Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Alien:" Sci-Fi or Horror?

This is an occasional discussion I've had with one friend (you know who you are) about whether or not the Ridley Scott classic Alien is a Science Fiction Film or a Horror movie. Tonight I am going to argue for both sides and then draw my own conclusion, as I hope you do, as well.

But before I start, I have a very funny story about seeing Alien in the movies. It was 1979 and I was about to graduate high school. I went with my then best friend, Todd and his brother, Dwight (again at an Eric Theater) to a matinee. I bought my ticket and then Todd stepped up to teh box office and said (I swear on my life): "Can my brother get in free? He's blind."

I look over, and there's Dwight (who could see perfectly well), rolling his eyes up into his head and swaying. I almost choked, but held on for dear life as the girl said "Why would you bring a blind kid to a movie?" and without batting eye, Todd said "There's nothing on TV."

Dwight did not get in for free, as I remember. But he screamed like a little girl during the movie, so he got some karmic payback.

So, he screamed like a little girl, eh? Sounds like a horror movie to me. But - not so fast. Let's break it down, shall we? Here's a little checklist:*

Set in the future? Sci-Fi: Sometimes Horror:Sometimes
Set in space? Sci-Fi: Often Horror:Sometimes
Is there a monster? Sci-Fi:Often Horror:Often
Is there a demon? Sci-Fi:Sometmes Horror:Often
Are there robots/machines? Sci-Fi:Often Horror:Sometimes
Are there lasers? Sci-Fi:Often Horror:Rarely
Are there boobs? Sci-Fi:Sometimes Horror:Often
Is it camp? Sci-Fi:Sometimes Horror:Sometimes
Are there vampires? Sci-Fi:Sometmes Horror:Often
Are there dark corridors/tunnels? Sci-Fi:Often Horror:Often
Are people killed in horrible ways? SciFi:Often Horror:Often
Does it star Lance Hendrickson?Sci-Fi: Often Horror: Often

I'm going to call this a tie here, folks. Two very different genres with so many crossover elements as to make them not only a kin to one another stylistically, but often in spirit. Therefore it is my fervid belief that Alien (whose plot is lifted directly from a 1950's stinkeroo space monster movie - right down to the alien traveling through the ventilation system and killing it by opening the air hatch) is a Sci-Fi Horror movie. n the hands of screenwriters Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusset and director Ridley Scott, a silly space opera with a ridiculous monster become a spook house nightmare with an almost too-horrible-to-imagine monster.

Watching Alien for the first time is a terrifying experience. From the WTF? scene with the giant alien pilot to the horrible Face-Hugger implanting its egg, to the infamous chest-bursting and the rest of the xenomorph's transformation into a dual jawed, acid-blooded, slimy, insectoid killing machine. If that's not a monster from your worst nightmares, I don't know what is. Scott infuses his hardware steel and fiberglass set with a damp chill and loads upon loads of atmosphere - an exceptionally important element in any genre film. The performances from a cast at the height of their powers are all the better when you realize they really weren't sure what was going to happen at the dinner table, and their reactions of surprise and disgust are quite real.

So, for these and many other reasons, and not just that amazing tagline, I'm naming Alien 'My Favorite Sci-Fi/Horror' movie. So there!

Now tell me that wasn't scary!

More terrors, anon.

*PS - Could you name all 25 movies referenced in the checklist?


Anonymous said...

At first I agreed with you and loved the checklist but the more I thought about it, the more I came to disagree.

Using the checklist proves that most movies fall into more than one genre. Comedy for example rarely stands alone and is often combined with Romance - any Sandra Bullock movie l, Drama - Steal Magnolias, Horror - Drag Me To Hell, Scifi - Galaxy Quest.

I think you classify a movie by its intent. Do you think of Jason X as scifi because it's set in the future? Alien is a horror movie set in the future.

I have more to say but am out of time.

Great post - really had me thinking.

Prospero said...

The checklist was just a silly joke. I agree - most movies fall into more than one genre.

Stephen said...

Great post... GREAT FILM.
Even with your criteria, to me it is a tie (or a hybrid Sci-Fi- Horror.