Horror movies have, nearly from the outset, included society’s fears of aliens and space. Not friendly, ‘E.T’, type aliens, but horrific, or sometimes funny (in the case of ‘The Blob’ aliens.) Many of the monster movies involving aliens of the past 50 years reside in the themes of the consequences of science. And these monsters are increasingly incorporated into our Hollywood Horror movie lore. The many aliens that now populate horror offer a variation on the science-gone-amok-theme. The superior technology of the inhabitants of flying saucers is another instance of how we are threatened by science, but in this case, a science far greater and more intelligent than our own, and as human beings, who feel we are the superior species – this is one of the human psyche’s biggest fears.
I can’t possibly go through the entire back catalogue of aliens in horror, but I can pick out several important and interesting ones to look at. Early movies include Invaders from Mars and War Of the Worlds back in the fifties, the re-make of the latter was also very successful.
Invasion Of the Body Snatchers based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney(Invasion of the Body Snatchers)is one of the best alien, horror/Sci-Fi movies because it works on so many levels; paranoia and lack of trust is the biggest and most interesting concept in this movie, which has been imitated many times in different forms. We firstly had the 1956 version, directed by Don Siegel, then we had the best version to date in 1978. The 70’s version starred Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy.
Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) is a San Francisco health inspector who, with his friend and colleague Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), discovers that people are being replaced by replicas grown from plant like pods. The replicas are near-perfect duplicates with the same memories and appearance as the original person, but are emotionless. The pods are able to duplicate humans only when they are asleep, and the original human bodies disintegrate after the duplicate is fully formed. The pod people then work together to spread more pods so more people can be replaced until they have eliminated the entire human race. The film follows a small group of people who discover the plot and try to stop it, or at least escape. This is the best take on the body snatchers theme, it really layers the paranoia superbly and the entire cast are fantastic, especially Veronica Cartwright. Plus the scream that the 'body snatchers' let out when they find a human is truely scary.
There was also a 1993 teenage version which wasn’t up to scratch, simply named ‘The Body Snatchers’, and then we had ‘The Faculty’ which was written by Kevin Williamson and starred Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett; the movie was very well done – aimed at the teenage, post-modern market and played on the main characters having knowledge of films such as ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and 1994’s ‘The Puppet Masters’ which had a similar story to ‘Body Snatchers.’ ‘The Invasion’came in 2007 and followed ‘The Body Snatchers’ storyline but from a different group of people’s point of view, the movie starred Nicole Kidman and had an ironic cameo appearance from Veronica Cartwright.
My favourite ‘scary alien’ movies are the ‘Alien’ franchise. The first one, simply named, Alien, was released in 1979 and is an iconic film in it’s own right, without it being part of the horror or sci-fi genres. The tag line is ever memorable - "In space no one can hear you scream." Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Sigourney Weaver (as the now iconic, Ripley), Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright. The aliens are predatory creatures with no higher goals than the propagation of their species and the destruction of life that could pose a threat. Like Bees or Ants, aliens are eusocial, with a single fertile queen breeding a caste of sterile warriors (although deleted scenes from the original do bring doubt into this.) The aliens' biological life cycle, in which their offspring are violently implanted inside living hosts before bursting from their chests, is in many ways their signature aspect. Their design deliberately evokes many sexual images, both male and female, to illustrate its blurring of human sexuality. The iconic suggestions of male rape, men giving birth, and the twisted version in which the alien grows inside a human host is similar to that of a child growing inside it’s mother, as Newt points out in the sequel Aliens. The alien design is credited to Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger, originating in a lithograph called Necronom IV and refined for the series' first film. The species' design and life cycle have been extensively added to in each film.
As Alien proved to be primarily a horror movie, and again it was science which was to blame. After all, it is the cyborg on board and 'the company' which give less regard for the characters' lives than the alien. The sequel came in 1986, Aliens, and proved to be just as frightening, but much more of an action film. Directed by James Cameron, the first two films in the franchise are superb in very different ways; although they are not so different that they seem like separate entities. The first sequel is very intense, with gathering momentum and a slow building fear and claustrophobia. One of the main, and most brilliant, aspects of the movie is Sigourney Weavers’ Ripley protecting her daughter figure, Rebecca (Newt) played by Carrie Henn and fighting off against the Alien Queen to protect her. I think anyone who has seen this movie will remember one of many memorable lines Ripley say’s; but it is the line - “Get away from her you bxtch” that sends shivers down your spine as Ripley faces off in her power-loader against the queen alien. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including a Best Actress nomination for Sigourney Weaver (which she definitely should have won.) It won in the categories of Sound Effects, Editing and Visual Effects.
The Alien franchise continued with Alien 3 in 1992, again starring Weaver, many people considered the film a let down after the previous two. I think it is a brilliant film in a very different way to the first two, and felt that apart from leaving Hicks and Newt out of the equation, it was the perfect ending to the franchise and a fitting and very iconic (again) ending for Ripley's character. In Alien: Resurrection, 200 years after her death, Ellen Ripley (Weaver) is cloned and brought back to life in the future as a powerful human/Alien hybrid clone who must continue her war against the Aliens. This, in my opinion is the weakest link in the Alien quadrilogy, although the entertainment is still there, the CGI is over the top and obvious, plus Ripley’s character that we all loved so much, isn’t there. Plus, what was that Alien/human hybrid?
Aliens Vs Predator in 2004 was a ridiculous excuse for a movie just to make money from the two movie's fanbases, entertaining once perhaps, but without Ripley – it’s just not Alien. Same goes for its sequel Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem in 2007.
Predator is a 1987 science fiction, action and horror film directed by John McTiernan, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura. The story follows an elite team on a mission to rescue hostages from a guerrilla group in Central America. Unknowingly, the group is hunted by an extraterrestrial life-form, which can merge with the jungle like a chameleon and likes to skin its prey. This is a brilliant film and is genuinely scary until you see the alien at the end unveil his odd looking silly face. The movie was followed by a fan favorite sequel, which showed The Predator as a being which respected other life-forms which could defend themselves.
Another famous and outstanding movie with an alien as a threat is John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ (1982), which is an amazing special effects extravaganza of paranoia. The film's title refers to its primary antagonist; a parasitic extraterrestrial life-form that assimilates other organisms and in turn imitates them. It infiltrates an Antarctic research team, taking the appearance of the researchers that it kills, and paranoia occurs within the group. Thirty years on and scenes from the movie still manage to appal. John Carpenter's gore-fest laid down a standard that even CGI has struggled to better for visual impact. Take, for example, the scene in which a heart-attack victim's ribcage opens up into a gigantic pair of teeth and bites the arms from the man attempting to resuscitate him. And that's nothing compared with the next moment, when an alien erupts from his spleen and dangles viciously on the end of his mutated spine before turning into a head with spiders legs. Kurt Russell is superb in the lead role as helicopter pilot, MacReady. Plus, the isolated snow driven, Antarctic setting is perfect for the paranoia between the group to work, and the ending is fantastically foreboding. Had all the 3D or CGI special effects been at Carpenter's disposal, it's hard to believe this monster could be made any more hideously realistic. A prequel is currently being made concerning the Russian team that first found the alien, and are reffered to in the movie.
This is only a handful of brilliant horror movies involving aliens.