Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why the movie ALIEN is such a screamer.

          Most of the stuff I write wants to scare the reader or viewer in 

some way, or at least rattle their comfort zone. It’s about revealing 

what’s unknown in the world, both the real and unreal, because we 

can never be sure which is which. Great horror and dark fiction 

stories scare us in a way that forces us to confront how far we’re 

willing to go, and that can be pretty damn scary too.

         Which brings me to the movie ALIEN, because it illustrates 

a couple of key elements that make for a great horror story. 

         The first is that it comes at you from an unexpected place.  

In this case it’s movie’s genre, which is science fiction. While 

there have been a few great science fiction horror movies, like 

John Carpenter’s THE THING, they rarely go for the full-out 

visceral thrills of a horror story. But ALIEN did with a kind of 

searing exuberance that was something brand new.  

         The ads for the movie proclaimed – In space no one can 

hear you scream – and that’s another key element.  In a great 

horror story there should always be a moment when there’s 

feeling of overwhelming helplessness, when the characters 

suddenly realize the forces they are facing are profoundly evil 

and heartless, with no help on the way.  The fact that the alien 

creature was a virtually unstoppable killing machine made it 

the futuristic incarnate of a more traditional horror villain 

like Michael Myers in the HALLOWEEN movies.

         Another element the movie utilized was incorporating 

the fear of the unknown.  The crew of the spaceship Nostromo 

is summoned by a distress call to a nearby planet.  When they 

land, they see decayed evidence of alien life forms (spectacular 

designs by H.R. Giger) that are both colossal and macabre in an 

otherworldly way.

         But the real scares begin when they discover an eerie 

pod field, and one of the crew members is attacked by a face 

hugging alien creature. When they get back to the ship the 

creature is detached, and that’s when one of the great moments 

in scary movie history explosively happens.  Another unknown 

alien creature suddenly erupts through the crew member’s 

stomach and scuttles away.

         The scene is great because it’s the birth of something 

new we haven’t seen before, and that’s what horror is all about. 

And what made it even better was the primal terror of being 

physically invaded by something unknown.  Horror is always 

scariest the closer it gets, and the slimy alien creature splattered 

out from the place where we feel the most vulnerable, our own 

flesh and blood.

         After that, the movie takes us on a thrill ride that honored 

another horror convention. The dark and twisting passageways  

of the creaky spaceship were not that different from the shadowy 

hallways of a haunted house.  The trapped crew desperately tries 

to survive against the terrifying possibility that the deadly alien 

monster can leap out at anytime. 

         The movie ends with a twist that’s another element to keep 

in mind.  We learn that the Company the spaceship works for 

wants the protect the brutal alien creature for its own despicable 

ends.  The reason this is so frightening is because there always 

the possibility that the scariest creature of all is us. 

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