Halloween Top 13:The Sequel #2- Aliens (1986)
Yesterday, in number 3 on the countdown, I got a chance to talk about the best male hero in the horror genre, Evil Dead II’s Ash. Today I get to talk about another hero, but a very different one. In most horror films, women are portrayed as either bimbos, damsels in distress, or if they’re really lucky, the lone survivor a.k.a the final girl. Very seldom are they shown as more competent than their male counterparts, and even less frequently are they shown as ready, willing, and able to throw down with the big bad. Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) introduced a different kind of female character with Warrant Officer Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver. Not only was she the hero of the film, she also displayed all the characteristics of the male action hero while still maintaining a sense of femininity. It was a game changing role that you could trace a direct line to female leads in films like Resident Evil or Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It proved that a female character could be portrayed as strong as a man, and not only that, people, male and female, would like and appreciate the character.
By the mid-eighties, Ripley Scott had moved on to other projects, and the prospect of a follow up to Alien looked bleak. James Cameron was about to start directing his first major film, The Terminator, and when the project was delayed because of a scheduling conflict, he went into seclusion and wrote the screenplay that would become Aliens. 20th Century Fox Studio initially balked at the idea of an Alien sequel feeling that the first film had not been profitable enough, but they agreed that if Cameron had a hit with The Terminator then they would let him do Aliens. Well, we all know how that went.
Cameron finished off his script which was more focused on suspense and terror than the bloody, shocking sequences in Scott’s original film. At first, Sigourney Weaver was hesitant to revisit the character, but after meeting with Cameron, she agreed to do the project. The studio was still unsure and wanted a story that did not feature Ripley. Cameron held strong and demanded Weaver on the grounds that when he had signed on based Fox had implied that Weaver would be part of the project. The studio finally relented, but not without a serious round of negotiations with Weaver’s agents. Cameron was going off on his honeymoon, and he told the powers that be that if contracts were not signed by the time he returned, he would drop the project. When he returned, no contract had been signed, and Cameron spread a rumor that he was going to retool the script sans Ripley. Soon both Weaver’s people and 20th Century Fox, not wanting to miss out on the success Cameron had with The Terminator, made a deal which paid Weaver 1 million dollars, over 30 times what she had made for Alien.
The film that Cameron wrote picks up with Ripley still in cryogenic sleep aboard the lifeboat, right where we left her at the end of Alien. It is 57 years later when her ship is found by a group of space salvagers, and she is taken to a space station where she is to be questioned before a panel convened by the cooperation that had sent the crew on the ill fated mission recounted in the first film. They strip her of her rank and sentence her to psychiatric evaluation after scoffing at her story of an attack by an acid blooded, unstoppable Xenomorph. When contact is lost with the planet, LV-426, she is approached by corporate lawyer Carter Burke (Paul Riser) to join a mission to the planet as a consultant. Ripley refuses at first, but she has a change of heart ad agrees to join the mission. When they arrive, they find the planet decimated with the only survivor being a small girl named Newt (Carrie Henn). They discover a massive hive where the Aliens are breeding, and Ripley and the Space Marines are soon under heavy attack from the Xenomorph and trapped on the planet’s surface.
The story spun by Cameron’s script is only of the deepest and most influential pieces in modern cinema. I won’t be getting too far into the meaning of the film as I think many people smarter than me have tackled that subject before, but I do have a few themes I want to touch on. Aliens always seems to me like a film built off dichotomy. The Space Marines, even the female members, are full of macho bravado with a fake sense of bravery while Ripley is calm, compassionate, and truly brave. She exhibits her compassion through her relationship with Newt, and that forms a mother child relationship that holds a mirror up to the Alien queen and her deadly brood. While in the first film the character that serves at the shill for the corporation is the android, this time around the robot is trustworthy while the threat from within comes from one of Ripley’s human compatriots. There are a million things to pick apart in this film, and that’s one of the things that make it such a masterpiece.
The translation of Cameron’s script from the page to the screen had many hands involved in it, and while the creature effects and cinematography are stunning, a lot of the credit has to go to the actors. Weaver is especially effective, and her second outing as Ripley not only shows off growth of the character but also the growth of Weaver as an actress. Every line she delivers is perfectly pitched. Her every facial expression tells the story of what is going on beyond the words she speaks. Weaver has stated that she drew inspiration for the role from warrior women in classical Chinese literature. I can see this reflected throughout the film where compassion, truth, and honesty are shown to be as important facets of her charter as strength, power, and determination. While Weaver has had many great roles over the years, this is the one that will instantly come to mind anytime someone mentions her.
I did not dwell very much on the Space Marines when I synopsized this film, but they play an equally important part in the unfolding of the plot. The standout performance has to come from Bill Paxton as Hudson. I’ve found that Paxton has two performances, over the top and subdued, and usually his over the top performances make me wince. In Aliens, it fits perfectly with his character, and the fact that he’s given the most quotable lines of the film, “That's it man, game over man, game over! “and “Maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!” doesn’t hurt. The other Marines are all given enough time to develop as characters, and by the time any characters are killed, they have risen above cardboard characters to become relatable individuals.
