"In space no one can hear you scream."

Classic science fiction/horror movie released on unsuspecting audiences back in 1979, with British director, Ridley Scott at the helm. It spawned a lucrative movie franchise, and made a star of its heroine, Sigourney Weaver. It also features one of the most frightening and imaginatively realised monsters of cinema, the eponymous Alien.

The Cast

Tom Skerrit - as Captain Dallas
Sigourney Weaver - as Ripley
Veronica Cartwright - as Lambert
Harry Dean Stanton - as Brett
John Hurt - as Kane
Ian Holm - as Ash
Yaphet Kotto - as Parker

The plot

(contains spoilers)

As the film begins, and the credits start to appear we are given establishing shots of a star field, followed by a craft making its way past a planet. A caption informs us that this is the Nostromo (cf Heart of Darkness) returning back to Earth with its cargo. The camera now begins to take a slow tour of the ship's innards, it is lifeless and deserted although there are signs of past human habitation. A computer screen crackles into life and the whole ship awakens from its slumber, lights luminate with their neon glow, doors open to reveal the crew hibernating in an chamber in the bowels of the ship. One by one they emerge blinking to begin living their lives again.

Excited at their return home, the crew of seven are in good spirits, but these soon evaporate when they realise they have not reached their destination. Instead they have been prematurely awakened by a radio signal received from the nearby unexplored planet. They take a landing craft down to the planets surface and three of the crew members go off to find the location of the transmission.

They find a derelict alien spacecraft that is clearly not indigneous to the hostile, stormy planet. They find a hole and the crewmember Kane is lowered down a rope to explore. He finds himself in a strangely organic enviroment, and pod or eggs are littered about the ground. He bends down to examine one closely, when something, shoots out of it, smashing through his face plate and attaches itself to his face.

His comrades, Captain Dallas and Lambert, carry him back to thes ship, but Ripley won't let them into the ship because of the risk of infection from whatever they are bringing back with them. But Ash the science/medical officer ignores her, and lets them back onboard. They examine Kane, and observe that the alien creature is keeping him alive but cannot be removed and has forced a tentacle down Kane's throat. They attempt cutting the creature off but its blood is so acidic it cuts through several of the ships floors. They are at a loss, but later the creature seems to fall off and die of its own accord.

They return to the mothership and are preparing to re-enter their hibernation. They decide to eat dinner first. The mood has improved, the crew are laughing and joking again after their ordeal. Kane starts convulsing. He spins round, in unbearable pain, spewing up blood. His friends try to restrain him. As Kane lies back on the mess table, his chest is lacerated, blood cascades from his open chest and an alien erupts from his chest and escapes out of the room. The crew are in shock, Kane's corpse lies on the dining table, his chest ripped open from the inside. The nightmare has begun.

The crew begin to hunt the creature, however it is they who are the prey. Brett and Dallas are killed and the crew seem incapable of daunting the alien with their weapons. They are further shocked to discover that Ash is an android, under orders to bring home a live alien specimen to his superiors, and that the rest of the crew are considered expendable. This in-fighting rips the group apart, and soon Ripley is left as the only survivor.

Chest Burster

This is one of the most shocking scenes in cinema and is probably the part of the movie that sticks in most viewers minds. The obscene pregnancy and birth that Kane is subjected to touches the rawest of nerves. The actors were not informed of the specifics of the screen, and this skullduggery means that the shock we see portayed, particularly by Veronica Cartwright as she is showered in blood, seem more genuine. John Hurt will always be remembered in this scene, and one of the highlights of Spaceballs is where Hurt parodies his defining moment.

The Horror

The basics of the Alien plot could be said to have been borrowed from Howard Hawk's 1951 film, The Thing. However the impact that Alien made was no doubt due to its successful exploitation of the fears held by the audience. The most prominent of these is clearly the unknown, but many other are touched on, rape, fear of reproduction, arachnophobia and fear of technology. The alien itself is also utterly chilling with its stages of reproduction cycle. The egg seem perfected to survive in both the most hostile of atmosphere, while the face hugger can impant its seed into a variety of hosts. The incubating alien will then destroy its mother with its own birth. The full grown alien is just amount the most terrifying being imaginable, being roughly human shaped but able to adapt and conceal itself from detection. The whip like tail and infamous set of inner jaws. For this we have to thank artist H.R. Giger, for without such a memorable creation the film would not have made half the impact it did.

The Future

The future that Alien is set in is more believable, than many of its counterparts in other depictions. Instead of a benelovent Star Trek-esque federation, our shipmates work for the Company which appears to be an all-encompassing, money-making cartel that values profit over the well-being of its employees. The grim functional rattletrap look of the ship has been widely imitated and the imbittered crew who are constantly striving to maintain it has become a science fiction cliche.


Another oft-noted fact about Alien, is that is it is a women who fights and ultimately triumphs over the alien. Back in 1979 this was not expected by audiences, but Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of a tough, smart and resourceful heroine not only launched her career but make the movie stand out even further from the crowd, and also gained the film a lot of academic attention due to its feminist stance, (and also because of the subtext concerning reproduction, gender and disease). Ripley is a survivor, she is also the soul of the movie, we can identify with her as she tries to enforce ship discipline to stop the infected Kane to come aboard and as she clashes with Ash over the orders they have been given to follow. It has also been noted that the alien itself could be thought of as having certain feminine characteristics.

Special Effects

The special effects in Alien are grisly but inventive. The alien itself is kept away from the camera at first like all good movie monsters should, and with each death we see more and more of it. The set design is indebted to the artist Moebius, while the lighting is excellent and Ridley Scott's trademark contrasts of light and dark in his shots all add to the suspense as we wait for the alien to emerge from the shadows. Alien won an Academy Award for its visual effects and was also nominated for best art direction. But remember that Alien is not for the faint of heart.