Alien (1979) – Cheap Thrills & Stupid Deaths Ruin Ridley Scott’s Would-be Masterpiece…

Most critics regard Ridley Scott’s Alien  as a masterpiece, and in terms of creature design, atmosphere, performances, cinematography and direction, it’s hard to disagree.

The problem is, the deaths of Nostromo‘s crew are rubbish, bog standard slasher movie stuff.  The original Scream got a lot of mileage out of Halloween and it’s contemporaries, and Alien‘s characters make some of the worst stalk n’ slash mistakes this side of the Friday the 13th franchise.  Let’s take a look –

Death #1: Kane (William Hurt) –

Cause of Death: Chest bust open by dick-headed alien.

“I’ll be right back…” moment: Kane is first one into the egg chamber of the derelict space ship, and rather than wait for the others, goes exploring by himself.  He takes a tumble, falling over like a pensioner round the side of the bingo hall after one too many shandies, and finds himself face to face with an egg.

Stupid Death? Absolutely.  If I saw that egg start opening, I’d be back up the rope and launching myself into space in the escape pod before the facehugger got chance to pop out.  I certainly wouldn’t be sticking my face anywhere near it.

Death #2: Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) –

Cause of Death: Skull-fucked by alien’s second set of jaws.

I’ll be right back…” moment: Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) reverses her sound idea of working in teams to kill the alien, and sends Brett off by himself to find the cat.

Stupid Death? What could be stupider?  Brett, unarmed, ambles away into the bowels of the ship in search of a cat.  He is unconcerned by finding the shedded skin of the creature, which would suggest the alien is slightly bigger than it’s first appearance out of Kane’s chest cavity.

Death #3: Dallas (Tom Skerritt) –

Cause of Death: Made jump by alien hiding in the shadows.

“I’ll be right back…” moment: Dallas commendably takes up the challenge of following the creature into Nostromo’s air shafts to flush it out.

Stupid Death? The Captain goes down before the ship in an act of misplaced heroism.  Dallas is hardly Captain Bligh, but three words – PULL RANK and DELEGATE.

Death #4: Ash (Ian Holm) –

Cause of Death: Bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher until his head comes off, then incinerated.

“I’ll be right back…” moment: No way.  Android Ash stays nice and snug on the ship while those stupid humans investigate the derelict spaceship, and keeps well out of any bug hunts once the alien is loose on Nostromo.

Stupid Death? Definitely not – Ash is so smart, he even tries killing Ripley with a metaphor.  Ash tries reinforcing the chauvinistic glass ceiling by literally choking jumped up, ball-busting Ripley’s ambitions with the emblem of sexism, the porno mag.

Death #5 & Death #6: Parker (Yaphet Kotto) & Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) –

Cause of Deaths: Head caved in by alien’s jaws & something horrible involving its tail.

“I’ll be right back…” moment: Not exactly – the pair go off together to fetch coolant for the shuttle.

Stupid Deaths? Although they’re together, they’re hardly watching each other’s backs, making it very easy for the alien to divide and conquer.  Parker has a clear shot, but can’t take it because Lambert is frozen with fear.  It’s insinuated Parker & Lambert are sleeping together, so Parker is extra reluctant to torch his lover.

Viewing Alien again recently, I was also staggered by the amount of times Jones, the ship’s cat, provides a cheap scare, or entices a character to do something foolhardy.

Alien is still a great movie, but after all the hard work going into the film’s design, it is cheapened by the lack of imagination in the B-movie deaths.

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About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 16/07/2012, in A, Entertainment, Film, Horror, Movies, sci fi and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I don’t really agree. You are forgetting the impact the novelty of the ` chestbuster` scene had at the time. Nothing like it had been seen before. I always thought it was a bit clumsy though. It`s obvious the alien was on a track when it scuttled away & I don`t know why they couldn`t have it fly out or something. This would have covered up the dodgy effects work. As for the attack scenes the Dallas one is admittedly a bit `Ghost Train` but the others are interesting. The Alien is cleverly portrayed as having enormous power & presence & seems to take about half an hour to do it`s business. The characters are both fascinated & paralysed by fear & the whole inner teeth head biting stuff is also novel. Our imaginations ( if you have one ) run riot wondering what is happening to Lambert. Having said that when you look closely at Parker when he is found by Ripley his head is still intact. You have to take into account this was made in `79 with a low budget & heavy time constraints. Compare and contrast with the quasi-prequel `Prometheus` in which a now anointed Sir Ridley Scott had all the time & money he needed & produced a pile of crap. The scene where the tentacle slaps the door in the medical room in that movie is worthy of Ed Wood

  2. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the originality of the film in relation to the design and the sheer impact – I’ve seen “Alien” maybe fifteen times, and the chest-burster scene never stops being shocking. What I’m trying to say in this article is that when you actually peel back all that atmosphere, set design and stately direction, the actual root causes of the deaths are still very B-movie, stalk-n-slash stuff.

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