Alien is one of those horror films that is legendary, you often hear it talked about in the same reverent tone as one discusses The Exorcist or Silent Hill, one of those hallmarks of the horror genre that one must simply see for themselves in the pursuit of what makes the entire genre great. It took a long time but after seeing it I can say that it most certainly doesn’t get all its praise from nowhere.
The film itself is inspired by Lovecraft in very many ways, the initial discovery of the Alien spaceship is where this becomes perhaps most prevelant. Skulking around something that seems to us so massively advanced that we may not be able to comprehend such a things. Plus H.R Giger was inspired by Lovecraft in his art and that very clearly bleeds into the design of the Xenomorph.
The Alien film is a very good example of when horror takes the best bits of a suspense film and uses them for it’s goal of scaring the audience. Following a crew member as he crawls through an airduct and as they frantically check for any Xenomorph around him while the situation becomes gradually more tense until the scene reaches its payoff in the form of what could be argued is a jump scare, it is something not a lot of films do. Also yes, I did say jump scare, that one tool people hate but it is not entirely awful. Alien is the prime example of a film that uses jump scares to its maximum potential. It doesn’t assault you with them, and even gives you brief warnings of them in roundabout ways but things do still pop up with loud noises. It is the fact that the film lets the atmosphere settle for such a long time however that makes the jump scares so effective.
One thing I find absolutely lovely in the Alien series is its depiction of future tech. The stuff is just so visually fascinating, Ai’s and computers connected to DOS, humongous overlarge ships which seem almost industrial in their visuals. The computers, though ridiculous by modern standards, are an appealing ascetic, the old DOS setup somehow being used to pilot a massive ship is just a fascinating and intriguing image. The ship size itself is just so enormous, it uses this enormity to great effect and makes us feel so small and insignificant, both literally and figuratively.
One other thing this gives us is a variety of locations in what should be a samey looking place. Since the ship is so humongous the scenery never feels samey, there is a plesent mix of professional white clean med bays mixed with grungy industrial lower level engines. This enormity also helps immensely with the horror, for there are so many locations and variety we never know how far away from the escape pods the characters may be, giving us a constant tenseness during the final scenes.
The elephant in the room is the acting, it isn’t very good. Especially Sigourney Weaver, yes it can be argued she is delibaritely a wooden robotic character which is representetive of her follow the rules attitude. However this doesn’t excuse acting that simply sounds bad, as if someone is reading off a script in front of them. She does improve during the final horror scenes, she is very good at acting terrified but the rest is mediocre at best and just painful at worst.
However one character the film does get right is the Xenomorph. It does come across as this advanced life-form, this perfect predator. Of this thing that is ultimately unstoppable and so much smarter then us. It creeps around unsettlingly, you never really get a good enough look at the thing to really quantify it. Any scenes of it are just body parts or brief terrifying flashes. This film really does shows how one can show the underlying monster of the film but not ruin any intimidation is had. It is so careful in the way it shows the Xenomorph, so brief in its showing of it, that the creature remains unsettling till the end.
I do love the atmosphere that the film has throughout it though, the initial landing on the planet and exploration feels so strange, so otherwordly and dreamlike in its visuals and feel. Then the feeling of unyielding tenseness once the Alien is around, skulking in the ducts, picking off our crew one by one, while every little creak in the ship could be a sign of it being around. It’s pleasant mix of a slow skulking Alien that is clearly seen behind someone, with the occasionally use of a brief jump scare works extremely well in creating a nice tension and fear of it.
Alien is really a lovely film. I do have a kind of love for its technology I admit, that kind of retro futurism of dos and smoky blue computers. As well as it’s horror, using its jump scares to great effect and having a creature that is simply unforgettable in its appearance. Though perhaps not the best horror film, as a horror sci fi, it manages to look visually lovely and scare enough, along with the wonderful atmosphere it sets, it is certainly deserving of its reputation.