Creating the blueprint for every science fiction horror film made since its release, Ridley Scott’s Alien has become an iconic piece of pop culture, giving birth to one of the greatest movie monsters of all time in the terrifying Xenomorph.
Hosting several influential actors including John Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Harry Dean Stanton, Scott’s film quickly became a horror masterpiece that would spark a popular ongoing franchise.
Using tension as a tool, gradually cranking it up with every glimpse of the monster at hand, just like with the titular shark in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Scott used the power of suggestion to create a genuine feeling of dread and terror in his 1979 classic. Following a spaceship crew who accidentally bring a deadly alien aboard, the film builds an unbearable tension made up of just a few moving parts that create a palpable feeling of horror.
Known as one of the scariest and most intense film experiences of all time, few are wary of the fact that the production of the movie was also a nightmare, putting actors at serious risk of harm whilst creating an unpleasant working environment.
Detailing each aspect of Scott’s petrifying production, let’s take a look into five reasons making Alien was more terrifying than the film itself.
Five reasons making ‘Alien’ was more terrifying than the film:
Malfunctioning oxygen tanks
Even though Alien looks like a high-budget blockbuster, this is merely due to the efforts of Ridley Scott and art director H.R. Giger as the budget for the epic science fiction classic was only $8 million. As a result, several cuts had to be made across each filmmaking department, including props and costumes, with the cut-backs being detrimental to the actors’ safety on set.
The iconic spacesuits from Alien may have looked great, but they were also hot, heavy and very claustrophobic. Requiring air tanks to pump oxygen around the suits, the tanks themselves were not up to scratch with Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright among other actors to have claimed they nearly suffocated whilst wearing the costumes.
One actor passed out after the ‘Chestburster’ scene
Alien’s ‘Chestburster’ scene is something of a cinematic classic at this point, with the story about the crew being unaware of the scene’s occurrences being well-known. Why did Ridley Scott make this decision? As he told The Guardian in 2009 “The reactions were going to be the most difficult thing. If an actor is just acting terrified, you can’t get the genuine look of raw, animal fear”.
Capturing several genuine reactions, the set-up was all too much for the actor Veronica Cartwright who plays Lambert in Scott’s film. According to reports, the fake blood had shot out and hit the actor on the lips before Cartwright had a panic attack and fainted shortly after the completion of the first take.
The rotten smells
H.R. Giger and Ridley Scott do a stellar job at making the Xenomorph take on a visceral, tangible form, dripping in thick transparent goo, whilst surely possessing a smell that defies the known whiffs of planet earth. Who knew, however, that the set of the film itself was a smelly affair, with Ridley Scott using real animal parts for the gore to make scenes look as realistic as possible.
As Scott further told The Guardian, “I figured the best thing to do was to get stuff from a butcher’s shop and a fishmonger. On the morning we had them examining the Facehugger; that was clams, oysters, seafood. You had to be ready to shoot because it started to smell pretty quickly. You can’t make better stuff than that – it’s organic”.
There’s no wonder the crew members complained of a horrific stench of rotting flesh, shellfish, and formaldehyde.
Trapped on a claustrophobic set
Long before the Covid-19 pandemic restricted actors and crewmembers to certain locked-off areas, Ridley Scott tried to instil a feeling of claustrophobia on his film set in order to inspire the actors. Built with low ceilings and only one entrance and exit, apart from being a fire safety hazard, the layout of the Alien set was an anxiety-inducing space, made worse by stifling conditions and that god-awful smell.
Having to walk through the entire set to get out, the actors became very uncomfortable on a set they felt like they couldn’t escape from.
Ridley Scott made the alien eggs move
As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, Scott was a great believer in authenticity, using animal parts to make scenes of gore all the more realistic. This involved swapping out prosthetics for animal parts, such as when he filled the alien egg in the film with sheep intestines and beef organs to make it look more textured and genuine. Though disgusting, his efforts certainly paid off.
Snapping a surgical glove on, Scott animated the egg by manipulating it with his hand, wriggling the animal innards, causing disgust from his crew as well as a classic movie practical effect.