Director Ridley Scott's breakthough film, an immensely successful blend of horror and science fiction, is a classic in both genres and spawned a host of sequels and imitators. Starring Sigourney Weaver as warrant officer Ellen Ripley, ALIEN focuses on the crew of the space cargo ship Nostromo, which lands on a moribund planet in response to a faint SOS. Inside a crashed ship, the crew members come upon strange pods, one of which spews forth a repellently fleshy insectile creature that locks on to the face of the unlucky Kane (John Hurt). Despite Ripley's advice, science officer Ash (Ian Holm) allows Kane to return to the ship, where the creature finally releases its grip. Soon, however, in one of the film's most infamous scenes, one of its offspring explodes horribly from Kane's stomach and scurries away. Dallas (Tom Skerritt), the vessel's captain, leads the others in a search for the rapidly growing, acid-dripping alien before it can cut them down--one by one.
A triumph of art direction, set design, and special effects, ALIEN gains much of its impact from the contrast between the bleak, antiseptic beauty of the space vessel's interior and the primordial horror of the alien, a brilliantly original fusion of insect, man, and machine designed by Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger. The top-notch cast also includes Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton.
If nothing else, Alien had the coolest tagline ever given to a movie: "In space, no one can hear you scream." And seen on a big screen 24 years after its initial release, the film is as scary and intense as it ever was.
It's not just the Old Dark House aspects of the story which work so well. H.R. Giger's exceptionally creepy alien is a triumph of design, and the claustrophobic aspects of the script only add to the overall menace of the film. There's also a sense of familiarity, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Alien's concept was so successful, it has served as a template for just about every horror/sci-fi film since: isolated spaceship/planet, mixed bag of crew members, incredibly horrific slime thing, last man (or woman) standing. On some level, this makes Alien one of the most influential films ever made.
The film also benefits from a top-flight cast of future stars and character stalwarts. It's probably a better cast than Alien really deserved, but gifted actors like Ian Holm and John Hurt give their roles a verisimilitude lesser talents could never have achieved.
This is, of course, Sigourney Weaver's breakout performance, and as Ripley, who would appear in three Alien sequels, she is commanding, charismatic and totally sexy. But the performance that really grows in stature after all these years is that of Yaphet Kotto, whose disgruntled workingman Parker, always grumbling about his labor contract, is menacing, funny and absolutely mesmerizing in his intensity.
Just about everything else in the film remains spot-on. Jerry Goldsmith's eerie score is one of his best, and Michael Seymour's production design is appropriately creepy. Even better, Ridley Scott's direction seems even better than remembered, starting off languidly and picking up speed as the horrors mount. (The few new moments include a reunion of sorts with a couple of victims in the alien's nest.)
Alien has a number of classic scenes, and they are not diminished by repeat viewing: the alien baby popping out of John Hurt's stomach; Tom Skerritt confronting the grown alien in a heating vent; Weaver stripping down to skivvies and discovering the bad guy has infiltrated itself into the space capsule.
Hoo ha! Twenty-four years later, Alien still kicks some serious butt.