Transitions, Ink

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday Scribblings #22 My Favourite Monster Movie

This week's Sunday Scribblings prompt is "The Monster..." This got me thinking about movie monsters, which quickly got me to my favourite monster movie, Alien.

Sunday Scribblings #22
My Favourite Monster Movie

I love to be scared but only by things that cannot really happen. The more other-wordly and impossible the creatures, the more delightful my fear. This makes me a big fan of the horror genre in movies. Not horrors like Saw or The Hostel or, most appallingly, Last House on the Left. No. Those things could really happen. There are some sick serial killers out there. Thanks to The Hostel, it is not inconceivable to me that people might pay money to torture and kill other human beings. And Last House on the Left depicts some monstrous human beings doing monstrous and unspeakable things to two teenage girls. So harrowing is the first half of the movie that the scenes of the parents’ revenge could not redeem the film for me. No, I adore movies like Alien (and Aliens), A Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, The Ring, The Grudge or, most recently, though the comparison to Alien is spurious, The Descent. These movies involve alien creatures, razor-fingered killers who come alive in our dreams, ghosts, and strange cave humanoids. I am not a huge fan of the demonic possession theme, but Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist still raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

Among horror films in general, Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) remains my gold standard. If a credible critic compares a movie to Alien, I’m there. Usually, I am disappointed. Here are ten features of Alien that make it so wonderfully special, so deliciously frightening:
1. Ripley, the hero, played by the then relatively unknown Sigourney Weaver, is female. At the time, that was a welcome and unexpected change.
2.The action is set on a space ship in the far reaches of the universe. There will be no help.
3. We never really get a good look at the alien. We, the viewers, never have more knowledge than the crew, so we get to share their terror. All we/they know that the thing has acid for blood, a telescopic set of very sharp teeth, it sheds, and it is growing rapidly. Whoever said, “the monster you don’t know is scarier than the monster you do know” was bang on. Not knowing exactly what we’re dealing ratchets up the tension, making it almost unbearable.
4. The scene where the alien lurches out of Kane’s chest. A classic.
5. Jonesy, the cat. The cat has a couple of key dramatic moments. Of course, there is the “whew, it’s just the cat” moment, brief though it is. And, just when you think Ripley is home free, “where’s the cat?” She has to go find Jonesy, racing against the unstoppable countdown.
6. Several mini-shockers a long the way—the truth about Ash, for one—but none seem cheap.
7. Brilliant pacing. It starts off slowly, and the pace of the action builds almost undetectably until Ripley is racing through the ship to find the cat and bring it back to the escape pod before the ship self-destructs.
8. The alien isn’t the only villain. Ash and, ultimately, Mother, both stand in Ripley’s way.
9. Even after multiple viewings, it still gets the heart rate way way up.
10. An outer space encounter with an alien is far enough from the realm of possibility that we can sit back, completely suspend belief, and allow the movie to scare the living daylights out of us!


FatCharlatan said...

You interesting inter disc project for you might be some sort of movie critic work (we have the inter disc for book reviewers, so why not movie reviews?). I love reading movie reviews, which are usually well written, interesting, and often very funny. I bet you'd be really good at that, and it might help you through the "slowness" that you're experiencing with the submission writing since you'd be writing "on deadline" so-to-speak. If you're interested, talk to Steven about this...I'm sure they could hook you up with a film professor as an advisor.

I enjoyed reading this! :)

paris parfait said...

Fascinating post. Last House on the Left was the most monstrous movie I ever saw - had to leave in the middle of it, even though I was 19 at the time. I've never forgotten the horrors. I liked the Alien movies, especially the first one. In general, horror films scare me and I don't watch them - real life is scary enough.

TI said...

FC, you are full of good ideas. I will think about that. I see anywhere from 2-4 movies a week, and reviewed for my school paper for awhile (I loved going to pre-screenings!) when I was an undergrad.

meredith said...

I have to agree. I don't like scary monster movies, but the first Alien remains a favorite. I went with my brother, I was in highschool, and it scared the heck out of me!

Chelle Y. said...

That movie scared the crap out of me! I am so not a horror fan! :)

Great post, though. It made me shiver, like I was watching the movie again.

Autrice DelDrago said...

10. It has one of the best "final words before the bad guy dies" lines!

khendron said...

I love the move Alien, but for me the "classic" scary monster movie has its feet (fins?) firmly placed in reality: Jaws.

This movie has most of the elements you write about:
A. The reluctant hero (it's a guy this time, but he's completely out of his element)
B. The ultimate action is set on a ship (of sea, not space), beyond help.
C. You don't get a really good look at the monster. Not until the eternal line "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
D. OK, there's no scene with a monster lurching out of somebody's chest. I'll have to hand Alien that one.

And of course the pacing is absolutley brilliant. Add to this a depth of character and character interaction that Alien does not have (in Alien the characters are pretty much introverts who do not interact at a personal level), and you have one of the best movies ever made, in any genre.

Both movies target the same human-centric hubris: that we are masters of our world and our universe. Actually, probably all horror movies do this. But to have our superiority knocked down by something completely alien, or a fish, for goodness sake, just makes it extra special.


TI said...

I agree, Khendron, Jaws is a classic monster movie that has the extra punch of making people scared to go swimming (I've never much liked swimming in the ocean since Jaws).