Animator and spine chiller supremo Ashley Thorpe starts a series on his top five spooky films. Number 5: Alien
HORROR. I confess. I’m a man obsessed. I’ve been fascinated with horror as long as I can remember; from Where the Wild Things Are to Grimms fairy tales. From Greek myth to the Universal monsters with midnight movies on (a very young) Channel 4.
A childhood visit to The Chamber of Horrors led me down a damp cobbled street and face to face with Jack the Ripper (an image that tormented me for years and now manifesting itself in Spring heel Jack).
Later came an adolescent scrabbling for the video nasties, bewitched as I was by the lurid posters, (more often than not promising far more than the films could actually deliver).
Choosing a list of favourites is therefore very difficult. This is in no way a definitive list. There’s more omitted here than included. There’s no Universal, no Hammer, though I have an obsession for both. These are the ones that continue to inspire my work (Alien and The Shining for instance are very obvious influences on The Screaming Skull). See this then as the films that I just can’t leave alone like a tongue probing a bad tooth.
ALIEN – 1979
I foolishly stayed up late in my youth, (with my parents’ consent) way past my bedtime to watch this in the belief that, as it was set in space, it was like Star Wars. Half an hour later I felt like I had witnessed a car crash played out in slow motion before my eyes. Alien is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of science fiction. It changed everything for me.
Alien, ostensibly a haunted house movie set in space, follows a simple B-movie structure; A commercial tug, the Nostromo, receives a transmission deep in space.
They investigate only to discover too late that the transmission is not a distress call it is a warning. Although criticism has been levelled at Alien for its simplicity of plot and almost detached documentary style interaction with the crew, I feel that this is exactly its strength. The power of the film lies in Ridley Scott’s obsession for detail and keen sense of design. Scott storyboarded the entire film and knew from the outset that a stark contrast between the world of the crew and the world of the Alien was crucial. He therefore gave all design duties of the worldly to Ron Cobb and Chris Foss. The alien he gave to swiss surrealist painter HR Giger.
From the moment that dawn breaks upon the alien planet (22min 55) we feel as if we are embarking upon some horrific evolutionary trespass. The alien surface, and the horse-shoe alien craft nestled within it, resemble the scene of some fossilised atrocity. Isolated and seemingly insignificant in that landscape, the crew’s plight is made all the more harrowing due to use of video relay cameras (in fact a technique used by Scott because of the failings of the model).
They enter the craft through a vaginal like orifice into a ‘bio-mechanoid’ hell. Its the escalation of Giger’s dark sexual imagery (both beautiful and ghastly) that makes the discovery sequence so powerful and so disturbing; from the organic horse-shoe craft, to the extraordinary fossilised pilot (or Space Jockey), to the shaft into which John Hurt is lowered to the repellently organic egg itself, that unleashes a vampiric creature whose structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
The subsequent alien attacks are an uncomfortable blend of rape and murder, wherein the body is violated as well as mutilated. Nothing human is sacred. We are merely a host, a place to hide. No film has ever come so close to capturing the ‘Lovecraftian’ on film (perhaps until John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing). It’s a film that never fails to impress.
“Ash, can you see this?” “Yes I can I’ve never seen anything like it.”
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TOMORROW: Ashely Thorpe on The EXORCIST
Listen to Lee Morgan talking to Ashley Thorpe
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