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Cult Classic: Alien

by @JOEdotie
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The best horror film of the 1970s? JOE thinks Alien takes that crown hands down.

By Sean Nolan

Science fiction and horror are two genres you would think are ideally suited to each other but for every The Thing, there are far too many Ghosts of Mars.

Blending the possibilities of something fantastical and something recognisable enough to scare you is a cinematic trick few manage but Ridley Scott set the template with Alien.

Released in 1979, its portrayal of a malevolent alien being is all the more remarkable considering the impact Chewbacca and the Cantina Band from Star Wars had made just a year or so before.

Scott’s world was far away from the one of George Lucas. The future Scott portrayed was not about exotic locations and good versus evil. It was just like earth, with dull boring jobs; they just happened to be on a spaceship doing them.

The seven-member crew of the Nostromo were literally just waiting for their shift to end, locked in stasis for the return to Earth with their cargo of mineral ore. Not a promising start to a movie, you will agree.

But when they are woken by an unknown transmission the very ordinariness of what they were doing is what makes the horror of what happens to them so scary. Investigating the ship that signalled them Kane (played by John Hurt) discovers a vast room of eggs, but one opens and attachs the now infamous facehugger to his wrinkly features.

Kane is brought back to the ship and the creature eventually detaches itself and dies. He seems fine and the crew prepares to resume their homeward journey but then the fun begins and the battle between man and the alien commences.

Of course, man is the wrong word here as the hero of the film is a heroine, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. As the alien wreaks havoc on the crew, Ripley is proven to be the toughest and most capable of all the Nostromo staff.

This is in sharp contrast to other horror films of the era where female characters were either evil in one way or another (Carrie, The Exorcist) or fodder for the crazed killer (Halloween).

The actual alien in Alien is not glimpsed for much of the film – a classic suspense-building trick by Scott – but when it is it’s a magnificent creation and H.R Giger’s creature is one of the all-time classic pieces of special effects. You always remember the first time you see his alien, and it is terrifying in the way Scott and Giger wanted.

And that is the essence of the film. It is a true 70s horror classic. Scott himself said before filming that he wanted to make “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre of science fiction” and anyone who has seen it will testify that he succeeded.

The now famous tagline for the film goes “In space, no one can hear you scream” but the first time I saw it, I’m pretty sure they heard my howls of fear out near Pluto.

That the sequel Aliens is often touted as even better is more a nod to the more action-packed direction of James Cameron that any slight on the original as Scott’s film stands the test of time even at the ripe old age of 32.

There is no finer scary movie than Alien and if you are about to see it for the first time I envy you the thrills – but not the nightmares.

Alien is the next screening of the Jameson Cult Film Club, next Tuesday 29 November. Click here for details and here to be in with a chance of winning some tickets. For more on cult films check out the Jameson Cult Film Club.

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