Friday, June 14, 2019


"She asked where he lived. 'Second to the right,' said Peter, 
'and then straight on till morning.'"
Peter Pan   J.M. Barrie

On the DVD commentary for Hammer Film’s Straight on Till Morning, British actress Rita Tushingham speaks of having been saddled with the image and moniker of “ugly duckling” since making her film debut as Jo in Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey (1962). A role the inexperienced 18-year-old won after answering a brazenly forthright newspaper casting ad seeking an “ugly unknown” to star in Richardson’s forthcoming film adaptation of Shelagh Delaney’s groundbreaking 1958 play.
A Taste of Honey, while winning Tushingham a crateload of awards (BAFTA, Golden Globe, Cannes Film Festival) and overnight stardom, also branded the actress with the persistent screen persona of being the common-touch antithesis to the Julie Christies, Judy Geesons, and sexy dolly birds of the ‘60s New Wave in British cinema. Whether assaying roles tackling kitchen-sink drama: The Leather Boys (1964), the sexual revolution: The Knack….and How to Get It (1965), the swinging London scene: Smashing Time (1967), or the international market: Doctor Zhivago (1965); Rita Tushingham's large eyes and unconventional beauty inevitably figured significantly in defining her characters.
Rita Tushingham as Brenda "Wendy" Thompson
Shane Briant as Clive "Peter" Price
Katya Wyeth as Caroline
Clair Kelly as Margo Thompson
A critic’s darling regarded as a serious actress with a flair for absurdist comedy, Tushingham had never been approached by Britain’s independent Hammer Films (“My teeth weren’t long enough,” she jokes, in reference to the company’s bread-and-butter staple of vampire films) prior to producer Michael Carreras—pivotal in the studio’s ultimately unprofitable move toward expanding Hammer’s image beyond color-saturated Gothic—coming to her with a proposal from playwright John Peacock (Children of the Wolf - 1971) to write an original screenplay especially for her to be directed by Peter Collinson (The Italian Job – 1969).
The collaboration resulted in Straight on Till Morning, an unorthodox, character-driven psychological thriller that’s a very grim fairy tale about a naïve and disturbed young woman with a Wendy Complex drawn to a psychotic Prince Charming lethally suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome. While the film represented a departure for Tushingham in terms of genre, the working class, socially-awkward character she plays feels a deliberate composite of many of the roles she’d played before.
At this point in her career, Straight on Till Morning represented at least the
fourth film in which Rita Tushingham portrayed an unsophisticated character
who moves from Northern England to find a life for herself in London

Brenda (Tushingham) is a timid young librarian sharing a drab flat in a particularly dreary section of Liverpool with her widowed mother. It's established early on that Brenda is a fantasist who retreats from reality by writing fairy tales about a beautiful princess named Rosalba who lives in a magical kingdom with a handsome prince. Though ostensibly children’s stories she hopes one day to publish, these fairy tales are actually Brenda’s escape-from-reality fantasies of the life she envisions for herself. 
A life she peruses with avid, if misguided, fervor after one day quitting her job and informing her mother she is pregnant and moving to London to find a man to take care of her and her unborn baby. It’s a lie, of course, as the withdrawn Brenda is a virgin. But the part about going to London to find a father for her baby is accurate, if deceptively worded: in truth, she’s going to London in search of a man to have a baby with.
Tom Bell as Jimmy Lindsay
And indeed, after acquiring a tiny apartment and landing a job at a trendy boutique (where she’s squirreled away, out of sight, in the wrapping department), Brenda plunges headlong into an indiscriminate, ultimately fruitless search for a man. Due to her method of flirtation...approaching sundry men on the street and greeting them with a simple “Hello!” and nothing else....Tushingham comes across as something of am oversized Flicker Farkel, the hyper-friendly, monosyllabic little girl Ruth Buzzi portrayed on Laugh-In.
Brenda’s prospects improve briefly when she jumps at the news of pretty co-worker Caroline (Katya Wyeth) looking for someone to share her well-trodden apartment (“She’s man mad! Non-stop men and parties”). Unfortunately, soon after moving in it becomes readily apparent that if Brenda’s own unfiltered desperation and clumsy social skills don’t already sabotage her chances with the guys, then the competition from her stunning roommate most certainly will. 
James Bolam as Joey
After rapidly losing a potential suitor to her roommate (in Brenda's mind, anyway…the crass, unappealing fellow she sets her sites on never once treated her with anything other than bored indifference) a dejected Brenda salves her sorrows with a late-night walk and comes upon a scruffy-looking dog who’s got away from his owner. Upon catching sight of the dog’s owner—a tall, impossibly blond, strikingly handsome gentleman possessed of the androgynous beauty of a fairy tale prince—Brenda does what anyone would do under the circumstances: kidnap the dog, bathe it, and, using its tag as a guide, contrive a face-to-face meeting with the owner under the guise of returning the "lost" dog.

