Today is Alien Day, the annual celebration of the legendarily frightening sci-fi horror franchise. To mark the occasion, and to get you ready for the release of Alien: Covenant on 12th May, we’ve decided to delve into the archives and present our reasons as to why the original Alien trailer is the scariest of all time.
Want to know how a trailer can terrify us without showing anything? Read on to find out…
Hatching a surprise...
The key to the Alien trailer’s success is its total ambiguity. Back in 1979 audiences had absolutely no idea what director Ridley Scott and designer H.R. Giger would be unleashing upon the world, and very little is spelled out here.
Even so a distinct sense of unease is established right from the off, a discordant siren (which runs throughout) accompanying an ominous close-up shot of an object that we’ve subsequently come to know as the Alien egg. As the title forms (foreshadowing the same technique seen at the start of the movie), it cracks…
On its own terms, it’s utterly mysterious yet deeply petrifying, the green light emanating from within telling us that we’re going to be confronted with something unpleasant.
The trailer is a masterclass in how to assemble layers of sound in order to unnerve the viewer. In addition to the keening, wailing siren a heartbeat effect steadily begins to pump away in the background, making us anxious and uneasy in spite of the fact that the threat remains unseen.
These effects escalate in pitch and intensity as the trailer proceeds, leaving our nerves attaining the consistency of grated cheese.
Run, Ripley, run!
It’s important to remember that prior to the movie’s release, no-one could have predicted that Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) would be the last survivor of the Nostromo, let alone become one of the defining sci-fi movie icons of all time.
The trailer intercuts quick edits of footage with her first-person viewpoint running down a darkened corridor, subtly and cleverly establishing her as the audience’s focal point in the story, and further escalating our adrenaline levels.
Montage of terror
Right from the start the trailer teases us with all kinds of cryptic imagery, from the downed Space Jockey craft to creepy android Ash (Ian Holm) convulsing in a threatening manner.
Towards the trailer’s end the tone escalates from the menacing into the flat-out terrifying, the audio effects becoming ever-more abrasive and the imagery becoming both more rapid and more explicit, including Jones the cat screeching, the briefest shot of a Facehugger, an off-screen character (who we now know to be Ash) erupting in white liquid and John Hurt’s Kane thrashing in anguish on the kitchen table (although again, we don’t see the final outcome).
We don’t know exactly what we’ve seen, but it’s sure got us intrigued and very scared.
The piece de resistance is that remarkable tagline, ‘In space, no-one can hear you scream’, a doom-laden statement of intent that makes the final shot of the Nostromo approaching LV-426 the most ominous and portentous thing of all.
Will Alien: Covenant match the unforgettably claustrophobic atmosphere of its classic predecessor? Well, it’s almost time to find out.
Click here to book your Alien Superticket, which will grant you access to both a sneak peek of Covenant footage and a 2D advance screening of the movie on 11th May.