I am notoriously bad at watching films that Everyone Should’ve Already Seen and Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979) is one of them. It’s heralded as an iconic, genre-defining film and I finally see why. It plays as being more modern despite being made in the late 70s and its production effects hold up even today. Scott set it apart from similar action reliant monster movies and employed a similar tactic as Spielberg did with Jaws (1975); the alien itself (or Xenomorph) is rarely actually seen.
“The most important thing in a film of this type is not what you see, but the effect of what you think you saw” – Ridley Scott
My opinion is that techniques such as this are underused in modern horror films. In Alien much of the violence and horror occurs off screen, or we know what happens based on the reactions of the characters who are viewing it. Suspense is maintained and more is left to the imagination, which in turn amps up the fear. A similar sense of dread is also achieved in the beginning sequence, which is packed full of establishing shots of high-tech, yet cramped and weaving corridors that give us some sense of the struggles the characters will deal with in regards to having few places to hide.
One of Alien‘s most remembered scenes includes the moment we are introduced to the “chestburster”, bursting as it were, through the chest of John Hurt’s Kane. I admire the use of cinematography in this scene; from the separation of the soon-to-be-revealed traitorous Ash from the rest of the group (suggesting that he knows more than he lets on), the rapid shot changes that increase in frequency as the situation becomes more intense, to the sudden slowing down when the creature makes it’s appearance and examines the humans standing around it. It is a truly horrific moment enhanced by good film-making decisions.