Monday, 26 October 2009

Road To Halloween: Alien (1979)

"As opposed to yelling his drunken opinions of what horror films he's like people to watch, Byron asked his friends on facebook and twitter, what their favorite 3 favorite horror films were. He added up the totals and watched and blogged the one that got the most mentions."

I remember walking home pissed as a fart arguing with a friend about what genre Alien is. I sided with sci-fi, while my friend was sure that it was a horror film. I compromised and considered it a hybrid of both genres and that's how the argument stayed for ages. In re watching the film, asking my friends about their favorite horror films and doing a bit of reading (well, re-reading) on the film, I now really coincide with my friend. Yes Jamie Mitton you hobbit faced bastard I now believe is more a horror film than a sci-fi. Although Cameron's Aliens is a WHOLE different matter.

It was great to revisit the film again because it's a film that really plays with the imagination more than you think. Despite it's slow burn build up (and being a Ridley Scott film), it's still shorter than you think (Even the directors cut!)n. There's six fatalities but you see the alien less than you remember. It's a testament to Scott's direction that a film which is now 30 years old still remains so fresh and timeless with many viewers.

It's about 40 minutes in before the still refreshingly face hugger rears it's ugly, eyeless head. It's another 5-6 minutes before John Hurt's Kane has an alien entry burst out of his chest. Could you imagine any producers these days, allowing an audience to wait that long for a horrific moment? Can you believe it was the series canceling, always-meddling studio that was Fox that allowed it? No, unbelievable isn't it?

The infamous chest-buster scene remains unpredictable mostly because of the unconventional rhythm of the film. Scott's build up of character and setting is not only something that could never be done now but is one built by the characters based on HOW they say things, not WHAT they say. The first act of the screenplay is so down to earth, so commonplace that it brings about a naturalness before the unnatural creeps in. When the macabre events eventually appear, the characters react not only truthfully to their characters but to real humans. Characters don't act like idiots (even when they go looking for that cat, there is good reason considering what happened to Kane) they act and react to reason and it doesn't feel like a screenplay has told them to do it.

But it's not just the screenplay, so much of the films aesthetic is unbelievably basic but devastatingly effective. For instance despite the films layered subtexts (fear of birth, technology and the abject other) Alien is incredibly sparse. From it's minimal futuristic surroundings to it's beautiful score work by the late Jerry Goldsmith, However, Alien works best when it's elements are stripped down even more. The most memorable sequence for me is the demise of Harry Dean Stanton's Brett which takes away Goldsmith's music and leaves us with dripping water, hanging chains and nothing else, reminding us that some of the best horror is still impressive without the need of intruding tunes.

Another unnerving thing about the film is it's use of body horror. The idea of having no control over your body being internally broken down beyond your will is something incredibly primal. The pivotal scenes of Alien "impregnation " and of course the chest-buster sequence has been considered by many critics as "male rape" or an elemental fear of childbirth. H R Giger's creature designs enforce this and help push forth the imagery, it should be no surprise to anyone that his designs were altered various times for being "too blatantly sexual". Later sequels force the issue to the forefront but it's Scott's subtle vision that keeps this idea at it's creepiest.

It's odd that not much is said about the other alien that is in the film. One of Aliens last surprises s of course the fact that one of the ships crew, Ash is of course an android, whose job was to contain the creature until safe arrival home. The robot (wonderfully underplayed for the most part by Brit Ian Holm) not only bring about a fear of technology that follows throughout the series (ending with Alien Resurrection warning us about the evils of cloning). Robots aren't aliens! cries a reader. But consider not only Ash's peculiar behaviour but the fact that he shares no emotional feeling within the film. It's this consideration and the paranoid feelings that someone is not "one of us" that brings me to that conclusion. Alien does not have to mean Extra-Terrestrial.

Alien is also a film that is in love with the genres it stemmed from. Although the film lends more t towards horror (Scott wished the film to be The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in space), Alien's insolent Android's riffs on the paranoid Watergate feelings laid bare by Phillip Kuffman's 1978 exceptional remake of Invasion of the body snatchers (note Veronica Cartwright roles in both films). The film also delightfully apes (and helps solidify) conventions brought about by John Carpenters Halloween (1978) a year before it. In fact Ash's explanation of his admiration of the "star beast" clearly leads itself to Dr Loomis's belief's on one Micheal Myers.

However when it all boils down to it, the alien monster for me remains more effective than Myers simply due to motive. Myers is human and will forever be questioned and have theory implemented (especially after the series sequels and remakes). Alien has always been more base than that and we do not question it's intentions because quite simply...cannot.