THE MENACE IN QUESTION: Serpent-like creatures who live only to breed and kill.
THE THREAT: Becoming an unwilling host for this parasitic monster.
FIRST APPEARANCE: Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien.
The image of the Xenomorph strikes terror in most people’s hearts. Tall, skeletal frames; sharp, barbed tails; a shocking second set of jaws; acidic blood; and elongated heads with no visible eyes. Of course, this is exactly what the filmmakers were hoping to achieve when they conceived of this beast all those years ago.
The first Alien film is now considered a classic, and rightfully so. It set the bar for which sci-fi/horror fans now judge all other films in the genre. The movie excelled at writing, directing, acting and, most importantly, creature design. By now, most people are aware of H.R. Giger and his nightmarish surrealistic artwork. We have the late, great Swiss painter to thank for the now infamous look of this legendary movie monster.
The first installment in the franchise introduces us to the Xenomorph life cycle, which begins as an egg and later hatches to produce a Facehugger. The Facehugger immediately seeks out a living host to implant an embryo inside of. As the name suggests, they go about this by forcing themselves onto the face of their victim and shoving an implantation device down their throat. Once the embryo is safely inside the host, the Facehugger crawls away and dies, its mission now complete.
The host will awaken sometime later and experience a sharp pain in their chest. The next phase is made present once a Chestburster literally bursts its way through its host’s chest cavity. Resembling a small snake with tiny arms, the Chestburster then scurries away to find seclusion so that it can begin its fast transformation into a full size Xenomorph. This process simply takes a matter of hours, so it’s no surprise that these creatures can spread like a plague of locust so quickly.
While these monsters are most often compared to dragons or serpents, they actually more resemble that of bees or termites. The colony is comprised of Warrior Aliens and a single Queen Alien. It’s the duty of the Warrior Aliens to protect their Queen and expand their numbers at all costs. The Queen Alien is vastly larger than that of her subjects and spends her time giving birth to mass quantities of eggs.
The award-winning creature design of the Xenomorph is known for featuring heavy sexual symbolism. Both phallic and yonic imagery is shown in the various life stages of these beasts. The embryo implantation specifically is supposed to symbolize that of oral rape, which the filmmakers believed would be a highly effective way of frightening their audience in a way that had never been attempted before.
Both Alien and the successful sequel, Aliens, featured roughly the same design for the Xenomorph. The hosts they inhabited were human, so they took on the characteristics of their bipedal incubators. It wasn’t until Alien 3 that we saw a completely different take on this creature. A Facehugger managed to implant an embryo inside of a dog, which lead to the birth of a quadrupedal Xenomorph. However, that was nothing compared to what was yet to come.
Alien: Resurrection, the fourth film in the series, was largely disliked by both fans and critics. Side note: I greatly enjoy it and love the fact that the screenplay was penned by Joss Whedon. Hi, mercenary crew of the space vessel Betty! I totally see you over there, being an early inspiration for Firefly.
Moving on…spoiler alert! Alien 3 ends with Ellen Ripley sacrificing herself so that the Queen Alien growing inside of her will not survive. Alien: Resurrection takes place 202 years later, where the United Systems Military has successfully cloned Ripley and has harvested the Queen from within her. Said Queen developed a trait from its human host that had never been seen before: she grew a human womb. She then proceeded to give birth to a humanoid mutant hybrid dubbed The Newborn.
The Newborn is an incredible sight to behold. Its most striking features are that of its human-like eyes and nostrils, the two characteristics that are most notably absent from its Xenomorph brethren. The Newborn is also much larger than the typical Alien and features pale, translucent skin. Sadly, this poor creature meets a tragic end when Ripley sentences it to death by decompression.
The Xenomorph makes its next appearance in Alien vs. Predator, and the sequel, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. In these films we’re introduced to the ultimate combination of two of the universe’s greatest warriors: The Predalien. This is the result of an Alien impregnating a Predator. The Predalien takes on several characteristics of its host, such as long, hair-like appendages and the Predator’s signature mandibles.
Then, in 2012 we were introduced to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. This prequel takes place in the same universe of the Alien films, yet instead focuses on the mythical Engineers, who hold the answers to the origins of humanity. Throughout the course of the film we learn that the Engineers were in fact accidently responsible for the creation of the Xenomorph. At the very end of the movie we catch a glimpse of the first incarnation of this creature. This prototype is born with a full set of arms and legs and lacks the infamous second set of jaws. Despite these features, it’s obvious from the dark coloring and elongated head that this monster is the beginning of many nightmares to come.
It’s been announced that we’ll receive a sequel to this prequel in 2017. Alien: Covenant will be directed by Ridley Scott once again and will continue to expand on the rich mythology this franchise has developed over the past three decades. I know that many fans weren’t impressed with Prometheus, but I’m just excited to see the Xenomorph on screen for a few more years to come.
Which of the Alien films is your favorite? Are you looking forward to Alien: Covenant? Sound off in the comments!
And check back here next Tuesday for another installment of Frightening Fables!