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Aliens (1986)

by on 2013/08/18

aliens_1986“Ripley, she doesn’t have bad dreams because she’s just a piece of plastic.”

* * * *

Goddamn you, James Cameron. Goddamn. Damn. Damn.

Wheeze.

A hive of chest-bursting aliens. Many-legged face huggers. Heavily-armed Marines having full-flight psychotic breaks. An impending nuclear meltdown. Motherhood.

Now that I’ve pieced together all the shattered fragments of my psyche, I should be able to do more than just stare blankly, point and make indistinct vowel sounds.

So to my review. Aliens is the second in the Alien series. And as the ‘s’ implies – it is more. More. More aliens, more terror, more heart palpitations. Thus the tagline: “This time there’s more.” (I’ll stop now).

This is a crazily, diabolically well-crafted horror film. It picks up on the concept and rhythms created by Ridley Scott in the first instalment, and then riffs on them with terrifying virtuosity. Every bit of it, from the creepy foreshadowing, to the barest glimmer of the foul horror that is about to shower down on the film’s players is scary. Scary. Scary. Scary.

As I made my way along a darkened street after this most recent screening, the dread stayed with me. Come to think of it, there’s the dread right over there again. It never left.

Sigourney Weaver (Ghostbusters) as Ripley is the sort of person you want around in a crisis. She might not be a great addition to a dinner party though. Coming out of stasis from the last mission 57 years later, her company doesn’t believe her stories of hostile aliens killing her crew, she’s stripped of her pilot’s credentials and forced to work on a loading dock.

Ridley is a furious, difficult-to-like person, who chain-smokes and has nightmares. Angry, fearsome women in a white tank tops are definitely a motif in James Cameron films, a la the wild-eyed Armageddon prepper Sarah Connor in Cameron’s later film Terminator 2.

When there’s trouble at a newly terraformed planet LV-426, a rag-tag, be-muscled and always sweating group of soldiers, Ripley and a public relations jerk named Carter Burke (Paul Rieser) are sent to find out what the trouble is. They are checking out the noise in the basement, answering the front door while there’s a killer on the loose… Ah, where would horror films be without wrong-headed human curiosity?

Michael Biehn (Terminator) plays Cpl. Dwayne Hicks, a cool-headed Marine who is also a Furious Woman Whisperer. There’s another Cameron motif, Biehn is the only man who can tame the mythic Wild Woman (Terminator). The tension between Ripley and Hicks might just be right up there with some of the best moments of courtly love on the big screen. For me, there’s more romance in the scene where he shows Ripley how to use a grenade launcher than in most Lifetime Network romcom movies.

But the beating heart of this movie is the relationship between Ripley and Newt (Carrie Henn). The sole survivor of an annihilated settlement, Newt forms a bond with Ripley so poignant that it makes the resulting action that much more nerve-rending. Henn is brilliant in the role – damaged yet resilient, the perfect daughter to Ripley’s lithe, ass-kicking mother.

The special effects are completely excellent particularly when you consider when this film was made, pre-CGI. Everything looks real. solid, unpretty – from the cargo holds to the guns to the acid-oozing alien teeth. What’s even more remarkable is Cameron’s restraint. Hacker Renders and I agree that a horror movie that doesn’t show too much is infinitely scarier than one that does.

Speaking of scary, there’s also Lance Henriksen (Near Dark) as the artificial person Bishop. He’s smooth-faced and impassive, a remarkable performance for the craggy, normally growling and fiercely emotive actor.

There’s a slow reveal, a flash, a glimmer, the barest clue that something awful is going to happen. It all played on my last nerve like fingernails on a harp string.

All this to say, Aliens is remarkable, effective, a magnum opus of horror. A masterpiece even.

Now I’m going to try really, really hard to forget it.

* * * *

154 minutes (Special Edition)

Rated R

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