My top-ten horror films #3

3 – ALIEN (1979)


One of a handful of films that caused my heart to beat so hard while I was watching it that I thought it would, um, burst right out of my chest. Utterly nerve-shredding. It was our first real view of space as being anything other than pristine, sterile. Miners work out here: foul-mouthed grease monkeys trying to line their pockets with green on groaning old spaceships held together with spit and prayer. Dragged prematurely out of hypersleep by the ship’s computer, the crew of the Nostromo must investigate an alien signal, a possible SOS. After the volunteers have left, the signal is decoded. Not an SOS after all. A warning. So begins the whittling down of the crew by arguably the most frightening of all cinematic monsters, thanks to the warped vision of HR Giger.

The cast – Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm,  John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright and Sigourney Weaver – are uniformly excellent. I love the ad lib feel to the script and the fact that the monster is only glimpsed, a powerful tactic the sequels, though good, eschew. The brilliant, skeletal score (Jerry Goldsmith again) recalls the ribs of the ancient spaceship discovered on that desolate planet we would eventually come to know as LV-426. Nothing about the music, or the dissonant, echoing rattles within it, fills us with optimism. It is a bleak film, but it is stylish, intelligent and thrilling. The same words could be used to describe Prometheus – Ridley Scott’s belated return to the Alien mythos – but that film contains an absence of simplicity that Alien boasts.

As interesting as the director’s cut is in presenting us with Dallas’ grisly fate, it exerts a considerable brake on the pace of the film. I’d stick with the original release.


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