In a dark, rundown theater, somewhere in small town America, a young boy huddles in a rickety seat, eyes clenched, ears plugged, trying to find his happy place. He tightens his eyelids a little less when the sounds of terror die down, when it seems safe to look at the screen again. It’s dark. It’s gloomy. Everywhere are shadows and places for the monster to hide, and our hero, the tragically out of place little boy, has no chance at keeping his wits about him when the real horror begins. Why did he come here? Why subject himself to such torture? It’s not like he had to. Though his older brother wanted to go, that didn’t mean he had to tag along. It seemed like a good thing at first. Besides, it’s just a movie. But from the open credits, he knows it’s a mistake. Never before has he seen anything like this. The very first frames—a dark horizon and strange, esoteric letters materializing from some supernatural fog, spelling the word that would be an iconic symbol from this moment forward. From that famous opening sequence, our young hero is transported to another world, in a distant part of the galaxy, to a place where, in space, no one can hear him scream.
The year—1979. The movie—Alien.
This isn’t the first scary movie he’s seen, though you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way he’s clinging to his brother. He thinks this has to be just about the scariest thing ever dreamed up by a human, or maybe it wasn’t dreamed up by a human. Either way, when that little, almost cute thing pops out of Kane’s stomach like some macabre jack in the box, well, all he can say is where the hell did that one come from? Talk about iconic. But at the time, our little moviegoer isn’t thinking about icons. He isn’t aware he’s seeing the birth of a new era in cinematography. He can’t be bothered with such details as a new kind of monster movie, or the spawning of several sequels, merchandising, careers forged, new frontiers blazed. All he can do is ask his brother when it’s safe to look.
Truth told, little Johnny moviegoer can’t even tell you what the alien looks like. The boy’s face is buried too far in the seat cushion. It’ll be years until he really knows what it looks like at all, after renting the VHS tape and watching it in the comfort and safety of home.
Of course, by now you might have guessed that little boy was me…big mystery, right? It’s just my way of portraying just how much of an impact Alien had on me. As I’d mentioned, it wasn’t like I hadn’t been exposed to horror before. Jason was huge in my childhood. And where would the genre be without Jaws? That movie started shark fear in the seventies, traumatizing beach combers the world over. I even remember, as a very young lad, being brought to tears by a movie called The Andromeda Strain, the precursor to flicks like Contagion and Outbreak. Those horror movies were great, and some of them were even iconic, but something about Alien stayed with me.
The single most memorable aspect of the original Alien was the minimalistic approach director Ridley Scott took in portraying his monster, and how conservative he was with the screen time for the alien itself. We get to see only little flashes, quick bits, even when someone is killed there’s just brief shots of the creature’s monstrous jutting jaws or crude, jagged spine. The tension builds with each new clue of the creature’s presence, but we don’t really get to see the alien in its full terrible glory until the very end, in a surprise scene that takes the first-time viewer off guard. Just when Ripley and her kitty are going to make it out alive, the big surprise. Dirty trick, Ridley!
The real way to tell if a movie is an icon is to see how many sequels it spawns. The Alien franchise has more spinoffs than Jason, I swear. Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection and the last in the series so far: Prometheus. Also let’s not forget all the Alien vs. Predator flicks out there. And yes, some of them are better than others, but anyone who is a fan of the first is a fan of the rest.
The strange thing was at the time of its opening, Alien seemed to be a sort of cult film more than mainstream. Despite its groundbreaking effects and style and story, it didn’t seem to receive the same mass acceptance or reaction as, say a movie like Jaws received. Of course this changed later when the second movie came out, which, bucking the Hollywood trend, was almost as good if not better than the first. In all the history of moviemaking, you can’t say that about many flicks.
Another aspect that sort of kept Alien in cult status was the surprising lack of merchandising. However, having firsthand experience with one of the only actual Alien “dolls” made, I can tell you maybe it wasn’t that surprising not many of them were gracing the toy aisles in the local Toys R Us. The damn thing was terrifying. It was about two feet tall and had sharp claws and that horrible second jaw that protruded from its mouth at the push of a button. Just freaky. And standing on the shelf at night, the thing was a nightmare waiting to happen.
I’d been indoctrinated, probably scarred for life by insanely scary movies like the previously-mentioned The Andromeda Strain, The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a little known yet terrifying cult classic called Silent Scream, but I have to say Alien set itself apart, at least to me. Each one of these films had a profound effect on my impressionable and tender psyche, which most undoubtedly explains the demented nature of my imagination. No pain, go gain I guess. I can’t help it. I must be a horror fan, and, consequently, a horror writer. The stories just spill out of my head like blood from a massive head wound. The twisted scenarios and the devastating things that happen to my characters are a direct result of the childhood trauma I’d suffered watching movies like Alien, and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.
In space, no one can hear you scream, but in that little hometown theater they sure did.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J. Joseph Wright is the author of TRIBE OF THE TEDDY BEAR, an Amazon #1 bestselling epic science fiction fantasy, and Amazon bestselling Horror Novelettes CEMETERY PLANET and FUGUE. Additionally he has compiled many of his popular shorts into the HORROR FOUR Anthology Series. J. publishes every month a new work and has a big library on Amazon.
J. married his soul mate Krystle on October 24th 2007. Although they have no kids yet, J. and Krystle are huge animal lovers. They settled down in the country with 5 acres outside of Portland, Oregon. Krystle, works as a freelance book cover artist and marketing extraordinaire for J., who writes Sci-fi, Fantasy & Horror.
TRIBE OF THE TEDDY BEAR
Ten-year-old Jack James has a secret. He’s found a teddy bear he swears is really a mysterious animal with supernatural abilities. Soon he discovers its name is Takota, a Tanakee on the run from some ruthless and sinister forces. After a storytelling enchantress teaches them of a centuries-old bond between humans and Tanakee as well as an ancient evil bent on destroying the entire universe, Jack and Takota are thrust toward their shared fate. On their journey for survival, Takota must conquer strong inner turmoil and learn the true nature of his emerging mystical powers, while Jack has to help harness a revolutionary device invented by his father in the hopes of rescuing them all from certain extinction.