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Grays. Blobs. Symbiotes. When it comes to aliens, I love ‘em all. I’m especially fond of the acid-dripping, face-hugging, chest-bursting aliens that Sigourney Weaver fights in Ridley Scott’s film series. So I was delighted to stumble across Memory: The Origin of Aliens. The 2019 documentary explores the production Aliens, the film that shocked audiences and redefined the sci-fi genre for years to come. Though the documentary is several years old, it’s chock-full of fascinating factoids for horror and sci-fi fans. Here are some of the most remarkable:
The alien’s biology was inspired by the parasite wasp.
Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon was obsessed with insects as a child, particularly the parasite wasp. He drew upon the wasp’s horrific tendency to implant their larvae inside the bodies of other insects. The larvae use the hosts body as food as they grow inside the host insect. At maturity, the larvae burst out of their hosts body, killing the host in the process. There is a video clip of actually happening in the wild. It is revolting.
That’s real blood in the chest-burster scene.
Director Ridley Scott knew the chest-burster sequence would define the movie, so he went to great lengths to get it right. As we all know, an infant alien explodes out of Kane’s (John Hurt) chest, showering the gaping crew with blood. What you may not know: all the blood in the scene is real, a mixture of slaughterhouse offal from various animals. The film crew used pumps to spray the room with gore at just the right moment, creating one of the most iconic (and gruesome) scenes in the history of horror. Bonus fact: during the hours of filming, the studio lights began to heat the blood, creating a sickening smell that made the actors gag when they entered the set.
There was so much blood in that scene, one of the actresses slipped in it.
In the film, actress Veronica Cartwright plays Lambert, navigation officer on the starship Nostromo. Cartwright actually slipped and fell in the famous chest-burster scene. The blood was real, stinky and slippery, and so was the look of horror on Cartwright’s face as she is doused with it. Upon contact with the blood, her feet slipped and then she tripped over a movie prop. Down went Cartwright. Ever the determined actress, Cartwright recovered quickly, and audiences were never the wiser. Until now.
Designer H. R. Geiger was originally fired.
Many film fans are probably aware of the work of artist H.R. Geiger, who blend the themes of sex, technology, and the occult into haunting visions that are both alluring and disturbing. Scott and O’Bannon thought he was the perfect designer to give shape to their aliens. However, he was originally fired by the studio: they thought his art was “too weird”. It wasn’t until the film’s production transferred to another studio that Scott was granted greater power to do what he wanted. His first move was to bring back Geiger. The rest is history.
The writer of aliens struggled with how to get the alien on the ship.
O’Bannon was fairly confident about his screenplay, except for one part. For weeks, he struggled to figure out a plausible way to get the alien on the ship. The solution came from one of the producers, who reportedly had an epiphany one night via a scary dream he’d had. “The alien fucks him!” he excitedly told the rest of the crew. The idea was interesting, although a little too crass for Scott’s tastes. In the end, there was a creative compromise: the aliens would implant their young into their human hosts via the throat through a terrifying phase of alien biology called “face-huggers”.
There’s much more to learn in this documentary, and it’s worthy of your time. Seriously, it’s damn good. But don’t take it from me. Film reviewer Matt Zoller Seitz calls it “one of the best documentaries about a single film that I’ve seen.”
Memory: The Origins of Alien is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
Robert Stahl is a former bartender who left his bottle opener behind to follow his dreams as a writer. Now the Dallas-based freakazoid writes advertising copy by day and fiction in the evenings. He loves to connect with others about the craft of fiction. Click the link to find his blog as well as links to some of his stories: robertestahl.com.