My family has a dark secret.
If there’s truly such a thing as a repressed memory, I wish for nothing more than this chapter of my life to qualify. It stains my soul with a satin oil of agony.
So, hey, let me use this public forum to talk about it: my dad, on a fateful day in 1981…bought a freaking Betamax machine. There, I said it. In the Battle of VHS vs. Beta, the Carlson family lost. Horribly.
The defeat was quicker than a vintage Tyson knockout, so the supply of movies available in Beta format was more limited than CEOs at a Bernie Sanders rally. We owned two: 9 to 5 and, God help me, Alien.
I was 10 years old the first time I saw Alien. Ten. I didn’t sleep for a week. I saw Xenomorphs lurking in the shadows, and fully expected one of those little babies to blast out of my chest at any second. Our house was like a wood-paneled version of the Nostromo, with no Ripley to save me. I was wrecked, paranoid, and terrified.
As a rule, I don’t care for “scary movies.” I avoid them. I’m not entertained by watching Leatherface chainsaw dopey teenagers to death. But Alien, my goodness. Despite what it did to the kid version of me, I look upon that film with awe. Its genius is in its simplicity: your enemy is hulking yet invisible, appearing only when it’s too late. You have nowhere to run. And if the thing gets you, it’ll kill you, but only if you’re lucky. It may choose to make you a baby alien incubator, and the countdown’s on to your violent, explosive death, probably during breakfast, ruining it for everyone else on board.
Even the movie’s tag line – “In space, no one can hear you scream” – is brilliant. I’m sure as hell not going to space now.
I don’t know why anyone bothered making a scary movie after Alien, because this one is perfect. It could be released today, and it would be just as groundbreaking as it was in 1979. And I’d wager that 45-year-old me would be just as frightened as 10-year-old me was. I’d be up for days with a 12-gauge in my trembling hands, waiting to splatter acid blood all over my downstairs living room.
Thanks a lot, Ridley Scott.
Of course, Hollywood eventually cooked up a sequel, Aliens, in 1986, an Arnold-and-Sly-style action-fandango with an army of Xenomorphs, space marines, weapons aplenty, and Paul Reiser. It’s a great movie, but come on, it isn’t scary, not like its papa. My buddies and I memorized all the testosterone-fueled lines and wished we had those sweet space machine guns, because wow that would make pheasant hunting so much easier. I slept fine after watching Aliens.
But Alien? I’m currently sitting alone in my house…and I’m starting to hear things. A cat just meowed, is that Jonesy? Oh my God…I gotta go…