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Ridley Scott's Alien is Horror

Christopher Frawley Christopher Frawley
9th April 2021
Ridley Scott's Alien is Horror
Seriously, is this thing not horrifying? (Getty Images)

The Claim

Note: Misbar will sometimes conduct satirical fact-checks for fun. This is one such fact-check.

Alien, the 1979 classic film, is not a horror movie. 

Emerging story

This apparently contentious topic was brought up when a Twitter user issued a poll on whether or not Alien is a horror movie. Although the vast majority of participants voted that Alien is indeed a horror movie, several prominent voices took to the comments to argue otherwise. 

The original pollster argued that Alien is categorically not horror, because “horror cannot be set in space.” 

Another user furthered this line of reasoning by stating: “No. Horror needs to be grounded in an earthly setting, to give you a sense that it could happen to you. Using Sci Fi as a vehicle for the story, it loses that connection. It’s just a scary futuristic film.”

Others continued on, one saying “No it’s a sci-fi monster movie. Their [sic] are no ghosts, serial killers or zombies. Just because a movie is scary, doesn’t make it a horror film.”

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A supporting image within the article body

Misbar’s Analysis

Let’s set the record straight: Alien IS a horror movie, and a great one at that. The latter part of that statement is my opinion, but the former is a fact.

Firstly, the argumentation used to mis-categorize Alien is deeply flawed. Just because a horror movie takes place in space does not mean that an audience cannot connect to the characters and their scenario. Alien takes its time establishing a cast of characters which are realistic, believable, and sympathetic. They eat, they argue, they discuss money and the situation they’re in. A good deal of screen time is dedicated to bringing the viewer into the shoes of the characters, as any good horror movie does. 

On the subject of space and sci-fi, it is baffling that some people apparently can’t accept that a movie can be classified under multiple genres. Alien is both horror and sci-fi; these are not mutually exclusive categories by any means, and there are scores of films that fit snugly into the horror–sci-fi niche (many of which were inspired by Alien). I would go as far as to argue that Alien is more horror than sci-fi in terms of tone, and that the sci-fi aspects pertain more to the setting than the actual story, but that is my personal view.

As far as official definitions go, horror is generally agreed upon to be defined by the intent to elicit fear, disgust, or terror in an audience through dark subject matter. Alien certainly evokes those feelings through the horrific Xenomorph’s murderous rampage. 

If all that wasn’t enough, the writer of Alien himself has commented on this matter. The great Dan O’Bannon stated this: “With Alien, I figured out quite simply that, as an audience member, what you DON’T see scares you more than what you see. In horror films, the scares that really grab the audience and build the tension for them don’t come from the monster jumping out of the shadows!”

Not only is this a great piece of advice for horror writers, it’s proof of the tonal intent of Alien: horror. A movie isn’t any less of a horror film because it doesn’t include arbitrary aspects of the horror genre, like ghosts or serial killers. The intent of Alien was to scare people, and if it hadn’t achieved that goal so well I doubt it would’ve been as well-received as it was.

Whatever its genre, I think most of us can agree that Alien is a fantastic movie. If you haven’t yet seen it, please give it a shot! Although be warned: it may disturb the easily horrified. 

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