Blessed be the Ripleys, Jonesies, and Newts of the world, for today is Alien Day. If you are not yet devout when it comes to holidays based on pop culture, let me explain. In the film Alien, the crew of the spacecraft Nostromo investigates a mysterious signal from a planetoid, where they encounter an alien creature that also happens to be the perfect killing machine. In the sequel Aliens, the planetoid is identified as LV-426, which is why we celebrate this special day on April 26. The Alien franchise is interesting in that it does not stick with just one (or even two) genres: while Aliens is a balls-to-the-wall action movie, Alien is a perfect hybrid of sci-fi and horror.
Alien is one of those movies that I wish I could go back in time and see on opening night, free of any spoilers or pop culture baggage. Most, if not all, movies benefit from a lack of preconceived notions, but horror in particular thrives on the element of surprise. I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone jokingly say “They’re he-eeeere” before I saw Poltergeist ; by the time I saw Psycho, I had already seen a hundred people pantomime stabbing while imitating Bernard Herrmann’s frenzied strings; and I had heard every Linda Blair/pea soup joke there was before I ever saw The Exorcist. I often wonder how different my relationship with these movies would be had I seen them with fresh eyes instead of through the lens of a millennial pop culture junkie.
To wit: my first encounter with Alien was on the Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World. It is a testament to the movie that it was terrifying even in that setting (though I should note, Disney is not to be underestimated when it comes to scary attractions – the late, great Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was delightfully spooky, and Alien Encounter was overhauled into a Stitch attraction because the original was so damn scary that every time the doors opened to let people out, dozens of sobbing, traumatized children turned Tomorrowland into a Dickens novel).
On the ride, we were placed inside the Nostromo after the self-destruct sequence had been activated. We saw Ripley hiding and clutching her gun; we felt the steam blasting and heard the countdown blaring; and, just before we escaped to the next movie, we saw the Xenomorph’s inner mouth snapping at us. In reality it probably wasn’t very close to the car, but it felt like that nasty second jaw was mere inches away from my face.
It was very scary and very, very fun. I do wish I could have seen Alien without any prior knowledge – how amazing must that chestburster scene have been for people who didn’t know what was coming? – but if I had to see it with pop culture baggage in tow, I could have done a lot worse than having a memory of trying to outrun the self-destruct sequence and the Xenomorph and then ending up singin’ in the rain with an animatronic Gene Kelly.
I’ve often heard Alien described as a haunted house movie set in space, and I think that’s an apt comparison: the basic plot of the movie is that a group of people investigate a spooky noise, encounter something that is strange and scary, and then begin disappearing one by one as they search the dark corners surrounding them. There’s even a cat jump scare to complete the haunted house effect.
The haunted house movie is one of my favorite subgenres, so between that, my fond memories of being on the “Nostromo,” and the sparing but amazing gore (the fact that the cast had no idea what was coming in the chestburster scene is one of the cruelest yet most awesome bits of horror trivia I’ve ever heard) – it’s no wonder that Alien is a favorite of mine. It gets better every time I see it. I watched it yesterday while working on this post, and I think I’ll watch it again today.
Do you have a favorite Alien moment or quote? Were you one of the lucky people to see the movie before the world knew what a chestburster was? Tell me about it in the comments. And always remember to respect the quarantine procedure. Happy Alien Day!