Basically a monster movie set in space, this movie broke so many of the horror genre rules that audiences are still reeling.
The story is set far in the future. A commercial mining ship, called the Nostromo, is heading back to Earth after an unknown period of time. Its seven-member crew is in stasis until the ship receives a mysterious transmission, a possible distress signal, originating from a nearby planetoid. The ship’s computer, Mother, wakes up the crew. Per company policy they are required to investigate, so they land on the howlingly hostile surface, damaging their ship in the process. A few of the crew members – Dallas, Kane, and Lambert — head out to track down the source of the signal. They find a derelict alien ship that has crash landed nearby. Inside are the enormous remains of an alien pilot, its chest burst open from within.
Back on the Nostromo, Ripley has just figured out that the signal is a warning, not a plea for help. And around the same time, Kane discovers a huge chamber full of strange, alien eggs on the derelict ship. Dropping down into the mist-covered space to get a closer look, Kane is attacked by a creature that springs out of one of the eggs, dissolves the faceplate of his helmet, and attaches itself to his face, all in the space of about two seconds. Upon their return to the Nostromo, Kane and his rescuers are allowed back inside when another crew member, Ash, defies the quarantine rules.
From this point on, the crew of the Nostromo are pretty much screwed.
Oh, but what a lovely way to go.
First of all, the monster, a.k.a. the “alien”, is unlike any other monster we’ve ever seen – it is sleek, gorgeously alien, and sexy. This monster is no lumpy mess of mismatched parts; no giant furball bound to the phases of the moon as if caught in the world’s worst period; no social outcast with a weird lust for human body fluids — this creature is an artistic pairing of form with function. If it were a car it would be the 1956 Jaguar XK140.
Combine this body with a kind of “molecular acid” for blood, and the Alien is nearly unstoppable. They don’t dare shoot it, or blow it up, because its acidic blood can, and will, go right through the hull of their ship. So what can they do to get rid of it? They decide to trap it and jettison it out into space.
And this is where things in horror-genre land start to get a little wobbly, because the heroic captain, Dallas, climbs into the ventilation system in an attempt to herd the alien into an airlock so they can blow it the hell into space … and he gets ambushed by the alien. And dies. Even worse, his next-in-command is Ripley, a woman. Who goes on to be the only survivor. What??
Believe me, in 1979, when this hit the theaters, you could literally hear the needle scratch across the cosmic record of reality. I mean, it was LOUD. For the first time ever, women in horror were not the stupid, annoying, half-naked victims, but the heroes.
The screenwriter of “Alien”, Dan O’Bannon said this about the movie:
“One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex… I said ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number.'”(1)
Pair this level of evil intent, along with the best tagline ever — “In space no one can hear you scream” — and you see why “Alien” is the best monster movie, ever.