But we have seen that these two have met before. We have been made privy to the fact that they are both childlike dreamers who retreat into nursery rhymes and fairy stories while looking for magic. So, when we learn that the dog’s name is Tinker, the young man calls himself Peter (Shane Briant), and that he wishes to call Brenda by the name of Wendy and have her move in and take care of him …we know at once that each has found what they have been looking for.

Which isn’t exactly the same thing as finding what they want.

As a teen I always enjoyed the horror anthology movies released by Britain's Amicus Films (The House That Dripped Blood, Tales from the Crypt, Tales That Witness Madness, and Asylum) because they were contemporary, colorful, and, like the horror comic books I read as a kid, the scares they provided were of the fun, creepy type…not disturbing.
These films always played at the Embassy Theater on San Francisco’s Market Street on some low-budget double-bill, and so always had about them the air of grindhouse. Never much a fan of gothic horror, I largely avoided Hammer films. which seemed to my young mind to be the British answer to American-International: the US independent studio that made a name for itself by supplying a steady stream of cut-rate biker and beach flicks to the underserved youth market. 
However, when Hammer Films (struggling financially for survival in the early '70s) began experimenting with suspense thrillers in a way that resembled the Amicus films, my interest was peaked. Abandoning--for a time, anyway--the vampires, mummies, and Frankenstein monsters for psychological horror, the contemporary setting and departure from the norm that Straight on Till Morning represents is precisely why I found it so fascinating.
"And three days later the Princess Rosalba was married to the prince of princes who
would love her for all time. And they lived happily ever after."

Fairy tales have always been a great deal darker and more horrifying than their Disney adaptations would have us believe. John Peacock's original screenplay for Straight on Till Morning employs the violence and cruelty of classic fairy tales to spin a dark fable that serves as a warped commentary on the role physical beauty tends to play in the stories written for children.

Fairy tale tradition has it that all evil people are ugly, their villainous hearts manifest in their exteriors in the form of witches, hags, ogres, and monsters. By the same token, all good and happy people in fairy tales are beautiful. Glinda's explanation to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz that "Only bad witches are ugly," is pretty much broad strokes shorthand for how things go in fairy tales. 
But by way of a narrative sleight of hand that must prove confusing to the very young, fairy tales simultaneously like to promote the notion that even with all those externally beautiful princes and princesses running around, all true beauty comes from within, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and  all that glitters is not gold. A happy heart and loving soul makes everyone beautiful on the outside, and sometimes, beneath the unprepossessing exterior of a beast, frog, or ugly duckling can flow a stream of inner beauty just waiting for the kiss of love to allow it to emerge.
Brenda Beautifies Tinker(bell)

Straight on Till Morning uses this fairy tale idealism as a foundation for a psychological thriller that proposes nightmare consequences as the price paid for the avoidance of reality and retreating into worlds of illusion.
Clive is the childlike prince, loved and admired only for his looks, who comes to loathe his beauty—and in turn, all beauty—because of what beauty has done to him...left him lonely, unloved, and uncared for. Brenda is the even more naive and childlike swan princess who dreams of finding happiness with a prince whom she can love, who will love her in return, and with whom she can have a baby. Her wish is that they’ll live happily ever after in a magic kingdom of gold. But the swan princess is under an enchantment that makes everyone who looks at her only see an ugly duckling. In her loneliness, she ceases to believe herself capable of being loved, and in turn focuses all her energies on finding someone (a prince, a baby) to give love to.
Wendy Keeps Peter Happy By Telling Him Stories 

The dark twist of Straight on Till Morning is that Clive and Brenda are actually oddly, perversely well-suited to one another. But their relationship proves to be a collision of fantasies, not a union. Brenda’s fantasy, while idealized, is at least rooted in the grow-up world of romantic love and sex. Clive, while finding Brenda unpretty and therefore someone he can love, wants only a mother; someone who will take care of him, allow him to forever remain a child, and has no desire for him because of his appearance.

