The year of 1979 brought with it two of the most terrifying spectacles the world could scarcely have anticipated: the rise of the Iron Lady, and of course Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’. The story follows a diverse crew aboard spacecraft ‘Nostromo’, as they return to Earth from an expedition to retrieve mineral ore. Their voyage home is brought to a halt when signals of alien technology force them to explore the unidentifiable ship, which soon brings the domestic atmosphere to a grim demise. The foundation of the film is fuelled by unrelenting suspense, shocking visual terrors and sexual undertones that culminate in a fight for survival against the unknown.
The production of the alien completely reflects the final act. “Giger started building this graceful figure, his pipes and tubes and running, rotting sore joints and pustules and strange shapes and building it up and came up with something most bizarre.” (O’ Bannon 1979) This description of the unconventional, beastly structure slowly but surely contrasts the atmosphere of the ship, from a sheen-white homely environment to an obstacle course of flashing lights and burst pipes. Scenes reminiscent of this include the betrayal of Mother, the ship’s control system, in which our heroine Ripley misses the opportunity to deactivate the self-destruction sequence. This act of betrayal relates to the underlying route of the chaos, as if the birth of the alien was a betrayal of its predecessors, or even a violation of nature.
The ‘Chestburster’ scene in particular has become one of the most influential examples of horrifically gory cinema to date. Writer of Alien, Dan O’Bannon recalls the famous scene having not informed the cast of its content: “Afterwards these two people pick Veronica Cartwright up and she was weak kneed and they had to help her off the set. She was drenched, all her clothes sticking to her, and her hair sticking to her with this red dye and she was near hysterics.” (O’Bannon 1979) This repulsive visual spectacle reflects upon the theme of birth and creation, as the ‘Facehugger’ life-forms’ key motive is to breed life into the living, using existing creatures as vessels for fertilisation. Every element from the moment of entering the alien ship includes incredibly raw, organic designs which intend to bring unease to the viewer, but more subtly provoke ideas of dark sexuality in the subconscious.
The film is laden with this kind of sexual imagery in a variety of ways, from the phallic, organic textures that line the walls of the ship, to the more obvious Facehugger anatomy akin to that of human genitals. Associate Producer, Ivor Powell describes the Facehugger: “In a sense, the original Facehugger is f**king you orally and laying its eggs down your trachea. Very Freudian, isn’t it?” (Powell, 2009) In relation to this idea of forced sex, a scene in which Ash forcefully shoves a rolled up magazine into Ripley’s open mouth whilst pornographic cut-outs linger on the walls behind them leave a very confusing impression which has a lasting effect on the viewer.
Ripley’s final scenes also see the action hero that her character has developed into, stripping away her ambiguous gear to operate the ship in a scantily clad fashion. Although this means to give the impression that Ripley is safe, once it is revealed that the alien is aboard, the atmosphere becomes one of complete vulnerability, and arguably the set-up for a sexual fantasy. But amongst the defining themes at its core, Alien has become one the greatest sci-fi horror films of its genre, still referenced relentlessly within pop culture today, and at the other end of the spectrum, even Pixar’s Toy Story.
(Alien) Fig 2 - http://i613.photobucket.com/albums/tt220/williambean100/screenshotsListB/screenshot-lrg-34_zps378da711.png
(Alien) Fig 5 - http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6092/6319138081_3cb0d8b70c_z.jpg
(Toy Story) Fig 6 - http://alienanthology.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Alien_references_in_popular_culture?file=Whack-a-Alien.jpg
(O'Bannon, 1979) - http://weyland-yutaniarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/dan-o-bannon-on-alien-fantastic-films_24.html
(Powell, 2009) - http://www.empireonline.com/interviews/interview.asp?IID=1095