The Best Horror Movie Aliens? The Thing and Alien
By: Brian Robert Oliver
The horror movie aliens sub-genre finally found its king in the late 70’s with Ridley Scott’s Alien(1979). John Carpenter’s The Thing(1982) arrived three years later and took its place right beside Alien, setting the bar so high that neither film’s reign have been challenged or even remotely threatened since. What makes these films so enduring for fans of the horror movie aliens genre stem from the fact that each movie contain within them a perfect scene. Each scene so flawless they have become synonymous with horror films in general. Both films also contain important themes that still resonate to this day. Themes such as isolation, parasites, and the dangers of moral duty. Though both films are very different, they have far more in common than simply being in the horror movie aliens sub-genre.
“The Chestburster Scene”: Alien
Etched, seared and burst into the collective memory of every horror fan is the chestburster scene. Out of all the horror movie aliens, the xenomorph has the best entrance. This scene is a masterclass in suspense, shock, and technical craftsmanship. It perfectly captures the essence of Alien’s themes of isolation and the dangers of commingling with the unknown.
The scene is set on the Nostromo, a commercial spacecraft on a routine mission. The crew is awakened from hypersleep when they receive a distress signal from a nearby planet. Duty lead them to investigate, only to stumble upon a chamber filled with strange eggs upon an abandoned alien spacecraft. One of these eggs hatches, and a small creature latches onto the face of Kane. The creature eventually dies and falls off. Kane seems fine, seemingly unbothered by the encounter. Then at breakfast an alien bursts violently from his chest, spraying blood upon his shipmates and unleashing an alien who will soon to be too big to handle.
This chestburster scene is a turning point in the film, changing the tone from suspenseful anticipation to all-out horror by way of shock. It reinforces the film’s theme of group isolation, illustrating the danger of letting unknown forces into one’s circle.
The Blood Test Scene: The Thing
The blood test scene stands out as a pinnacle of tension and paranoia in film history. Unlike the chestburster in Alien, the blood test scene serves as the film’s highest crescendo and a climax before the climax.
The story revolves around a group of researchers stationed in Antarctica who discover an extraterrestrial organism capable of assimilating and imitating any life form it encounters. As suspicion and fear consume the group, they realize that anyone among them could be the Thing, the alien entity. In the blood test scene, MacReady devises a test to determine who is human and who is the imposter. He gathers blood samples from each person and exposes them to intense heat, knowing that the alien’s presence will cause the blood to react. The results are revealed, leading to a shocking and violent climax.
This scene captures the film’s theme of isolation of the individual after their group has been infiltrated. Trust disintegrates, replaced by paranoia and the realization that the enemy could be anyone, even a close ally.
Both Alien and The Thing delve into themes of isolation, exploring the terrifying consequences of being cut off from society or betrayed by those closest to you. In Alien, the isolation exists within the safety-in-numbers idea that has been a common theme throughout human history. The crew of the Nostromo, isolated in the vastness of space, faces an unknown threat that infiltrates their ranks, therefore isolation becomes a breeding ground for fear and vulnerability. In The Thing, the theme of isolation takes a different perspective. The film begins with the researchers in Antarctica already cut off from the world, living in a desolate and unforgiving environment. When the alien infiltrates their group, the isolation intensifies, as they no longer trust each other and fear the very people they once relied upon. The films explore the breakdown of trust and the dire consequences of isolation.
The theme of parasites runs through both Alien and The Thing, albeit in different ways. In Alien, the alien creature is brought into the world through an egg implanted in Kane’s chest cavity. This idea was inspired by the behavior of parasitic wasps, which lay their eggs inside other animals. The presence of the alien serves as a metaphor for our fears of actual parasites or illnesses that threaten our well-being. It also symbolizes the fear of ideas that can potentially topple societal norms.
In The Thing, the alien entity is not precisely a parasite, but it displays similar characteristics. It consumes its victims and assimilates their identities, spreading its influence throughout the group. This concept can be interpreted as a fear of viral infection or the insidious spread of toxic ideas within a community. Both films tap into our primal fears of being infiltrated and consumed by an unseen and unstoppable force.
Answering the Call of Duty:
Another shared theme between Alien and The Thing is the danger inherent in answering the call of duty. In Alien, the crew’s downfall is set into motion even before we are introduced to the characters. They are compelled by their duty to answer the distress call, leading them to investigate the source of the signal. Little do they know that their duty will expose them to unimaginable horrors and ultimately lead to their demise. In The Thing, it is the character of Blair who realizes the magnitude of the threat. He understands that if the alien creature reaches civilization, humanity as a whole will be doomed. Driven by moral duty, Blair destroys all means of communication and transportation, cutting off any chance of escape. In doing so, he ensures the eventual demise of every character in the film.
The Lasting Legacy of the King’s of the Horror Movie Aliens
Alien and The Thing have rightfully earned their status as iconic horror films within the subgenre of horror movie aliens. These films continue to captivate audiences due to their technical brilliance, suspenseful storytelling, and exploration of universal themes. The chestburster scene in Alien and the blood test scene in The Thing exemplify the films’ ability to create unforgettable moments that encapsulate their respective themes. The themes of isolation, parasites, and the dangers of moral duty are interwoven into the fabric of these films, resonating with audiences and ensuring their enduring popularity. Through their masterful execution, Alien and The Thing have cemented their status as genre-defining classics.
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