When Brenda agrees to move with Clive and be the platonic Wendy to his Peter Pan living together in the isolated Neverland of his apartment, she does so on the strength of his vague promise (“We shall see…”) that he will be the father of the baby she so desperately wants.
Clearly, both of these individuals are deeply disturbed, but it is Clive who has the homicidally dark past that makes us worry for Brenda’s safety when at last she grows frustrated with their arrangement and assumes things will improve if she can only make herself beautiful.
Pretty For You
Brenda's fatal mistake is assuming no one could love her as she is

Straight on Till Morning is an original and effectively creepy thriller loaded with strong performances, a terrific (if a tad dated) look, and many good ideas and intriguing themes. But I’d be lying if I said they’re all given the opportunity to be fully realized. Part of the problem is with the script, which seems to have perhaps too many irons in the fire and thus suffers on occasion from jarring, dissonant shifts in tone. Some of the problem is to be found in Peter Collinson’s direction.
His extensive use of close-ups proves marvelously personal and intimate (and feels wholly unnerving after a while) and makes clever, extensive use of crosscutting and flashbacks to underscore themes. But—and this may be due to my personal fondness for Rita Tushingham as an actress—I think he severely miscalculates the depth of Tushingham’s sympathetic appeal, and thus at times, the film feels unduly harsh on her pitiable character (her beauty makeover is horrific). Indeed, I’d wager that the film’s poor reception and dismissed reputation is related at least in part to the film’s overall unpleasantness and irredeemably bleak vision of mankind. 
In an extreme departure for Hammer Films, the visual style of Straight on Till Morning is strongly redolent of late '60s experimental movies. As the camera follows several concurrent stories, characters who will formally meet later in the film are shown intersecting (often colliding) in early scenes. Throughout the film dialogue and inner thoughts are accompanied by contradicting or ironic imagery reflective of their pasts or their tenuous grasp of reality.
Since I've seen the film so often, I've become aware that several scenes visually echo and mirror one another as well. For example, Brenda's roommate Caroline appears in two pivotal sequences in which her seduction of a man ends in having a cataclysmic effect on Brenda's life. Both scenes are preceded by echoing images (the poised cup and unbroken gaze) where Caroline exhibits a sexual directness completely alien to Brenda.
As a side note, I like that the character of Caroline, whose form of beauty usually accompanies a bitchy personality in these kinds of film, turns out to be one of the most compassionate and unselfish.
Peter and Wendy Grow Up

Because I think Rita Tushingham has an absolutely fabulous face, it takes a while to get used to everyone in the film taking it as a given that she is plain and unattractive. (She does, however, sport a doozy of a '70s hairdo that rivals Susannah York's in 1972s X, Y and Zee for long/short schizophrenia). An engagingly natural and appealing actress I've liked since first seeing her in A Taste of Honey,  Tushingham's participation is the main reason I was drawn to this film I'd somehow never heard of until about two years ago.
Jazz singer Annie Ross appears briefly as one of the many blowsy mother figures (make that Sugar Momma figures) in Clive's psychotic past. Ross was the singing voice for Ingrid Thulin in Salon Kitty (1976) and dubbed Britt Ekland dialogue in The Wicker Man (1973). She sings and wrote the music for this film's title tune, screenwriter John Peacock contributing the lyrics.

I've read reviews of Straight on Till Morning that simply describe the character of Brenda as timid and mention of her being a seriously unbalanced woman. This, I think, is Tushigham's triumph. She inhabits her character so truthfully, you accept the character's vision of herself (Brenda doesn't see herself as deluded or disturbed). Shane Briant gives Tushingham a run for her money in the distracting hairdo sweepstakes (those pouffy '70s hairstyles made real hair look like wigs) but is happily on course when it comes to his performance. He's really quite good as the haunted boy/man, particularly near the end when he's able to somehow plumb the sympathetic depths of an absolute monster.

