In honor of Alien Day, our staff honors the iconic and enduring “Alien” franchise — celebrating its impact culturally, cinematically, and personally.
“We’re all one cough, one kiss, one scratch away from global disaster.” – Memory, The Origins of Alien
Intro by Stephanie Malone
When preparing for this group article celebrating the 40-year legacy of Alien, and the iconic franchise it has spawned, I watched two films. First, I revisited the seminal 1979 film — a welcome reminder that this timeless, cinematic masterpiece remains as shockingly brilliant, compelling, and terrifying as the day it was released. Second, I watched the 2019 documentary film Memory: The Origins of Alien directed and written by Alexandre O. Philippe, an insightful and eye-opening doc that deepened my love and appreciation for this perfect piece of celluloid.
Memory: The Origins of Alien explores the convergence of serendipity and unparalleled talent that took a comic book and Lovecraftian-inspired science fiction tale — once meant to become a Roger Corman production — and turned it into, as one commentator so aptly describes it, a film that “lives in our dreams, lives in our cultural conversation…one of the biggest cultural dreams we’ve ever had.”
Alien writer Dan O’Bannon drew upon his experience as a boy who grew up in the Midwest, without a telephone or television, reading comics and trying to make sense of the world. He pulled inspiration from a variety of sources, including his own fear of insects and his battle with the intestinal disorder Chron’s disease (the disease that sadly ended his life), which sometimes felt like it was devouring him from the inside.
O’Bannon fell in love with the work of a talented Swiss artist and mystic named H.R. Giger, a pioneer at envisioning creatures beyond human imagination. He knew instantly that Giger was the perfect person to bring his dark, beautiful vision to the screen. Unfortunately, the studio hated Giger’s art and refused to hire him. But fate intervened when then-director/producer Walter Hill moved on and hired visionary filmmaker Ridley Scott to replace him.
O’Bannon and Ridley were perfectly in sync from day one.
And when O’Bannon showed Ridley Scott Giger’s art, the director fell in love. There were many battles between Ridley and the studio regarding the art direction for the film, but Ridley convinced the studio to use Giger, explaining that his art — which Giger created while in a dreamlike trance — was “beautiful, not just threatening.” Of course, this ended up being a pivotal decision, as the mind-blowing imagery is what places Alien in a class all its own.
When the film was complete, the studio was very concerned that it was a full 45 minutes in before “anything happens”. But, as the documentary explains, therein lies its strength — its courage to hold back before really giving it to the audience. Of course, when the inevitable chaos ensues, we are treated to some of the most memorable, terrifying and significant moments in film history.
The trio of Dan O’Bannon, Ridley Scott, and H.R. Giger was a gift from the cinematic gods. Together, they created a universe that is extraordinary, haunting, and unforgettable. Do yourself a favor and see Memory: The Origins of Alien, then rediscover the unmistakable genius of Alien.
PART ONE: THE FILMS
In part one of our Alien Day celebration, the Morbidly Beautiful staff discusses their love for the six films of the Alien franchise, what each of these films has meant to them personally, as well as how their appreciation of them has evolved over the years.
ALIEN (1979, DIR. RIDLEY SCOTT)
A tribute by Danni Winn
Since 2016, April 26th has come to commemorate one of the most iconic additions to motion picture history: Alien. The origin of Alien Day, which is derived from the moon landed upon in Aliens (LV-426), directed by James Cameron, demonstrates the significant impact this entire franchise has had upon cinema and moviegoers all over the globe for over forty years.
One of the main contributors to the success of these films, though, was the design of the Alien itself. The ability to terrify audiences hinged on this otherworldly creature and almost serendipitously, writer Dan O’Bannon handed director Ridley Scott a book of collected artworks entitled Necronomicon by a Swiss artist known for his otherworldly creations. That artist was H.R. Giger.
In the documentary for Alien, Scott admitted that he nearly fell out of his chair once he looked over the artist’s work. He absolutely knew for certain H.R. Giger was the man he needed to create the now-famous Xenomorph.
A surrealist in every sense of the word, Giger, lovingly lived and breathed the darker side of human artistic expression.
Using airbrush techniques along with pastels, markers and ink, he fascinated and frightened many with his work, which he referred to as Biomechanical — a style focused on an uncommon, utterly unique fusing of machines and humans.
There will never be another artist like Giger. He was an iconoclast, a supremely original individual with a striking artistic voice. This innate ability to bring such depth and vision to what some would consider nightmarish was exactly what helped propel the ALIEN franchise.
In May of 1979, lines formed around blocks to experience this ambitious blending of horror and science fiction during its limited theatrical release.
Alien is a rare example of the stars aligning in a way that what we’re left with is nothing short of perfection.
Superior direction, editing, writing, design work, and actors who were beyond gifted at their craft gave birth to a startling vision, a beacon that shines just as bright all these decades later.
I watched Alien early in life. I watched it over and over, enough times where my grandfather became slightly concerned. But I was entranced. I didn’t know movies could be like that. It implanted in my subconscious, and I remain its willing host.
In Spain, the film was renamed Alien: The Eighth Passenger. But the ninth person along for the doomed voyage, the viewer, was left just as deeply affected and permanently altered as the crew of the Nostromo. And H.R. Giger, a once rather obscure and ridiculed artist from Switzerland, provided the catalyst for not only some monumental moviemaking but a truly timeless movie monster.