Welcome to the second installment in Screen Rant’s Halloween lead-up series called “Horror Plus” – a feature which sets out to showcase one film that combines horror with another genre. It will basically serve as a review of the film at hand, explaining why it’s such a good example of genre merging.
In case you missed it, our first installment in the series was Horror Plus Comedy: Shaun of the Dead. Be sure to keep and eye out for other installments such as “Horror Plus Action” and “Horror Plus Thriller” in the coming weeks leading up to Halloween on October 31st.
There are many, many great choices I could have went with in the Horror Plus Sci-Fi category, and believe me it took me a while to pick just one (not picking the likes of The Thing and Scanners almost physically hurt…). But then it struck me, at least in my books, there is only ONE ultimate sci-fi film that blends itself into the horror genre so well, and that’s Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, Alien.
(The following may contain moderate SPOILERS)
In case you’re not familiar with this absolute classic (and if you aren’t, why are you still reading this and not off renting or even buying it?), the plot is as follows: The crew on a mining ship (the Nostromo) receive an SOS call from a nearby planet while heading back to Earth, and unable to ignore it, they decide to land on the planet and investigate. A few of the crew members head out onto the planet’s surface, only to find a hive colony of some strange and unknown creature. One of the creatures attaches itself to one of the crew member’s faces, and the crew make the mistake of allowing him, and subsequently the creature on board. Before long, things start to go from bad to worse for the crew when they start to realize they’re not alone on the ship.
Like all great genre mixing films, the blending of the two types is seamless. Alien never feels like it’s like two movies – sci-fi and horror – fighting against each other to be in the same two hour-plus runtime. But rather, it feels like they merge together very well to provide for two kinds of movies in one. A similar mixing of genres happened with the sequel, Aliens, this time helmed by the great James Cameron. And although that’s a fantastic film in its own right, I have to show my true hand and say that I think Scott’s original is the superior of the two.
Although Alien is definitely not the first movie of its kind, it could definitely be described as a landmark in the sci-fi and horror genres. Setting a horror film on a ship in the middle of space where (as the tagline says) “No one can hear you scream,” was pure genius on the part of Dan O’Bannon (who co-wrote the story and the screenplay) and Ronald Shusett (who co-wrote the story). Undoubtedly, a lot of the success of Alien as a film that truly works as part of each of the sci-fi and horror genres comes down to director Ridley Scott (who originally wasn’t supposed to direct – O’Bannon was, FYI).
New to both genres (this only being his second directed feature after the war film, The Duellists), Scott brings what we now know is a masterful skill (when he picks the right projects…) of bringing a bit of depth to genres that in other hands might have felt a bit superficial. This is also down to the cast, which includes Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto. What’s important about a film which is essentially a bunch of people in close proximity for almost the entire movie, is that the comradery and chemistry between the actors is spot on. Thankfully that’s the case with Alien.
One of the major things that makes Alien stand out from most other films of its kind, is the fact that for most of the movie we don’t get to see the titular creature. It’s surely always there… somewhere… lurking in the shadows… waiting to pick off another one of the crew members. But the film shrewdly keeps the alien hidden from us, instead opting to build tension and an almost overwhelming sense of dread of what MIGHT be about to pop out.
However, whenever the main alien (or any of the other ones) do make an on-screen appearance, it is entirely shocking, mostly because of that mentioned build up of tension (as well as the unique, peculiar and genuinely frightening physical appearance of the creature(s)). This leads us to what I think is the highlight scene of the entire movie, when poor old John Hurt, who’s character was the unlucky one to get “face hugged” by the alien initially, starts to suddenly feel ill at the dinner table. Out of nowhere, lying with his back on the table, a disgusting, creepy alien creature bursts right out of his stomach (a representation of male’s fear of pregnancy and giving birth, perhaps?). Ever wondered why the reactions of the surrounding crew was so realistic? Well, that’s because before filming the scene, Scott and the production team didn’t let any of the cast (other than Hurt, of course) know exactly what was going to happen (they had some general idea) and they were told to just react naturally. One of the greatest scenes of any movie IMO, one that I shudder to even think of.
One thing that must be noted about Alien is it was really the first mainstream film to have the action hero be a female. For some reason it appeared unthinkable up until that point that a woman could be just as badass as a man when it comes to being the one who “saves the day.” Most people at Alien‘s original release back in 1979 probably thought Tom Skerritt, captain of the Nostromo, was going to end up being the hero. But as we know, Sigourney Weaver’s badass Ellen Ripley (the part was originally written for a man, FYI) turned out to be one to fill those shoes and laid the way for many cinematic female heroes to come.
There’s plenty more to discuss about Alien, but I’ll leave that to you Screen Rant readers. I know most of you probably have, but I’ll ask anyway: Have you seen the original Alien? What are your thoughts on what I consider to be Scott’s masterpiece (yes, even more than Blade Runner)? Any favorite moments or memories of watching it (for the first time) that you’d like to share? Leave your thoughts and opinions below.
As stated, be sure to keep an eye out for more installments of the “Horror Plus” feature before Halloween, October 31st!