Initially, this article was concieved as a list of the best movie monsters of all time (and I do mean conceptualized first on film), but everything seemed to lead back to a single monstrosity: the Xenomorph. The Xenomorph (or as it is commonly known: The Alien) embodies everything one could ask for in a movie monster. In the original 1979 film Alien, Ian Holm’s character Ash describes it as “The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.” Conceptually, we cannot help but be appalled at his admiration but as movie goers and horror fans, we can share in it.
Body Horror at its Finest:
What Ridley Scott did with H.R. Giger’s creature design is create the ultimate form of body horror. There are many analyses online which illuminate every gruesome detail but suffice to say that every single stage of the Xenomorph lifecycle is a violent subversion of the human sexual experience which preys on the deepest sexual insecurities. From the orally intrusive facehugger to the visceral Chestbuster, it is concieved in rape and born a murderer. In the case of the original film, it should be noted that this occurs to a male- the sex which should not and cannot give birth. This subverts our understanding of sexual reproduction, an area which already harbors deep anxiety and insecurity. In other words, everything body horror must do to be effective.
Slashers are a sub-genre of horror which is not easily executed. Slashers by themselves are little more than gore pornography. For a slasher to be effective on any more than a gross level, it has to employ some combination of the following ingredients: suspense, stalker techniques, inescapability, invincibility, or complete mystery. The Xenomorph incorporates all of these features in the original Alien. The suspense and mystery come from knowing nothing about the creature until it is revealed to the audience at the same time as the characters. They are surprised, ergo you are surprised. Scenes which employ the sonar blips add to the suspense and stalker vibes the creature gives off. The environment of claustrophobicly narrow corridors aboard a space freighter make confronting the Xenomorph inescapable, and the fact that it bleeds acid damaging to the hull of the Nostromo makes it virtually invincible. The scenario utilized makes the Xenomorph’s violent and bloody dominance all the more terrifying.
Silence is a lost art in film these days. Watch the opening to Alien and notice the expert use of silence. Not total, true silence, but a sound mix that amplifies sound effects and puts the audience alongside the characters. Quiet dread is effective because it makes our protagonists feel so loud by contrast. Footfalls feel enormously punctuated and while all ears are trained for the monster’s inevitable arrival, the monster is absolutely the last thing you’ll hear. Silence trains the audience to listen for things other than music, especially if the characters are likewise listening. Like the characters, we are caught off guard when we finally do see the creature and by then it’s already too late. Alien employs this technique masterfully and denies us any comfort in quiet.
So there you have it. That’s why this writer thinks the Xenomorph is the greatest movie monster of all time. I can only concur with that most sinister android, Ash. It truly is a perfect lifeform. It’s structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.