I have no memory of when Straight on Till Morning hit the theaters, but I've read that it was released on a double-bill with Hammer's Fear in the Night, a nifty thriller that pairs Judy Geeson with Joan Collins doing her patented Alexis Colby bitch shtick.
With big studios getting into the horror market with polished projects like The Mephisto Waltz (1971) Straight on Till Morning was one of a crop of films released by Hammer in the early '70s hoping to compete. Unfortunately, it was an outright flop and cited as one of the against-type releases that hastened Hammer Studios' ultimate demise (the studio's final production was The Lady Vanishes - 1979).
Which is too bad, really, because I really liked the '60s vibe of this '70s movie. All brown tones and eye-catching camerawork. As thrillers go, it's plenty eventful enough for me (in fact, I wouldn't have minded if a couple of the more unpleasant scenes were shorter or excised entirely) but fans of the genre may find it slow going. I appreciated the film's deliberate pacing, finding the time spent on developing the characters allowed both for the opportunity to savor the strong performances and ample time to cover your eyes once the screaming starts.

Although Rita Tushingham has expressed little fondness for Straight on Till Morning, that didn't stop her from appearing the following year in another John Peacock-penned thriller with a fairy tale theme (and playing yet another repressed librarian). This time for an episode of the BBC-TV anthology series, Armchair Theater.
Rita Tushingham as Grace in Little Red Riding Hood  1973

This essay is an entry in The 2nd Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon hosted by Cinematic Catharsis & Realweegiemidget Reviews. Check out the links to read about more films!

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2019

Sunday, June 9, 2019

ALIEN 1979

When I think of the films that have given me the most memorably fun scares of my movie life, my mind goes to Wait Until Dark (1967), The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), The Omen (1976), and Alien. In another category entirely are the films I consider to be scary because they are disturbing and unsettling (like Rosemary's Baby which I saw in 1968 when I was still an impressionable Catholic School kid). Those movies are memorable cinema experiences, but too shattering to be labeled "fun."
But Alien was another matter. Ridley Scott's science fiction monster movie masterpiece was structured like the classic monster movies of my youth, a movie manufactured to deliver solid, old-fashioned thrills, suspense, and excitement. Seeing it for the first time on opening day in 1979 was a fun, thrill-ride movie experience I've never forgotten. 
Sigourney Weaver as Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley
Tom Skerritt as Captain Arthur Dallas
John Hurt as Executive Officer Gilbert Kane
Veronica Cartwright as Navigator Joan Lambert
Yaphet Kotto as Chief Engineer Denis Parker
Harry Dean Stanton as Engineering Technician Samuel Brent
Ian Holm as Science Officer Ash

In my earlier essay covering Alien’s opening day at Los Angeles’ Egyptian Theater in 1979, I mentioned how I wasn’t initially all that keen on seeing the film because sci-fi flicks—like westerns, sports films, and war movies—are not generally my cup of tea. This wasn’t always the case.
When I was young, television (all three channels of it) was virtually non-stop westerns, sporting events, military combat shows, and sci-fi programmers. And broadcast movies were only more of the same. I remember liking them a great deal when I was small, but after years of exposure to these formulaic, male-centric entertainments, I grew weary of their elemental sameness. What they all seemed to share was a strict adherence to the fundamental format of your average western: evil force terrorizes a township or isolated group, only to be confronted and eventually vanquished by a solitary, lantern-jawed hero (always white, always male) while the women shriek helplessly on the sidelines and the weaker men resist taking action.
Having this macho myth recycled endlessly in films and TV shows over the years may have done wonders for bolstering the egos and fueling the fantasies of adolescent boys of all ages, but the combination of predictability and patriarchal pandering only led to my developing a strong, broad-strokes antipathy toward films that fit into any of the above-named genres.
I never stopped enjoying being pleasurably scared by a good sci-fi thriller or monster movie, but how I longed for some kind (ANY  kind) of deviation from type. Then I saw the advance trailer for Alien. Its biggest appeal being that it didn't tip its hat and give away its surprises. Indeed, what initially attracted me to Alien was its having the confidence and self-assurance (conveyed by its subtle ad campaign) to simply tease. It didn't give away any of its surprises, and by withholding so much, it seemed to promise even more. 
I was immediately drawn to Alien via the comfy familiarity of its setting and premise. It reminded me of Creature Features sci-fi programmers like The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Green Slime (1968). Just two years earlier George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) had spectacularly updated those Saturday matinee adventure serials of the ’30s and ‘40s, so the idea of Alien being a throwback to the tradition of those space invader films of the ‘50s I used to watch on TV as a kid struck me as both welcome and promising. 
And Alien did, indeed, live up to its promise…exceeded it, in fact, by emerging as both a throwback and a work of canny originality. For all its harkening back to the sci-fi monster movies of my youth, Alien, by merely tweaking some of the more careworn clichés of the overly-familiar genre, proved that innovation doesn’t always require redesigning the wheel; sometimes it’s simply a matter of getting that wheel out of a rut. 
Described aptly (if a tad dismissively) by many critics at the time as “Jaws in space,” Alien, at least on a superficial level, does appear to be a film with but one objective: scare the bejesus out of the audience. But the means by which the film goes about achieving this not-so-simple goal is why memories of the original Alien remain indelibly etched in my mind, while the numerous sequels and prequels in the franchise all seem to converge and coalesce into one derivative, pedantic blur.

