My second entry in the 31 Days series, a follow-up to last year's column on Ridley Scott's Alien. This was originally posted on Under The Gun Review.
Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is more loved by the UTG staff than Halloween. With the arrival of the year’s best month, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a plethora of features and special announcements we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day, including the one you’re about to read.
Now in its third year, 31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring feature that will run throughout the month of October. The hope and goal of this column is to supply every UTG reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you’ll follow along at home.
[Warning: the material within is likely NSFW]
Day 19: Aliens (1986)
Last year, we celebrated Ridley Scott’s Alien as the first true space horror. It was silent, scary, and set the tone for everything that would follow after in the genre. This year, we follow up with James Cameron’s Aliens, which is widely acclaimed as the best in the series and one of film’s greatest sequels.
Clocking in at 2 hours and 37 minutes, the special edition of Aliens is the recommended version to watch. That’s what I flipped on for what I can only guess is my 20th viewing. Seeing the title screen flash, I can’t help but think that Aliens is a misleading title. After all, the monsters introduced in the first film are not the aliens of the series. Humans are. We stumbled upon this thing in space, its home. Not ours.
The film opens on an abandoned ship, controls layered in ice. Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley lays peaceful in cryosleep with her feline pal Jonesy. She’s then found and returned to the Weyland-Yutani Corporation to find that she’s been under for over 50 years. Her 11 year-old-daughter has grown old and died. Every mother’s nightmare has come true in less than 5 minutes of screen time. Oh, she’s also fired and has her licensed pulled.
LV-426 (the planet where the facehugger first gave Kane a loving embrace) has been inhabited for 20 years by company terraformers who have seen no trace of an acid-blooded killing machine. That is, until a mom and pop surveying outfit stumbles upon an abandoned ship and daddy gets a little friend of his own wrapped around his head. Ripley is called back in.
Instead of a salvage crew, this time we’ve got Marines. Colonial Marines. They’re going on a bug hunt. They have no idea that soon it will be them who will be hunted.
The squad infiltrates the terraforming compound and finds a little girl whose family was killed by xenomorphs along with everyone else. She lets them know that they are screwed and that the monsters come out at night, mostly. This doesn’t mean much because the planet is dark 100% of the time. It’s the dark that makes the movie. In conjunction with a stillness inspired by the prequel, the blackness is penetrated only by pulse rifle flashlights and Private Hudson’s sense of humor.
H.R. Giger’s influence remains ever present in Aliens. While not directly involved, he was thanked in the credit sequence (something that can’t be said for Alien 3). The dark, grotesque landscapes set the stage for complete horror as a xenomorph infant pries itself from the ribcage of a woman adhered to the wall of a nuclear reactor. The gunfire that ensues calls from the depths several adult creatures that begin an onslaught of killings. A retreat is ordered and the team flees with whoever they have left alive.
The notable thing about this sequence is the sheer number of destroyed monsters. There is more than one this time around, but the marines have gunpowder. With ammunition lies hope, right? Wrong. They are so wrong.
Stranded and alone, the team’s dwindling numbers are faced with survival in a bleak environment with attacks from the creatures impending all of the time. They set up a command post with some turrets to thin out the horde. That works for like 30 minutes. They formulate a plan to leave this God-forsaken rock which requires shoving their synthetic human (android) into a tube to shimmy a few miles to realign a satellite dish for drop ship navigation. As a claustrophobic, that was enough to send my imagination into overdrive.
It’s subtle shots like that which remind you that Cameron is a master filmmaker. Another is the 2-second setup in the lab, showing Ripley and Newt trapped in a sound-proof observance bay with a facehugger on the loose, put there by Burke, the money-minded company asshole. Movie magic follows when the critter launches itself at Ripley after scuttling across the floor. In intense moments such as these, it’s difficult to remember that this is a puppet and not computer generated effect work.
Once the xenomorphs do come–and they come in masses–it’s a free-for-all. Some incredibly creepy shots of ceiling-crawlers pop into focus amidst the flash of gunfire. Only 3 escape, including the little girl without any weaponry. Then that little girl gets lost and Ripley goes to find her. After all, she just got another daughter. She’s not going to let this one die too. Into the hive she goes.
Newt is found, covered in that sticky excrement. Ripley fires off some kill shots and cuts her free. The reactor they are running through is now cinematically exploding. Then they find the queen. This badass is massive and incredibly scary. It’s also pooping out eggs dozens at a time. There is this subtle moment of mother-to-mother understanding as the humans back out of the nursery, then Ripley sets everything on fire.
Eventually, they escape just in the nick of time. Ripley ends up fighting the queen with a mech-suit forklift Cameron will later reuse in Avatar. The android is torn in half during the skirmish, but otherwise everyone turns out all right. The xenomorph mother is sucked out into space.
Aliens is a science fiction masterpiece. It’s not as eery as its predecessor, but it has horror in all of the right areas. The action and suspense knock you around until the very end. Leaving you wanting more. That said, I won’t be writing about Alien 3 next year. Not because I think it’s bad (Resurrection is bad), but because it’s just not that scary.
More of my entries from the 31 Days of Halloween series:
- 2016: Halloweentown
- 2015: Alien 3
- 2014: Aliens
- 2013: Alien, You're Next