Halloween Scene: Alien (1979)

alien poster The Alien franchise is pretty revered both amongst my circle and many of the people I know and respect. And yet, I have very little experience with the series. It’s not that I had anything against it, I just didn’t get around to it. I remember watching Aliens on VHS  in high school and thought I’d seen Alien, but while watching the Blu-ray version and writing this post, I now remember that I meant to get the first film, wound up with the second and just went with it. I’m sure I’d seen bits and pieces of Alien here and there, but much of it seemed new to me. And yet, when I saw the Alien Anthology Bluray box set go on sale for something like $22 last year, I asked my wife to pick it up for me for the holidays. It seemed like the kind of series I’d be into if I just sat down and watched it.

Even as a novice, I was familiar with the basic story of Ridley Scott’s Alien which finds the crew of a tow ship investigating a potentially alien transmission on a planetoid that just so happens to contain huge ruins and a particularly nasty brand of alien that makes its way onto their ship. While onboard, the menace makes short work of the crew — which consists of characters played by  Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt,Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto — before they go on the offensive and try to save their lives and at least part of the ship. It’s a taught, scary film that gives you enough time to get to know the characters and then doesn’t let up as it races towards the final.

I don’t think there’s any arguing that Alien is a classic film, expertly put together and acted. While reading about the movie, I discovered that one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Walter Hill, had a hand in it. He not only produced, but also rewrote Dan O’Bannon’s script. We’ll probably never know exactly how much which people got through to the final film, but it shows Hill’s versatility and radness.

But there is one problem with Alien and it has nothing to do with the movie itself. By being such a successful film with a fairly simple plot (alien hunts down people in strange place) it’s been talked about, homaged, parodied and flat-out copied for decades. Even if you haven’t seen the chestburster scene, but are otherwise well versed in horror or film history, you’ve probably seen the scene on a countdown show of some kind. Heck, you probably also know going in that the cast’s reaction was real because they didn’t know exactly what was going to happen.

A few years back I watched the Shout Factory double feature of Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: The Terror Within / Dead Space. I don’t remember much about either movie aside from the fact that, even without being familiar with the source material, one or both of them were rip-offs of Alien. Sometimes, that can work out well, like in the case of Jason X, but usually it just feels old, tired and unoriginal.

So, what’s the solution to this problem? See Alien as soon as you can. It’s just one of those movies that’s so iconic and so influential that it’s best to get it in your system as early as possible so you’re comparing all of the copycats to the original instead of an idea of the original you’ve formed from being part of the pop culture landscape. I’m to far gone in that regard, but I figure a few more solid viewings in glorious Blu-ray will help to retroactively fix the problem.

80s Odyssey: 48 Hours (1982)

48-hrs-movie-poster-1982-1020192886 Eddie Murphy was one of the Saturday Night Live stars whose films my dad introduced to me when I was a kid. I can’t tell you how many times we watched Trading Places or the Beverly Hills Cop movies when they’d come on TV. But, 48 Hours is something of a blind spot for me. I know I’ve seen the movie (or at least parts of it) a few times, but it hasn’t taken up much real estate in my head.

I knew the basics, of course, cop (Nick Nolte) springs con (Eddie Murphy) from jail to help him with an investigation, but somehow it escaped my knowledge that the movie was directed by The Warriors helmer Walter Hill and even stars a few of that movie’s leads, James Remar as killer Albert Ganz and David Patrick Kelly as a street hood coincidentally named Luther.

To get into a bit more detail, Murphy’s character used to run with Remar’s gang. Another criminal helped spring Ganz from prison and the two went on a crime spree that happened to garner attention from the cops. In the process of escaping, two of the cops get killed and Nolte wants revenge. He teams up with Murphy to try and figure out what’s going on and where they can find Remar.

48 Hours is notable because it gave Murphy his first big screen role and success. From there he’d go on to become one of the biggest comedy stars of the 80s. In the film he nails the role of angry convict with a cool head and a smart mouth. I’m a big fan of the scene where he goes in to the country bar acting like a cop and gets to get a lot of his anger out. It’s cathartic.

This movie is also an interesting milestone in movies of this kind. Apparently Hill thought that Murphy’s character here was taken, slightly changed and then used again in the Beverly Hills Cop series. I think there’s an argument that could be made to that point, but how much of that was in the script and how much was just Murphy’s performance is probably impossible to tell at this point. Some of my favorite movies from this era have a similar vibe to this one, mixing some legitimate action or drama elements with some truly great comedic acting (I’m thinking of you Fletch and Fletch Lives). There’s also an interesting transition in scores that you can hear in this film. Anyone who knows BHC, remembers the electronic theme song written by Harold Faltermeyer. 48 Hours has a pretty solid soundtrack of more traditional music, but there is a little bit of the electronic, new wave influence in there that would soon take over.

Now that I think about it, the movie also represents a passing of the torch between two versions of this kind of movie. Nolte’s character is a lot more in line with the vigilante cop films of the 70s like Dirty Harry and Death Wish, while, as I already mentioned, Murphy is the smart-talking, wise cracking cop who can take care of himself. This also allowed for the bigger action guys like Stallone and Schwarzenegger to come in and fill some of those gaps with their far more over-the-top films.

I’m still not sure why 48 Hours wasn’t in heavy rotation either in my house or later on during my heavy rental period during high school, but I’m glad I came around to it so many years later. Experiencing a movie that combines one of my favorite stars from this era with a director I really adore is a nice treat. My only complaint about the movie is that Annette O’Toole is awesome and just doesn’t get enough to do in the film.