One of the smartest things Alien does is immediately establish a sense of realism via its Used Future look. Alien envisions a recognizably grungy 2122 devoid of 2001: A Space Odyssey sterility and (mercifully) lacking in self-consciously futuristic attire like bodysuits, spandex, or metallics. There’s none of the shiny optimism of Mid-Century Jetsons streamline that flatters our illusions of progressiveness. Instead, the future looks very much like industrial now.
Which leads to the next great thing about Alien’s setup.
In lieu of adventurers, space explorers, Colonial Marines, or other interstellar travelers who knew the job was dangerous when they took it, Alien gives us a motley crew of laborers ill-equipped and ill-suited for the events that await them. The seven-member crew of The Nostromo, a commercial towing vehicle, are essentially space truck drivers who…like your average working stiffs…spend their time getting on each other’s nerves, quibbling about their salaries, and griping about the quality of the food. They have zero interest in anything but finishing their jobs and going home.

The characters are well-delineated in an ensemble-cast sort of way, fleshed out in minimalist detail by the talented actors in a way that sidesteps the kind of war movie shorthand of Whitman Sampler archetypes that marred Aliens (1986) for me. The flinty crew of The Nostromo come across as comfortable with each other, relaxed and natural in their behavior (crucial to rooting a fantasy film in a recognizable reality), and, at first glimpse, refreshingly non-heroic.
The latter goes a long way toward infusing Alien’s disarmingly uneventful early scenes with a great deal of suspense. I like that when ordered by MU-TH-UR, the mainframe computer responsible for running The Nostromo, to investigate a possible SOS signal on a nearby planetoid, everyone is of a different mind about it. No one, not even the captain, leaps to hero mode; they do so more out of professional duty (fear of forfeiting their pay shares) than moral obligation. And since we’ve ready had a foretaste of their workplace fellowship (Parker and Brett are in a clique, Ripley and Lambert have an unexplained friction between them, and nobody seems to care for Ash) throughout the expedition—from exploration to alien infestation—there’s absolutely no certainty of what to expect from any of them.

H. R. Giger’s designs for the rapidly-growing alien and that creepy derelict spaceship are as iconic as they are nightmarish, but it’s chiefly through the film’s ability to get me to identify with and relate to the human characters…to get me to see them as real and care about their fates…is where Alien triumphed and succeeded in becoming a genuinely scary movie experience. 

I know others feel differently, but when I’m watching a science-fiction or fantasy film, the details of set design, accuracy of the science, or the sophistication of special effects aren’t nearly as significant in creating a sense of verisimilitude as the characters. If the characters are written with complexity and dimension, cast with actors capable of inhabiting a role and bringing it to life with minimal dialogue and screen time, if they behave and relate in ways consistent both to the character and recognizable human psychology; most any situation or setting, no matter how fantastic, can be made believable and convincingly real. (1978’s Superman: The Movie comes to mind.)

Alien is blessed with an uncommonly talented cast providing a level of ensemble acting I think is uncommon in many genre films. The way each creates a full-fledged character whose life I can envision beyond The Nostromo reminds me of some of the personal, small-scale performances in the films of Robert Altman or Alan Rudolph that have remained etched in my memory.
Perhaps due to the fact that at one time or another I've had co-workers similar to The Nostromo crew, and I always gravitate to the Lambert type (a little high strung and prone to bellyaching), I have a particular fondness for Veronica Cartwright in this film. It’s not just that I’d behave EXACTLY like her character in this situation, but as Tom Skerritt once stated, Cartwright gives the best performance in the film. And I absolutely agree.
With Sigourney Weaver commanding the screen with assurance and staking her claim for movie immortality in this, her star-making feature film debut (not counting a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it bit part in Annie Hall), the strength of the performances of the women in Alien play no small part in it being my favorite sci-fi thriller of all time.
Jonesy the cat is cute and all, but he's a bit of a jerk
and is responsible for far too many deaths and close calls 

