Rewatch: ALIEN -- Why has it been so good, for so long?
My wife and I love movies. And when the mood strikes us, we LOVE horror films. As we re-watched ALIEN, we realized something. So, I thought I'd talk about it.
This film is nearly 40 years old. Let's take that in for a second. 40. 38-ish to be more precise as of the time of this posting. So just what in the world did this movie do to not only EARN a spot in horror canon, but to KEEP IT for going on four decades?!
Side note/story before we fire a few bullet points into this question:
My Mom likes this movie. My Mom can appreciate horror, but isn't a huge horror fan. My Mom also doesn't scare too easily. She's a tough lady, and also someone I would expect to be just as resourceful as Ellen Ripley if Xenomorphs ever became a problem here in the mid-west. OK. So enough bragging about my Mom. The point I wanted to make was that she's told me several times the story of her going to see ALIEN with her brothers. Apparently when Alien came out, it was so scary for some people in the audience, my mother and uncles included, that they had to leave the theater multiple times during the showing. This little story reminds me that while Alien is still arguably pretty scary and/or creepy today, it was TERRIFYING when it came out on May 25th, 1975.
So why does Alien continue to be so immersive? Why are the Xenomorphs still terrifying monsters? I surely won't hit all the reasons why this film has earned its spot in the horror cannon, but I'll certainly mention the core reasons I think this movie has worked so well, for so long.
Practical effects have a slight advantage over CGI, even today with CGI being as good as it is. ITS REAL STUFFS, MAN! All effects falter with time and under close examination, but good practical effects have the potential to stick with us longer. There's a reason THE THING still grosses most of us out after all this time, and the effects of the 2011 remake aren't bad either!
Alien was all about the practical effects, and with several scenes, pushed the limits. The chest bursters STILL give me heart burn.
A Monster Without an Expiration Date
The Xeromorph. Its blood is acid that can burn almost all the way through the hull of a ship. Its retractable mouth is as powerful as a hydraulic punch. It's scorpion-like tail can strike from almost any angle. It's near silent. It's incredibly fast, and it looks NASTY. Part of this films success rests with the fact that the Alien is not only terrifying, but that it's also incredibly hard to kill or run from. These factors are essential to any good monster, but the Alien does it with style.
It's one thing to say you can't kill a ghost, monster, or other villain simply because "you just can't" or "they're just so powerful". But to give your monster ACID BLOOD?! That's a great reason it's darn hard to kill.
Here I'm just going to say "DUH". This movie wasn't only a great kick off for Sigourney Weaver, being her second big film. But, it was also a large corner stone in John Hurt's career in his MANY contributions to Sci-Fi & Fantasy.
Cast is key in any good film, but the cast of Alien was dedicated. They got into the gore. Some of the reactions to the chest burster were REAL because they didn't know exactly what to expect while filming.
A Fear of the Dark
Alien does an excellent job of one thing sure to make horror last. They don't show you too much of the monster. Besides a few full body shots near the end of the film, your imagination is left to decide what's out there. And all good horror understands that our imaginations will create more horror than we can ever show or tell.