Alien Essential

It won't all be zombies and ghosts.

To prove that point, today's movie-themed Spooky Month post will focus on one of my favorite movies ever, let alone a quality scary one. It's a movie with a long and storied history, one I'll only partially be able to delve into. Regardless, let's cut right to the chase and take a look at Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece, Alien

Alien is a movie that inspires awe in me, both as an avid horror buff and as a simple audience member. I knew when I first saw it on VHS back in the mid 90s that it was a renowned piece of movie history. At the time I was just into the sci-fi and titular monsters, the design and lore of which were fascinating. The older I grew and the more I learned about the movie (and to lesser extent the diminishing sequels) the more I respected and appreciated the artistry and craft that went into making this hallmark of horror. Every little tidbit of information made it that much more impressive, in my eyes. But enough fan-boy gushing from me - let me explain what the deal is and why you should care, in case you've (sadly) missed out until now. 
Alien is a claustrophobic, dramatic science fiction movie that established one of the most subversive, original monsters in modern creation. Set aboard an interstellar mining vessel in the semi-distant future (a believable one with well-drawn human characters, not the cardboard-yet-fantastical George Lucas world), it tells the tale of a crew investigating a distress signal on a supposedly uninhabited planet. The ragtag, contentious crew accept company orders to land on the surface and venture out to see what caused the auto-pilot to wake them from their cryogenic hibernation. Among ancient wreckage awaited something...dangerous and absolutely unfamiliar. A crew member is brought back on board with something attached to him, which inevitably leads to an uncanny monster stalking the claustrophobic halls of their vessel. Already back on path to Earth, the near-defenseless crew struggles to survive against the lurking horror. This description is all in the hopes of enticing you without giving away surprises for a movie that's well over 30 years old, so if you have never had the fortune of being terrified by it, for the love of scary movies, see it now. If you already know, then you get why I have to beat around the bush on some of the more central elements. 
But let's assume you're familiar with the movie for a moment. What is it that makes it so remarkable? There are countless reasons, frankly. But is there any particular one that stands out as the backbone to the legendary status of this film? Certainly Ridley Scott's direction is integral, with his gorgeous framing and nail-biting pacing. I can include myself among the many people that swore up and down that the alien changed shape and size throughout the film, despite the concrete evidence to the contrary. His creation of enclosed sets for the mining vessel Nostromo were also a key factor, establishing a real space with palpable tight spots and a sense of being lived in. The cast did a fantastic job of portraying working class people in a future that otherwise would be cliched and hokey. They feel like a genuine band of dysfunctional coworkers with old disagreements and grievances, as well as disparate motivations. Sigourney Weaver did an impeccable job as the heroine, cementing her status as an action lead despite the dearth of women in the field. This casting choice is especially noteworthy considering that it occurred back in the ancient 1970s. 
Of course this all glosses over the most notorious element of all - H.R. Giger's unholy creation. Summoning inspiration from the most biological yet unnatural sources, Giger created a monster that unnerves us and disturbs that sense of normalcy in the mind. When seeing it for the first time, we are naturally repulsed yet intrigued by its simultaneously organic and mechanical elements. Furthermore, the manner in which it reproduces (let alone how it bursts onto the scene) are subversively abhorrent to our standards of tradition and the expected world. The idea of the creature's reproductive cycle and the parallels it possesses to rape and male pregnancy are well established, no doubt causing further unease in our subconsciousness as we watch the film. 
There are tons of little details that add to the movie, giving weight to unspoken themes or just adding to the world we're brought into. The idea of the ship waking up in the opening scenes is added to by framing shots of the monitors in reflective helmets, as though the machines were speaking. Corporate omnipresence Weyland-Yutani's motivations and questionable actions in the face of ethical dilemmas are ever the more prescient today, given the horrible repercussions depicted in the film. This is further elevated by our continuing advances in cybernetics and artificial intelligence. Unacknowledged things in the derelict spacecraft on the surface of the planet also suggest a deeper history to the movie - the Space Jockey is massive, clearly not a human. Further, what was the signal? A warning? A beacon? Attempts in recent movies are only semi-canonical and disappointing at best. The mystery here is so much more fascinating than a hard answer. 
Alien is excellent in every aspect. It is just as terrifying today as it was when it was first released. Quality presentation only adds to the experience. High resolution transfers, a widescreen TV and a dark, quiet place make it more of an immersive, unnerving experience. If you've never seen this masterpiece of science fiction horror, check it out as soon as possible. You want to see the monster? Go find it in the dark.