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In space no one can hear you scream; the immortal slogan of a film that would change the landscape of science fiction and horror forever. From its simple and mysterious poster design to its haunting trailer, Ridley Scott’s Alien gleefully tore up the horror and science fiction rule book as it took cinema audiences into the coldest and darkest reaches of space. Scott would take the Star Wars fever of the late 70s and strip away the blasters, dog fights, and cantina’s in favour of a stark mechanical and human portrait of space exploration. But it was the design, sound, female representation, and horror held in Alien that would earn it a rightful place in movie history.
Alien premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square in September 1979, but it wouldn’t hit UK cinemas until January 1980. Ever since it arrived, its influence on modern cinema has been discussed at length, with multiple viewpoints on its lasting legacy. Ripley is at the heart of these discussions, as the relative newcomer Sigourney Weaver dared to challenge the image of the final girl.
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Weaver’s Ripley wasn’t screaming or running away with her hair plastered to her face; she was calm, collected and determined. Weaver would rewrite the role of women in horror just as Carrie Fisher transformed the role of women in science fiction adventure. However, in the end, Scott lets Ripley’s character down as he strips her down to her underwear. It’s almost as if Scott suddenly realised he had given birth to a new female protagonist who didn’t need men to survive and, therefore, quickly pandered to the expectations of a 70s male audience.
The ship’s technology is human, clunky and functional and prone to the flaws of the crew. The low-fi aesthetic of Alien is partly why the movie still feels fresh over forty years on. Here the Nostromo feels claustrophobic, dark and old; a haunted house in all but name. The ship’s silence allows for sudden jolts of noise, just like a classic haunted house movie where the wind howls around the eves before a mysterious bang startles the poor souls within its walls.
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But when you add H. R. Giger’s xenomorph, based on his 1976 Necronom IV painting, to this floating haunted house, Alien becomes a true masterpiece of science fiction/horror. By mixing human anatomy with metallic layers of armour, the androgynous yet sexual creature holds a disturbing look that our brains can’t process. Scott’s decision to keep this creature in the shadows only heightens our fear as we try to decipher its shape and design through the steam and darkness – its silent movements only interrupted by the screams of its victims.
Over forty years on from its release, Alien still makes you jump, bite your fingernails to the quick and fear what lurks in the shadows surrounding you. It is a masterpiece that takes us into the cold and dark reaches of space while reminding us that our sense of superiority is Earth-bound.