Everyone knows about Alien. That's the one where the wee slug thing bursts out of John Hurt's tummy. That's the one where... yeah, the little fella pops out of John Hurt. As much as it pains me to think, that's all most people could come up with when they think of the film. There's Sigourney Weaver, of course, whose name has become synonymous with the series, there's the really classy tag line that ran on the posters ('In space, no one can hear you scream' - love it), but what actually happens in the film? If you'd asked me before, I'd have said, 'Well, John Hurt gets an alien clinging to his face, which, it turns out, actually impregnated him, so an alien pops out his stomach during dinner. Then the alien grows up quite quickly and everyone chases it about for the rest of the film.'
I've seen it now. And there's really not that much more to say. The acting is tremendous, particularly from Hurt and Ian Holm as the profoundly irritating Ash. It's a cast you wouldn't expect to see in a horror film, one which most films would be envious of, and there's only seven people in the entire film (plus the alien and the cat). But there's just nothing to go with. The spaceship lands on the moon of a far off planet after hearing what the crew thinks might be a distress signal. Whilst exploring the moon, a crew member gets a newly hatched alien to the face. When they let him back on the spaceship with the alien still attached(??), he goes into quarantine for a few days before the facehugger leaves him alone and he seems to be fine. Then an alien comes out of him, and he dies. The alien proceeds to grow up quite quickly and everyone chases it about until, gradually, almost everyone is killed by it.
That's it, that's the plot. There really aren't any subplots to speak of, and very little filler between Sigourney Weaver running about corridors with a gun. And what strange corridors! Is it a rule of science fiction that spacecraft corridors cannot be shaped like corridors anywhere else? In Alien, they're octagonal, with white padding along he walls. Why? There's just less floor to run along, and you can't hang anything on the walls. Doors have to be an awkward shape to accommodate the shape of the walls, too. It's unnecessary. In the future, we'll have improved on almost every detail of our lives that can possibly be improved. I can't wait. But corridors are already at their ideal shape, thanks.
Alien is a horror film with the bare minimum of horror. Horrendous architecture beside, I'd argue it's far more an action film than anything else. Unless Film4 decided to cut every remotely gory frame, it's all guns and explosions and no blood. The exception, obviously, is the dinner chestburster sequence, which everyone's already seen anyway. There are seven characters, and all but one of them die. You'd think each death would become a major event in the film, each a countdown to Ripley's inevitable one-on-one showdown with the monster. But they're just wasted, usually nothing more than a slow turn around to find the alien in the same room, a sharp scream then a shot of the alien with another little mouth coming out its normal one. Every one is a missed opportunity.
After hearing so much about Alien being counted among the true masterpieces of horror, I couldn't help but be disappointed. I don't think it's tense enough to qualify as a psychological horror, and it just isn't disturbing enough to be ranked amongst the best. Paul Brown, our local explorers unit leader, told me he had nightmares about the alien for weeks after he saw it when he was ten. I probably would have too. Perhaps it's all a matter of perspective and relativity, but just now, I won't be worrying about any of that. I slept particularly well after finishing Alien. That shouldn't have been the case.
Follow me on Twitter: @crunro