The Guardian has a good piece on the 1979 movie Alien, and its introduction of the first female horror / SF heroine, Sigouney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. I find the whole series fascinating, and in fact I just put a copy of the quartet– or quadrilogy, as the box set’s creators unfortunately call it– on my computer, so I’d be able to fall asleep to it in foreign hotels.
Watching the scene now, at a 30-year lag, you find yourself drawn as much to the reactions of the other actors as to the creature itself. Scott famously shot the film in one take with four cameras, and purposely kept the actors in the dark as to what, exactly, they were about to witness. It is safe to assume that none of them were as startled as Veronica Cartwright (playing the Nostromo’s navigator), who is shown recoiling in genuine horror from a spray of blood. “What you saw on camera was the real response,” recalls co-star Tom Skerritt. “She had no idea what the hell happened. All of a sudden this thing just came up.”
Cartwright’s shock would be mirrored in cinemas around the world. “Everybody remembers the moment when the creature comes out, because it was such a staggering event; totally beyond prediction,” says Thomson. “I remember seeing the film at the time with my wife and she was so horrified that she stood up and walked right out of the theatre. Afterwards she admitted that it was a very well-made film and all of that. But she could not take it; could not live with that possibility. It was as though she thought: if that can happen, anything can.”
Then there’s this unforgettable bit of prose:
Giger’s alien features the requisite razor-blade teeth and unreadable, implacable air. Sometimes it is limpid and wet, fashioned on the set out of oysters and clams brought in from a local fishmongers. Sometimes it is hard and blunt. Not to put too fine a point on it, the alien in Alien comes in two guises: vaginal and phallic.
“Alien is a rape movie with male victims,” explains David McIntee, author of the Alien study Beautiful Monsters. “And it also shows the consequences of that rape: the pregnancy and birth. It is a film that plays, very deliberately, with male fears of female reproduction.”