So to pass the time between reviews I’m going to start doing a new wee feature on my blog where I will pick a favorite scene from my favorite films and talk a wee bit about them. It will hopefully mean I’ll be updating this a bit more often as well. Some will be pretty well known scenes but others might be scenes that, while not very well known, had stood out to me personally. So lets kick it off with one of my favorite death scenes of all time, the death of Brett (played by Harry Dean Stanton) from the classic sci-fi/horror Alien.
“But what about the chestburster scene, surely that’s the best death scene in Alien?” I hear you all saying. I agree, that scene is a brilliant scene, and one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. But I’ve always found Brett’s death scene to be much more memorable. It’s the first time we get to see the titular alien in all its glory and the build up to the scene is brilliantly done. After the chestburster scene, the crew of the Nostromo go into the depths of the ship to try and hunt down the alien. Armed with makeshift cattle prods and nets, they pick up a signal on their handheld motion tracker. The signal turns out to be Jones, the ships cat, who runs off again before they can catch it. Worried it might show up on the tracker again, Brett is sent to catch it. As he’s looking he comes across what looks like a pile of shed skin, hinting that whatever they’re chasing may not be quite what they’re expecting. Brett eventually finds the cat hidden behind some machinery and tries to coax it. As he does, a huge tail uncurls itself from the ceiling behind him and the alien slowly and silently lowers itself down. The cat hisses and backs behind the machinery again, Brett turns round to find an 8 foot tall creature staring down at him. It slowly opens its drooling jaws, exposing a smaller secondary set. The alien kills Brett and drags him back up into the ceiling as his crew mates run into the room. If you haven’t seen it and don’t mind spoilers, here is the scene in question:
Its an incredibly eerie scene and it’s a really well filmed one. There’s minimal music and no dialogue, all you hear is the dripping water and rattling chains. The engine room of the ship is dimly lit, with dark shadowy corners where anything could be hiding. There’s a quick shot in the directors cut of the film (which isn’t in the above clip, but if you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean) as Brett is using the dripping water form the engines to cool himself , where you see the alien hanging in the chains, just swaying back and forth with them, not moving, not making a sound. It’s a brilliant example of hiding on plain sight, and for people who are watching it for the first time it’s a great wee easter egg when you watch the film a second time. I’d seen the film umpteen times before I noticed the shot and it even gave me a wee start when I saw it. The slow, deliberate movements of the alien help give the sense of a truly inhuman creature. It’s also effective as it puts the audience in Brett’s shoes, exploring the unknown corners, unsure of what we’re going to find in those dark corners. And when we finally see the alien, we’re as terrified and awestruck as Brett was. Back in 1979, audiences had never seen a creature like this on screen before and in my own opinion, this is one of the best reveals in cinema history and is up there with the likes of the shark in Jaws rearing out of the water and the T-Rex reveal in Jurassic Park. The chestburster scene, while obviously memorable, has been the subject of countless parodies and homages in all sorts of media since 1979 so it’s impact has diminished slightly over the years. It’s because of this that Brett’s death will always stand out to me as one of the best scenes in one of the best horror films of all time.