Horror on Film: Alien

Alien is another film that uses the Fears that I’ve mentioned before to great effect. We start with the fear of isolation, the whole setting is pure isolation. A spaceship far out in the vacuum of space. We then add into this an alien who, while not supernatural, perfectly mirrors the idea of a Numinous fear. An alien is beyond our understanding and therefore before you can fight it you must learn about it. The closed nature of the spaceship also adds the fear of being trapped.

The alien’s design is where most of the horror comes from as it verges on body horror. You can see from Geiger’s original designs that the Alien is based on a transformed and mutilated human body.

Alien is as much an action film as it is a horror film which means it can’t lean into the idea of the inevitable as much but there is part of that as we see Ripley desperately try and keep the face-hugger from being brought on board.

There is also something to be said for the alien series managing to get at least two films with a lot of meaning in them. Alien has strong anti-capitalist themes, its very industrial and corporate setting and set designs are very different from the fantastical and vibrant setting of the Star Wars universe which it was inevitably compared to. Aliens which followed it does an excellent job of looking at individual greed contrasting with familial compassion. It includes some anti-capitalist themes as well while expanding on the universe. Beyond that though 3 and 4 just become ridiculous.

This follows the pattern of almost all horror film franchises losing their meaning after the first film. Final Destination was supposed to be about survivors’ guilt, Nightmare on Elm Street was about the problems with refusing to tell children things that might upset them, Friday the Thirteenth’s horror is supposed to come from the fact these teenagers are being murdered for something they had nothing to do with. All of these franchises abandon their original selling point and just become Murder/Torture Porn. Alien at least kept its themes consistent for the first two films.