Alien

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – H. P. Lovecraft

Alien, for me, is the consummate horror film. It excels in everything that I love about the genre, while avoiding the cliches and pitfalls that plague so many others.

The entire film is filled with a sense of foreboding, creeping dread. Even before the team reaches the unknown planet, there’s sense of darkness on the horizon. The viewer just knows, deep in their gut, that something is wrong.

The cinematography is so incredibly good. The camera angles, the lighting, the special effects… all of it utilized to accentuate the horror that is creeping aboard the Nostromo. I especially like the way that shadow and light are used in juxtaposition to show just enough, and veil the rest in shadow.

The scenes where Dallas (Tom Skerritt) explores the air shafts in attempt to lure the alien feel downright claustrophobic, and that in itself is stressful and intense.

I love the fact that the alien itself is rarely shown, or shown in quick sequences. Once you see something, once you can quantify it, it is no longer horrifying.

The musical score and sound effects are superb. The music is eerie and cosmic, evoking thoughts of space and the darkness between the stars.

I really appreciate the fact that all of the characters were developed in such a short period of time. It felt as though you were on the Nostromo, part of the crew. Very few films really make you care about their characters, but Alien succeeds. This is due, in part, to the phenomenal performances from everyone involved.

Alien messes with the viewers’ minds in many ways, and it is genius. Ash (Ian Holm) clearly has ulterior motives from the beginning of the film, but who would have guessed him to be an android sent to protect the alien? Isn’t Ash, clearly not human, an alien himself?

The final sequence, with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) on the escape pod, is some of the best cinematic sleight of hand I’ve ever seen. The film beckons you to watch her undress, to gaze at her shapely and exposed body, right before revealing that she is not alone on that escape pod. Fantastic.

Alien will always remain one of my favorite horror movies, and I long for a time when the genre returns to this level of greatness.

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