Quote of the Moment

"What's Past Is Prologue." - William Shakespeare

Friday, October 15, 2010

Haunted House in Space - Alien

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not seen the movie Alien there are spoilers in this essay.

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Here I go admitting my shortcomings again. Until now, I have never watched Alien in its entirety (as a note, I watched the 2003 Director's Cut version). Bits and pieces, here and there, yes, but not the whole thing. There was no reason why, aside from not enough time and too much else to watch--the usual. The verdict? It was a good movie. It probably would have been better if I didn't have a two-year-old making it hard to hear and causing me to pause it every fifteen minutes. Did it scare me? No, but not much does. I don't watch horror movies for the scare factor--I like them for examining the dark side of things. Alien definitely explores that dark side.

My husband calls Alien a haunted house movie, well one that takes place in space at least. I can see why he perceives it that way. Essentially, the entire crew is trapped on the ship, having to hunt down the monster that springs from one of their crewmate's chests. This is no small ship, and there are many places to hide. Even the lighting in the movie lends to the haunted house effect--everything is dark or in shadows, when they are on the hunt.

It's no ghost that they're trying to kill, though, but an unknown life form, one that is vicious and smart. It tricks their motion sensing device, and near the end its smart enough to sneak onto the escape shuttle before the ship blows up. The little creature that springs from the chest quickly sheds its skin and grows into a huge black monster with many rows of sharp, pointy teeth. Mind you, the growth time was a tad unbelievable for me, and like a snake, I would expect more than one skin shed when going from arm-size to bigger than human-size. I know there's only so much time in a movie, and you need to maintain the suspense by not taking too long to go from Point A to Point B, but I would have liked to see a better explanation of its rapid growth.

The best way to describe the alien are the words of yet another monster in this movie--Ash, the science officer who turns out to be a robot. He is given orders by Mother, the ship's brain, who has been programmed by the Company (such a wonderful chain of monsters here), to bring back the life form at all costs, including the sacrifice of the crew's lives. What makes Ash more monstrous is his awe of the creature, and here is where we get the wonderful description of the alien. "The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility....I admire its purity. A survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality" (Alien). The discussion with Ash, while he's a severed head, is the best dialogue of the movie, in my opinion.

Both the alien and Ash are great monsters, but they weren't my favorite part of the movie. It was actually one of the scenes added into the Director's Cut version that I liked the best. It's so brief, but I feel it has a strong impact. Ripley is the last of the crew alive (well, and the cat, which my husband dubbed the Harbinger of Death), and she is heading toward the escape shuttle. She makes a stop first, and finds two of her fellow crewmates still alive, but plastered to the walls by some unknown substance. Kind of like a spider wrapping up its prey for later consumption. The captain of the ship begs to be killed, so Ripley takes the flamethrower and ends his misery, along with the other crew member. I was disappointed to find out this scene wasn't in the original, but I'm glad they finally added it in.

Overall, I enjoyed Alien, and I thought both main monsters were well done. I just hope the next movie I have to watch, my toddler sits still long enough. ;)

Works Cited

Alien. Dir. Ridley Scott. With Sigourney Weaver. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 1979.


  1. I, too, found it difficult to believe the rapid growth of the monster with just one shedding of its skin. It's possible, of course, that the crew simply missed the other bits of skin lying around, and actually the thing shed about fifty times. Still, it was pretty fast.

    Ash was a pretty interesting monster, as well. I loved the gruesome scene with his android head on the table. Absolutely fantastic and probably the only one that really made me squeamish.

  2. I, too, wasn't crazy about the rapid growth factor in the movie -- I mean if I'm going to believe that there is an alien running around eating people, I at least want the movie to have some believability to it, and that kind of killed it for me, although I did like it overall.

    I wanted to comment on your relation to the ship as a haunted house though. That is such a cool idea, and I never really thought of it that way, when in reality they do share a lot of similarities! :) Good post!

  3. I agree that the extra scene in the Director's Cut really amped up the creepiness factor. I also think your husband's calling this a "haunted house in space" is a wonderful, very apt description. I know one of the most famous taglines for this film was "In space, no one can hear you scream" and I think it's that idea of being trapped in a haunted house that's not even on this planet (i.e. the means of escape are very constrained) is part of what makes this such an effective premise for a film.