Alien

Alien

“In Space no one can hear you scream.”

Millions consider Alien to be the most terrifying film ever made about extra-terrestrial life … and perhaps one of the most terrifying films, period. Released in 1979, this simple tale about an extraterrestrial beast stalking the crew of a spaceship left quite an impression on the hordes of movie-going earthlings that flocked to see this frightening sci-fi film.

With the inauspicious beginnings of standard Hollywood fare, the film – originally titled Star Beast – was volleyed about after the departure of Walter Hill, who was originally slated to direct. Ridley Scott eventually took the reins, and on the strength of his storyboards alone, the studio doubled his budget from $4.2 million to $8.4 million.

While each of the seven characters struggling to survive were written to be unisex, it still came as somewhat of a surprise when the lead character Ripley was given to unknown actress named Sigourney Weaver, as the character was originally envisioned as a male. And, while Weaver was backed up by a cast of heavy-hitters including Tom Skeritt, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright, and Ian Holm, the real star of the film was the title character.

Weaving from his nightmares about a certain species of wasps, screenwriter Dan O’Bannon created a creature that lays its eggs in the stomach of its victims only to have them finally and fatally burst later on. The eight-feet tall, much-feared, much-imitated, much-parodied alien was actually based on the Phronima – an inch long, transparent shrimp that inhabits the ocean at extreme depths. The costume was pieced together from Plasticine, Rolls Royce motor parts, shredded condoms, and a cast made from a human skull, all dripping with a slimy excess of K-Y jelly.

In the film, the crew of the mining ship Nostromo are awakened from their hyper sleep on a return voyage to Earth to investigate an unidentified signal from a nearby planet. While captain Dallas (Skeritt), Kane (Hurt), and Lambert (Cartwright) investigate the signal, Ripley uncovers the possibility that it is not a distress call, but a warning. Although her theories are dismissed by the sketchy science officer Ash (Holm), the hunch proves all-too-true when an unknown life form bursts out of an egg sack and attaches itself to Kane’s face. After several unsuccessful attempts to relieve their comatose friend of his alien parasite, the creature dies of its own accord, leaving Kane apparently unharmed.

But the terror begins in earnest when an alien creature bursts from Kane’s chest during dinner and scurries away before it can be confined. When the crew splits up to recover the creature, they discover in fatal fashion that it has grown at an incomprehensible rate. More disturbing, Ripley discovers that the purpose of their mission was not to bring back ore, but to bring back the creature. With a “crew expendable” mandate, Ash – revealed to be an android – tries to kill Ripley before she’s saved by her crewmates, claiming that the alien can’t be killed. With little time and hope remaining, the alien hunts them one by one while Ripley tries to discover a means of escape.

Due to its critical and financial success, Alien enjoyed multiple releases. After a hundred or so boxes of footage were discovered in a London vault, director Ridley Scott returned to the editing room to create his 2003 director’s cut. All told, the film has grossed over a hundred million dollars in worldwide box office.

More importantly, it has set a bar for terror that few have even so much as sniffed at in the nearly thirty years since its release. The absence of music, the stark and dismal sets, the emptiness of space, created the perfect illusion of isolation and the perfect setting for a franchise. Ellen Ripley would return three more times to battle the acid-blooded threat in Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), and Alien: Resurrection (1997). But it was the alien itself that was destined to become an iconic fixture. A blending with the Predator franchise in comic books, toy lines, video games, sound tracks, and card games would lead to another sequel, AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004).

If you remember seeing this iconic horror film in the theaters, maybe even let out a few screams of your own, we hope you’ll share your thoughts and recollections in our comments section below as we tip our hats to this wonderfully frightening film.

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