Alien was voted as members’ no 1 in their poll of best ever films. It’s spawned a hundred spin offs, references and imitations and still remains in a league of its own in terms of sheer clammy-handed claustrophobia. Like “The Thing”, it’s a classic “chased by the monster” scenario. You just know what’s coming but it’s already too late, you can’t look away.
Even the tagline is just perfect. “In space no-one can hear you scream”
I first saw Alien when it was newly showing in cinemas, with my first love on our first proper date. He’d already seen it the week before but took me “because I want to watch you watching it” – and you know what, it’s a brilliant date movie. Imagine seeing it for the first time, not knowing anything about it or what is going to happen! You are almost guaranteed to jump out of your seat, and in a cinema will probably grab the person next to you. Afterwards he had bruises all down his arm from me clutching him in terror, which is pretty romantic if you think about it.
Cut to a few years later, when “Alien War” launched in Glasgow. In a cavernous series of warehouses under the railway arches you could re-enact the terrifying experience of running for your life as alien creatures jumped out at you. It was a “total reality” experience based on the film, the idea being that participants were innocent civilians trapped in a space ship where an alien presence had been detected. Actors played the crew roles in white boiler-suits and they were utterly convincing. The minute you stepped into the cold, dark tunnels, lining up with a dozen other nervous people to enter a “transition pod” (supposedly evacuating civilians from the contaminated spacecraft) you lost all sense of normal reality.
It sounds ridiculous but the scene was set so well, and the location so claustrophobically creepy that it was absolutely one of the most frightening things you can imagine.
I went with my best friend and fellow film fanatic and we ran like Ripley down endless corridors and screamed ourselves hoarse. We lived to tell the tale. It was brilliant.
Went to another version in London Trocadero several years later, this time with another boyfriend at the tail-end of a day-long mushroom trip on Hampstead Heath. Probably the most scary thing about it that time was having to walk through the Trocadero with all its bright lights, tourists and gaming machines. But it was still an amazing experience, especially as by this time the film itself was fifteen years and several sequels old. But still a legend, with iconography and design that no-one else could ever quite follow.
Because “Alien” is one of those films that just burns into your brain. Not just for the scary bits. The design, the characters, the mis-en-scene, the script, the sheer oh-my-godness of it all. Unforgettable.
So I’m looking forward to my next landmark experience with “Alien”, this time as we screen it on a cold January night in the dark bowels of an old industrial building on the outer shores of Sheffield town centre. Dare you be there??