When you can't participate in the visceral thrill that goes hand-in-hand with any terrifying experience, then it can become difficult to find something appreciative to say about pictures of this type. This isn't meant to say or imply on any level that I don't get frightened all that much because -- probably like many of you -- nothing could be further from the truth. But for me watching, analyzing, and talking about film is an intellectual exercise; so I can go through some fits and starts in trying to conceptualize both how a Horror film works as well as what it might've communicated to me on any level. If I wasn't scared, then how else could it possibly have spoken to me?
Flash back to just a few years ago, and I had woken up from a nightmare. This wasn't a casual wake-up. This was one of those full-bodied 'Holy Crap What Did I Just See' fests that had me lightly sweating, gulping for air, and the whole nine yards. It was such a shocking moment that the wifey -- lying beside me -- sat right up in bed, too, and she asked, "Are you okay? You were dreaming, and then you started whining and I wasn't sure if I should wake you!" (For the record, I've always cautioned her to not wake me because I have so much trouble falling to sleep to begin with.) "What did you see?"
So I told her what I had seen, that being I was being chased by a Xenomorph.
And, yes, it scared the crap out of me.
As nightmares go, that's the chief element that I've always always always respected about James Cameron's Aliens (1986), a project that turns an incredible 37 years young today. The yarn is crafted in such a way that -- in the early reel -- the audience is treated to the very personal nightmare Ellen Ripley is living. Like me, she woke up from a sound sleep entirely owed to visions of a dark fate at the hands of one of filmdom's seminal monsters. (Granted, this one was inside her, but you catch my drift.) Then -- in the flick's second half -- she isn't so much forced to go face-first into all that carnage as she deliberately chooses to confront that nightmare head-on. It's a brilliant narrative juxtaposition -- first, we see it, and then we live it through her -- and it's probably one of the very best times such a concept has ever been captured on film.
So, yes, yes, and yes: I think Aliens lives on even to this day precisely because of the direction Cameron took the property (after picking up the hand-off from the original's Ridley Scott). The film did phenomenal box office, and it truly established the director as one to watch in the field of Science Fiction for the years ahead. To this day, he's still dabbling in that arena, and we should all be thankful for that.