Views from the Sofa’s 100 Greatest Scenes is a list of the 100 greatest moments in the movies. This could be long introductions, moments of action or great dialogue between characters. The scenes are in no particular order and come from many different types of movies.
There are few horror movies as effective as Alien. It isn’t just the seemingly unstoppable monster stalking the ship, or the fact that it is set in a isolated, inescapable environment, but it also plays into some people’s darkest fears. One of those is having something lay it’s eggs inside you and then “burst” out. This fear is demonstrated on-screen perfectly, in one of cinema’s greatest scenes.
Greatest Scene Number 25: Alien – The Chestburster
There is plenty to make this scene shocking but the clues that something isn’t right are already in place by this point. John Hurt’s Kane has already been attacked by a “facehugger” but seemed to come-out alive. It’s only on a repeat viewing that you realise what the “facehugger” was actually doing.
The scene also lulls the audience into a false sense of security. You know things can’t be right as the run-time of the movie is no where near complete but this a just an ordinary scene, jovial and silly, with the crew maligning the food. Even if there was a sense of foreboding, what comes next is completely unexpected for anyone watching Alien for the first time.
John Hurt is the star of the scene. He sells the discomfort, then pain and agony brilliantly. The way he writhes around, making it almost impossible for anyone to get a spoon into his mouth to stop him biting his tongue or locking his jaw, is just one of subtler moments which sells the horror of the scene so well.
What happens next has gone down in movie history. The first “pop” of blood is minimal but enough to leave the crew speechless and motionless. The second is the more famous moment when a baby Alien emerges from Kane’s chest. This scene was undersold to the cast, who didn’t realise how much blood would be shot out of the fake wound. This makes for one-time only, pure and realistic reactions, especially from Veronica Cartwright who actually fell back in shock and hysterics.
The subtleties of the scene don’t stop there. John Hurt is dead, with his chest exposed and a monster having emerged, but the arms still moving in the background of the scene is enough to send chills. The scene also begins to drop hints about the secondary villain of the movie, with Ian Holm’s Ash stopping the crew from killing or attacking the Alien, something that will come into play later in the film.
This isn’t the end to the scares in Alien but it is a moment which sticks with people long after the movie has ended. As well as a creature which bleeds acid and has a tongue which bites, it is born by gestating in other creatures and “bursting” out of their chests.
Overall, Alien is made much more horrifying by the “chestburster.” Not many films, let alone horror films, can boast a scene as effective, iconic and terrifying as this one. A scene which shows the benefits of not always telling your cast everything either.