No, no, this post has nothing to do with the anniversary of the Roswell incident. For the record, I have no doubt in my mind that extraterrestrial life exists- the universe is so vast, I believe the incidence of alien life is inevitable, and, since the 90's the combination of the discover of extrasolarian planets (including three recently found earthlike planets) and the discovery of organisms that thrive in conditions that would kill off animal or plant life gives me enough confidence to trust my gut feeling.
I'm not talking about E.T.s or UFOs here, I'm talking about watching a couple of movies that influenced the horror/sci-fi movie Alien. I haven't seen Alien in years, but I finally got around to seeing the John Carpenter-directed movie Dark Star, which was written by, and starred Alien screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, who died in 2008. Dark Star is a blackly comedic science-fiction film about the crew of a spaceship sent on a twenty-year mission to seek and destroy unstable planets ahead of any efforts to colonize other solar systems:
One of the film's sequences involves the conflict between Sergeant Pinback (played by writer Dan O'Bannon) and a beach-ball shaped alien lifeform that he has taken aboard as a "mascot" for the mission. While the episode is largely played for dark, slapstick humor, it prefigures the movie Alien, in which the theme of a hunt for a hostile alien stowaway was extended to become a serious, and terrifying feature film. Dark Star also prefigures Alien in that the crew of the spaceship is portrayed as a bunch of working-stiffs, gradually losing their minds as their mission drags on, and shipboard malfunctions mount to a life-threatening degree. I wouldn't characterize Dark Star as a comedy per se, but it has its incredibly funny moments. The end of the movie is a downer, but it achieves a startling poignancy
I was particularly struck by the line uttered by the character Talby, who, upon hearing Doolittle exclaim that he's going to burn up in the atmosphere of the planet that he's falling toward, whispers, "When you hit the atmosphere, you'll start to burn... What a beautiful way to die, as a falling star." Damn, it was hard not to mist up hearing that. The other scene which I found extremely poignant (as well as eerie as hell) was when Doolittle, acting captain, consulted with the cryogenically frozen Commander Powell, who had fallen victim to a mishap- the captain's plaintive "I'm glad you could come to talk with me, Doolittle. It's been so long since anyone has come to talk with me." It was another surprisingly tender scene in this low-budget marvel of a movie.
I'd recommend Dark Star to any fans of the science-fiction genre, and fans of the Alien franchise in particular.
I also decided to watch Planet of the Vampires, originally titled Terrore Nello Spazio:
This low-budget horror/sci-fi film was directed by horror meister Mario Bava, whose dubious claim to fame was inventing the "slasher" film. Planet of the Vampires also has a couple of scenes which seem to have inspired Alien, specifically a scene involving the investigation of a an ancient derelict spacecraft. While the plot can be somewhat confusing at times, the set design is wonderfully eerie. The costume design is a hoot- the hapless crews of the spaceships stranded on the eponymous planet are decked out in tight-leather jumpsuits with high collars (only the crew of a spaceship in an Italian movie would be so fashionably turned out). The end of the movie was a surprise worthy of a film by M. Night Shabba Doo, although when I discovered the twist ending, I expected something more like the world-shaking revelation in Quatermass and the Pit.
Sure, there are other movies which inspired Alien, like It! The Terror from Beyond Space and The Thing from Another World, but there's only so much movie-watching a d00d can do, especially a d00d who's not too big on movies. At any rate, Dark Star is really a must-see for fans of science-fiction cinema (it's like the bizarro world 2001, with the only alien being a nasty, stupid beach ball, rather than a transcendent overseer of human evolution. Planet of the Vampires, while a fun movie, is best enjoyed by fans of the more pulpy Italian movies (Rossellini, it ain't), and people who are into the leather scene.
Of course, major fans of Alien should watch both of these films.