming mouths is when Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) falls apart in the alien’s shadow.
As with most horror movies, the space available to the survivors grows less as their numbers dwindle. From a crew of seven controlling the entire ship, we see options systematically reduced until the one surviving member is trapped inside a cramped pod with the now fully-grown – and distinctly pissed-off – alien. It was an old story even back then, but Ridley Scott’s vivid direction, which uses the ship’s dark, claustrophobic corridors and air shafts to devastating effect, breathed renewed life into it, and spawned a generation of copies.
(Reviewed 8th September 2012)