Aliens also provides a couple of other noteworthy supporting roles. First off, Paul Riser was never and probably will never be better than as slimy lawyer Carter Burke. It might help that I’ve always hated Riser so it wasn’t a stretch for me to hate him here. The appearance of Riser also gives Bill Paxton the distinction of having starred with both of the leads from Mad About You in a major motion picture. (Paxton co-starred with Riser in this film and later with Helen Hunt in Twister.) The next performance I have to talk about is Lance Henriksen as the android Bishop. I’ve seen Henriksen in dozens of films, and no matter if he’s the lead or in the supporting cast, the guy can’t help but be creepy. I loved his understated performance, and the knife trick scene is on the shortlist of my favorite movie moments. I would be remiss if I did not mention Carrie Henn’s Newt. Most of the time when you get a child actor on screen, I wince. However, Henn provides a great performance that never gets maudlin or annoying.
The effects in Aliens are not only excellent, they also hold up over time. I was watching the extended producers cut, and I was amazed how current this twenty two year old film looked. The military style of the film does lend itself to a more timeless quality, but I saw nothing in the film that could be improved on by cutting edge computer graphics. Aliens is a film that will look as good in twenty more years and twenty more after that. While it is set in the future, it is a future that seems real, vital, and plausible. I don’t think I even have to mention how great the creature effects were. Headed up by Stan Winston and his crack crew of special effects artists, each of the Aliens looks amazing, and the Queen herself is a triumph in practical effects and puppetry. To bring the Queen to life it took nineteen people working the puppet, and the effect is seamless. Now they would just whip something up in a computer, and in a few years it would look dated and cheesy.
Aliens is a film that works because it was the perfect storm of elements coming together, a director in the prime of his creativity, a cast of interesting and skilled actors, and special effects work that has been rarely matched. The fact that all of this stemmed from a script that Cameron did as lark never knowing if it would reach any stage of production makes the film more amazing. While I love Alien, its sequel is in many ways superior. It takes the base that Ridley Scott built, and builds upon it a deeper, darker, and more rewarding experience. Aliens is a film that always freaks me out, and the next time I get a little heartburn, I’ll be little extra concerned about it.
Today’s guest list writer has really outdone himself, and what more could you expect from a guy with a blog called Chuck Norris Ate My Baby. Matt runs a great site that is constantly one of the most entertaining reads out there. I can’t thank him enough for the excellent work he put into his list, and I hope you like it as much as I do. Take it away Matt….
Sequels are a hit or miss, usually a miss as most of the time studio heads are just trying to cash in on the success of a popular horror film by attempting to capture that lightning (BUG!) in a bottle by duplicating what worked in the first film. Rarely does this work, as you will more than likely get a less than stellar film that is just a rushed - rehash of the original movie as seen in films like Teen Wolf Too. For example.
The successful continuation of a horror franchise will always benefit from expanding upon, or bringing something new to what worked in the previous installment(s), whether it be going with a different approach visually, or adding a little more action and/or gore to the mix. I would say that 80% of these films listed below will make most horror fans lists - and there’s a reason for that…they (almost) all brought something new to what worked the first or previous time around, or they went balls out and amped up the action and entertainment.
Since Mista Bugg is doing his thing 13 style, I thought I would follow suite and make a list that consists of 13 sequels too - and without any further ado, here is my 13 favorite horror sequels OF ALL TIME!!
13. Waxwork II: Lost in Time: Taking the fun set pieces of the first Waxwork and bringing it to a completely new level, Lost in Time added time travel into the mix, along with a whole slew of fictional characters and situations to run into. The homage’s are great, and you get some cheap, but still fun Alien inspired aliens, Godzilla, and even a little battle with Zombies in a mall, ala Dawn of the Dead. Oh, and Bruce Campbell has one of the best cameos ever!
12. Blade II: What better way to add something fresh to a movie that was pretty damned good to begin with, than by having Guillermo Del Toro direct? Blade II is slightly better than Blade for me, and that has to do with some crazy and well directed/choreographed action sequences and fight scenes. Blade II also brought some new ideas to the game with the hybrid ultra vampires, while mixing things up by adding a vampire crew to (reluctantly) fight along side the day-walker.
11. Final Destination 2: The groundwork was laid out in Final Destination, and FD2 just took the ball, and ran with it…no need to add to the plot! The Opening car accident is flat out awesome, and one of the more frightening scenes I have seen in a movie…all of the death scenes are a blast and that is all you really needed. Straight payoff.
10. Troll 2: A movie that sweats the definition bad, Troll 2 is epic in its awfulness, and it has pretty much nothing to do with the original film, outside of it being named Troll. Terrible acting, hysterical dialogue, a workout/dance scene, corn on the cob-integrated intercourse, and of course…Goblins. Goblins in a movie named Troll 2…a movie that delivers more entertainment than 80% of movies that have, or will, ever come out.
9. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter: The Final Chapter has always been my favorite of the Friday films and most of that has to do with the Tommy Jarvis character and his collection/obsession with make up and monsters. When I was that age watching this film, I wanted to make those kick ass masks that Tommy made! Clearly, the character was inspired by Tom Savini, whose amazing practical FX and make up on the film are the stuff of legend and another huge reason for loving this 4th Friday film.
8. 28 Weeks Later : One of the best horror sequels of recent years, 28 Weeks Later does a great job of just letting things unfold naturally and fittingly with where the first film left off. One of my favorite aspects of this film is that stylistically, it is very removed from what Danny Boyle did in Days, and the result is a fantastic movie to watch visually as well as narratively. The opening scene when Carlyle is chased from the house is shot so cool and knowing that they used a sort of remote controlled helicopter to achieve the shot is just a brilliant filmmaking tactic.
7. Creepshow 2: “Thanks for the ride, lady!” is all I need to say about Creepshow 2! As with all of the films on the rest of this list of sickness, this sequel is one that came to my conscience in my youngsta days. It was perfect for a budding young horror fan - a killer wooden Indian, teaching jag-off kids to respect their elders and their heritage, a drunk slut picking up unwanted hitchhikers, and a black blob like oil slick that would learn you not to taint the environment…and all the stories were wrapped tightly with a pretty cool animation style tale of terror!
6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 :Talk about going in a completely different direction from the previous installment, and all with the same director nonetheless - TCM2 is an exercise in pure insanity and outright wackiness. The depravity and mean-spiritedness of the first film is slightly prevalent in Chainsaw 2, but there is a tongue in cheek sense of humor about this film, and it’s antagonists that set it far apart from the original Chainsaw. I remember all to well being a little kid and seeing that poster for Chainsaw 2, where they were riffing on the Breakfast Club and thinking…”I wanna see that!”
5. Hellbound: Hellraiser II : Hellbound almost flows perfectly from the first film with its story of flesh and sadomasochism, while kicking up the grue to a whole new and disturbing level. Where the first film slowly turned into a nightmare, Hellbound feels like a dream throughout - a real bad dream, especially if you are Kirsty. The vision of Hell is unlike anything ever put to film and the setting of a psychiatric-ward is truly scary unto itself. Doctor Channard as the main antagonist was a great addition, and his change into a Cenobite is legendary.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors : The best of the Nightmare sequels and a favorite of many, Dream Warriors is just plain awesome! It bleeds 80’s in everyway, except for the cheese factor, which it has a bit of, but that‘s just more of an 80‘s thing. The first time I saw Dream Warriors was on some pay movie channel that I was watching on the TV in my parent’s bedroom when they were out late one night. Only thing was, we didn’t even have the channel, so I basically just listened to what was going on and made out a couple of things here and there on the television screen. I’ll tell ya, my imagination ran wild with what could have been happening…Dream Warriors truly speaks to a generation of horror fans…my generation.
3. Aliens : The definition of going all out with balls flappin’ - is Aliens. Alien is a classic of cinema, and Aliens was perfect for delivering what every one wanted after the first film…more and more Aliens, a butt load of action. To top it all off, we got the Queen Alien, who may be one of the best horror creations of all time, and one of my personal favorites. Aliens is rock ‘em sock ‘em from start to finish and when it slows down, it is so you can witness some seriously intense situations, such as the face hugger scene with Newt and Ripley for example. “Game over man, GAME OVER!!”
2. Dawn of the Dead : We really are getting down to the nitty gritty now aren’t we? Do I need to even mention NOTLD and how it is one of the top 5 greatest horror films ever made? No, but can I mention that Dawn of the Dead can easily make its way into the top 10 of all time horror films? Well, I just inadvertently did. Dawn is probably the most different from its predecessor than every other sequel listed here, but most of that reasoning is because they were made a decade apart, and in that decade the world changed drastically…so fittingly, Dawn tackled many different, yet relevant themes than the ones in Night. I love everything about Dawn of the Dead - it’s gory, weird and campy, it’s serious but still has a message, and there is even tempera-paint blood and a zombie with an afro!
1. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn : The first time I watched Dead by Dawn - my best friend lent me a recorded copy after he taped it off HBO. I put it in my VCR, and proceeded to watch…I then proceeded to turn the movie off twice I got so freaked out…seriously! Evil Dead 2 is a remake of Evil Dead with more money and the ability to do more with that money….like Stallone, its over-the-top, funny, and boiling over the brim with blood. Still, funny or not, it is a creepy movie. The scenes when Ash is left to dwell all alone in his haunted surroundings are mega freaky, and the camera work is some of the best in a horror film ever. Of course, there are so many quotable lines from “Groovy, “to “Swallow this!” and what needs to be said about Bruce Campbell that already hasn’t been said? Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is the perfect horror/comedy mix, and my favorite horror sequel of all time! Hail to the King baby!
Lot’s of great stuff on there, Matt, and a whole lot of films that we’ve seen on the top 13, but tomorrow I’ll be rolling out the Number 1 title. Will it be what you expect? Will it be the best sequel of all time? I certainly think so, and I hope you will as well. So join me back here tomorrow for Halloween and the thrilling conclusion of The Halloween Top 13!