Movie Reviews

How old-school horror – suspense thrillers are far effective as compared to the modern day ones

ALIEN (1979) – A timeless classic
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror

Alien was one of the main movies which attracted me to the Horror genre, giving me loads of thrills and chills. I saw this movie at a very early age and it scared the living daylights out of me then. After that I have re-watched it at different points of time and the viewer in me with time, watching countless number of movies in different genre and languages appreciated it even more. The movie still feels fresh and withstood the test of time. Some of the key factors (I have not mentioned the usually discussed aspects like direction, cinematography, acting etc.) which made it memorable, which the modern day ones can take a note of are:

The Pacing and atmosphere

One of the key aspect to this movie is the pacing and atmosphere. It takes its own sweet time to give you a feel of the spaceship, the interiors, the characters warming up to their respective roles, it never feels rushed. Right from the first frame, till the last, the pacing is perfect and the brooding atmosphere is maintained throughout.

Build-up of suspense

The suspense here is all about the imagery, the silence, the claustrophobic atmosphere, the effective use of background score and the proceedings giving us a feel of the impending doom. The suspense and tension is relentless and unsettling. This is absolutely vital, unlike full pay off without any suspense which disinterests the viewers’ mid-way through a movie.

Unpredictable Nature

The movie makes us think ‘is that the creature? what will it do? Who is going to take the lead? Who is the main protagonist? The main protagonist reveal is not given away immediately. Here, the hero is not invincible, does not start as the typical “Yeah, I’m the one” but evolves through the different situations presented before her throughout the movie. Till about midway you feel, Tom Skerrit’s character is the lead, but it’s proven wrong. The Ash character turning out to be an android and the evolution of Alien adds to the unpredictable nature of the movie.

No meaningless jump scares

Movies nowadays rely a lot on cheap jump scares like a cat popping out of nowhere, a prank from a friend, a loud music just for no reason and once the real stuff comes, the impact is not there as the viewers are already exhausted with the fake ones. Jump scares are fine if minimally and effectively used like Alien does. The thrills in this movie are of the highest order. Take for example the Dallas scene where there is no sudden silence to build it up, nothing to give away, all audio is normal until the Xenomorph (The fictional Alien creature)  shows up and the only thing we hear is scream and static. It really catches you off guard and leaves you in shock.


People tend to undermine the importance of silence in movies especially suspense/thrill oriented ones which lets the viewers absorb, concentrate on the scene alone, even more. Effective use of silence amplifies the scene, makes viewers curious, asks themselves questions as to what’s going to come next rather than the music (low to high) aiding them at all times to reach the ultimate conclusion.

Likeable characters and identity

Each and every character in this movie has his/her personality trait and purpose which adds to the believability and charm of the movie. They all have importance and none are for namesakes. By defining and presenting them well, they are very likeable and we feel for these characters unlike the most of modern day movies where at least some characters are for body count and cheap thrills.

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Background Score

The background score from Jerry Goldsmith is perfectly in sync with the theme of Alien – Isolation, Dread, Beauty and Mystery all captured well by effective use of music. It’s not about how good the background score is, but the effective use of the same which makes the movie experience better.

Set design and Practical effects

Alien much like the John Carpenter’s “The Thing” movie relies on practical effects which makes it look raw, real because most of it is real, and not a computer generated imagery. The spaceship, the interiors looks real, used, kind of messy, dirty as if someone was living there, nothing glossy or cinematic.

The creature

The creature design of Alien is still one of the best of all time. Its deadly, terrifying, grotesque yet graceful and stunning at the same time as rightly put by Ash’s character “Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility”.

Less is more

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is a classic example of “Less is More” – A man eating shark is up there terrorizing people, but the shark is rarely shown or almost invisible throughout the movie until the finale. Here the invisibility of the Shark, but the ominous feel of its attack anytime without showing it was what made Jaws famous. Imagine the Shark popping up every now and then brutally killing people – the entire charm would have been lost and by midway everyone would have felt “yeah, we’ve seen that already”- Unfortunately most movies nowadays do this and the viewers loose interest midway.  Alien, like Jaws understands this and makes us feel the sheer sense of dread of the creature without really showing it until the very end. And even when its shown, it’s not focussed on it for long, the crisp editing helps here which adds to the effectiveness. 

Original idea

Unlike many movies nowadays which severely borrows ideas from different movies or simply remakes/reboots, Alien had an original idea, invested in it with the support of some great talents gave the audience something different from what they usually see.

What the movie demands, not the audience

A movie is made for the audience to see, no doubt about it; but at the same time the movie needs to have its own identity and the creators to stick to what they feel is best for the movie like in case of Alien, barring Weaver and Cartwright, all the other actors are in their 40s/late 40s because the characters or their roles demand the same unlike most suspense horror-thriller-action genre movies having young actors portraying key roles just for the sake of it.

Antagonist is as equally important as the protagonist

An effective villain makes/breaks a movie especially the ones which demands a villain of course! Most often the discussion of a movie revolves around the hero/heroine, how to develop them, the character traits etc. An often overlooked, but equally important one is the villain. It/He/she should be developed well to make the plot believable, challenging and interesting. A great villain will definitely demand an even greater/equal hero eventually raising the bar of the movie – Alien did that brilliantly by pairing an alien which was most effectively summed up by Ian Holm’s character as ‘the perfect organism’ against Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. The villain plays the pivotal role in the evolvement of Ripley’s character thereby making a great hero-villain combo ultimately making the movie truly memorable.

Trailer & Marketing

Nowadays, trailers are made to look awesome by adding all or most of the best scenes in the movie, even the ones which are not in it, along with spoilers ultimately resulting in the viewers not finding anything/very little to look forward to in the big screen. Alien did it right then along with many other movies of the past by just giving a glimmer of the stuff to expect saying “come and see this”. Their tagline still holds fresh ” In space, no one can hear you scream”

In a nutshell, this movie is everything you can ask for if you are into Sci-Fi Horror.

Verdict: Must-see!👌

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