Some movies have good posters. Some movies have good trailers. Then there are the taglines.
“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”
“Who ya gonna call?”
“Houston, we have a problem.”
Each of those evoke a memory of a film or a moment in time. They are all you needed to know what you were getting into. Now, imagine if you will (a place beyond sight and sound?), the concept of a horror movie in space is all but unknown. Sci Fi horror and truly gruesome alien monsters don’t exist. You walk into your local cineplex and see the image above with this tagline:
“In space, no one can hear you scream.”
At the bare minimum you might be curious, but what would you be getting if you paid money for a ticket?
The very definition of gothic horror actually. Written by Dan O’Bannon, inspired by his earlier work Dark Star, and co written by Ronald Shusett. Both of the men would go on to have little success beyond this with Total Recall being one of the few non-Alien based movies of any notoriety. It’s a shame since they did such a fantastic job in making relatable working class characters that you bother to care about. If that seems a trend in some of my reviews, it is. It is important to me that I care about the characters and create investment in their well being. If I don’t care if they live or die, then where is the tension? There’s no reason to care, then I am only watching for the psychotic glee of witnessing horrific deaths. That has its purpose from time to time, but to be truly great – you need to care. It’s also worth mentioning many of the tropes and cliches of modern cinema started with movies like this. Not only that, but they created a universe here. One we keep dipping our toes back into year after year – Books, Comics, Sequels, Video Games…all of it.
The story here, for those uninitiated, focuses on a group of blue collar miners on a massive space ship and refinery called the Nostromo. They are woken from cryosleep by a mysterious signal from a nearby planet LV-426. A small recon team is sent to explore the source of the signal and uncovers an ancient ship with secrets within. A specimen is brought back to the ship which begins its return voyage home; only for things to go wrong. Claustrophobia, fear of an unknown creature, fear of each other, and an ever increasing body count ramp the tension to a climax unlike most others.
The acting cast reads almost as a who’s who of 70’s and 80’s films. Tom Skerritt as Captain Dallas, Sigourney Weaver as Lt. Ellen Ripley (in one of her first screen appearances), Veronica Cartwright as Lambert, Harry Dean Stanton as Brett, John Hurt as Kane, and Ian Holm as Ash. Every aspect of their characters works. They feel real. Their reactions are honest (in some cases very honest). Special recognition of course must go to Weaver. She has the unenviable task of carrying the film when it initially appears Skerritt – the veteran – would do so. She is outmatched in nearly every capacity by the creature that is stalking them except her will to survive. That is a thing of beauty to watch.
Director Ridley Scott, who has done more famous films than I can list reasonably, made this his opening to Hollywood as a director. He did it remarkably. Every aspect of this after the script came down to his raw direction. Tight claustrophobic tunnels, steam, poor lighting, uneven camera angles, and practical effects all from his hand and eye. Granted all the beautiful atmosphere that makes it the gothic classic that it is wouldn’t do well if the villain was Pennywise.
Beep Beep Ripley. Beep Beep
For that we went to the mad genius H.R. Giger. His brain had a thing for the blending of man, machine, and monster. This isn’t to say he made cyborgs or robots, but rather things that seemed to defy both in their surrealist organic nature. Thankfully, he won an Academy Award for this. The creature design is iconic and alone may be the reason this franchise has spawned so many sequels and stories over the decades.
This movie is definitive. It is the work you need to go back to if you want to do horror in space. No one, arguably, has done it better since.
It has some gore to it, but most of the horror comes from what you can’t see and what you aren’t being shown. This movie successfully combines psychological horror, science fiction, and monster movies.
It’s an absolute film.
This is Jessica Darke, with the last review of the night. Signing off.