Not being one of those mainstream film critics of the ‘70s conditioned to ignore the contributions of Black Cinema, I was aware of both Pam Grier (Foxy Brown – 1974) and Tamara Dobson (Cleopatra Jones – 1973) as trailblazing female action movie heroines long before Sigourney Weaver blasted that alien “The fuck out into space.”  Yet, factoring in the widespread success and influence of the whole Alien franchise, it’s hard to over-emphasize the impact the character of Ellen Ripley has had on the depiction of women in action and sci-fi films.
By now, most everyone knows that Warrant Officer Ripley was originally conceived as a man; a gender switch regarded at the time as just another unexpected thriller twist for the audience. As it turns out, having a woman be the sole self-rescuing survivor in a traditionally male-dominated genre came to rank right up there with the hiring of H.R. Giger to design the creature as among the sharpest of Alien’s pre-production decisions. 
Having Ripley be a woman (the role allegedly not altered in any significant way in the transition) adds all manner of intentional and unintentional layers to Alien. For example, the otherwise typical workplace resistance to authority exhibited by engineers Parker and Brett (Kotto & Stanton) has a double meaning when the figure of authority they're resisting is a woman. And although we later learn why Ash behaves as he does, Ripley’s interactions with Ash likely resonate with any woman who’s ever had to deal with men making no secret of their resentment at having to answer to a female superior.
As this pertains to the scene where Ripley orders the infected crew members to be quarantined, it begs the question as to whether or not there would have been such swift resistance to the command had it come from Dallas or Kane. 
A pet peeve of mine is when screenwriters assume they have created a strong, feminist female character when they have really just created a woman who behaves in a macho manner (say, like the hot-rodding women in Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill!). Sure, it's important when a woman has agency in a film and her actions propel the plot, but simply ascribing aggressive male characteristics to a woman and declaring "feminist!" only signals to me the writer has little understanding of either.

Ellen Ripley may have evolved into an action-hero type over the course of all those sequels, but in Alien she’s just a no-nonsense type, good at her job and not prone to panic. For all her resiliency, she’s an incredibly empathetic, good-hearted, and sensitive character. Just check out Weaver's reactions during the chest-bursting scene…Lambert is horrified and in hysterics (again, me) but Ripley’s face (and it’s the most amazingly subtle thing) conveys both alarm and compassionate anguish for what Kane is going through.
While I fully understand the well-taken criticism, but I'm one of those "nudity is not always sexual" guys. I'm in the camp that doesn't find Ripley's controversial strip to her underwear sexualizes her. It feels like a connecting link to the opening scene where John Hurt awakens from hypersleep and the camera lens lingers on him in his underwear. Both scenes emphasize the vulnerability and humanity of the characters against all that space technology. The contrast of human flesh and the part-machine/bio-organism design of Giger's creature is a visceral underscoring that is chilling.

Much in the way Twyla Tharp's loose-structured dance designs made her the ideal choreographer for Miloš Forman’s adaptation of Hair, Alien (and, indeed, the entire science fiction movie genre) owes an unpayable debt to the biomechanical nightmare designs or Swiss artist H. R. Giger. 

It’s not often that one encounters the unimaginable (thank God), but Giger’s exceptionally strange, sexualized, body-horror designs for the film are what set Alien apart from any other film I’ve ever seen. The unsettling blend of the mechanical with the organic—in which both structures and organisms share the same solid/soft, vulnerable/impenetrable contrasts—transport the primal shocks of the average monster movie to places so dark (male rape, impregnation, and violent birth) you feel slightly queasy. Thank goodness Ridley Scott chose to keep shots of the fully-formed alien to a minimum. I was plenty unsettled by the facehugger, the chest-buster, and the ribcage/vertebrae interior of that creepy ship they explore.
Giger's magnificent, ugly-beautiful design work--triggering subliminal impressions of sex, flesh, metal, and machine--heighten Alien's ick factor by making the unimaginable not only possible, but credible. And once a horror film succeeds in making the impossible credible, you're a goner, for then you know you're in a place of the unstable and unpredictable where anything can happen.

In space no one can hear you scream.
I've intentionally left out behind-the-scenes trivia and information pertaining to the making of Alien because the internet overflows with a veritable treasure trove of information, scripts, production notes, and all manner of details relating to the production. Here are links to a couple of my favorites.

"This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off."

Copyright © Ken Anderson 2009 - 2019