‘Alien’ a reminder of how sci-fi horror should be done
It’ll take you more than one viewing to truly notice, but “Alien” tells its horrifying story in a rather languid fashion. From the introductions onwards, we move at a pace deliberately slow, with tension building up in a more deliberate manner. This is just one of many appealing factors in Ridley Scott’s 1979 science-fiction horror “Alien.”
Having grown up with the sequels and spin-offs more than the original itself, I view “Alien” with a worldview populated by “Prometheus” and “Halloween”/”A Nightmare on Elm Street” sequels. My horror/sci-fi experiences tend to video game-based these, with excellent releases such as “Dead Space” and “Bioshock.” That’s in part because other than the few exceptions, including “Paranormal Activity” and “The Cabin in the Woods,” most new releases in the genre are a bit lackluster or even lazy. Watching “Alien” reminds me that this isn’t always so, and that having one terrifying alien on one desolate ship in the blackness of space can be far more scary than hundreds of murderous creature descending upon an army.
“Alien,” starring Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt, gets off to a slow start, with little happening in its first 45 minutes or so. It begins when the cargo ship Nostromo’s computer detects a distress call from a planet and alerts the sleeping crew. The crew, in stasis while on its way to Earth, portrays a feeling of grogginess, though that feeling is soon going to turn to horror.
Internal drama unfolds as the crew contends with what to do about the distress beacons. Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), already upset they’re getting a smaller bonus than the rest of the crew, wants nothing to do with any type of investigation. The injection of a class-based issue — money — adds a realistic touch to this story, since more futuristic voyages never seem to have to contend with such problems.
When the crew gets to the planet, though, is when we first encounter our alien spaceship, and its nightmarish cargo. Which, of course, makes its way back to the Nostromo. And by it, I mean our lovely extraterrestrial, decked out to haunt your dreams thanks to H.R. Giger’s Academy Award-winning special effects.
As you imagine, after a literally gut-busting scene, everything goes downhill from here. The small, grimy (and well-crafted) world we find ourselves trapped in doesn’t help sooth our psyches, either, as the confinement forces us to see all too closely the terror and danger around the crew.
In the end, “Alien,” effectively blunt and disturbing, doesn’t seek to coddle you or entertain you in the traditional way. It’s far less optimistic than that. Its set of value are darker, more grim, more cynical. Its point is murky, hidden beneath layers of acid and death and hubris and deceit. Which is exactly how it should be.
Four H.R. Giger-inspired stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.