As a 6′ 3″ male with a 30-inch waist and pale complexion, you may find it ridiculous that I’m just as afraid of tall, skeletal beings as the next person. But here I am, watching Ridley Scott’s Alien in the middle of the day, and I’m hiding behind my hands.
Fortunately for me, there’s no reliance on cheap scare tactics. The whole film stands up on the tension of its cinematography, the moodiness of its set, and the uniqueness of its creature design. No, it’s not the scariest film I’ve ever seen, and it won’t keep me awake tonight (if I keep saying that, does it make it true?) but it combines a lot of things that scare me, and most other people – labyrinthine corridors, the isolation of outer space, incredibly large man-eating insects, and strong female leads.
What makes Alien a great film is the fact that I watch it despite my reluctance. It’s an exercise in how to build tremendous amounts of tension and deliver something worth all that suspense. It’s unpredictable without being gratuitous – something that can’t be said of many of its contemporary counterparts. When that tiny little slug bursts from John Hurt’s chest, rumour has it even the cast were taken by surprise. And then when it evolves into the Xenomorph, the audience is left wondering, “What the hell could happen next?” and, “How did that thing find Sigourney Weaver’s testosterone supplements so damn fast?”