In the nights that followed, in bed, I would rub my own chest and try to fall asleep with my mouth clenched closed. I didn’t watch Alien until I reached college. Did it eat the astronaut from the inside? Looking back now, I can’t remember if I pleaded with my aunt to tell me more after she teased the premise of Alien, or if she matter-of-factly spilled the story of the doomed Nostromo like the cool young-aunt that she was. In my 9-year-old head, the downed UFO resembled the one that took E.T. My innocent imagination then absorbed a series of traumatic shocks: a creepy lobsterpus launched itself at one of the astronaut’s face, wrapped itself around his head, and bled acid that burned through the ship — before dying an offscreen death and allowing the astronaut to recover his health. Because those human reactions to the horror were the emotions I’d wrestled with for a decade without ever seeing the sequence. Finally, I remember how that alien just refused to die — how it kept popping up every time Ripley thought she’d won. But her take on the first Alien adventure was my own personal Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds. I remember Ripley racing to escape the ship before it self-destructed — my aunt counting down the minutes and seconds in her telling. The notion of such an injury was so far beyond what my sheltered imagination could fathom. As far as I knew, the story was over. “But how does she know [the alien is really gone]?” I remember asking, a quiver of mistrust in my voice. If that iconic scene gave you nightmares after you saw it, I assure you that the mere description — “the alien burst out of his chest” — was even more unnerving, planting an Alien egg in my subconscious that refused to go away. When she finally shoots it out of the shuttle’s airlock and then rocket-blasts it into space, I refused to believe it was actually gone and became panicked. What I remember is being curious and oblivious, not unlike the ship’s crew that stumbled upon some strange pods in an abandoned alien spaceship while exploring an uncharted planetoid. My haircut was finished. As my peers discovered it during our teenage years, the famous chest-burster scene became an inevitable touchstone of gross-out coolness. 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection
When I returned to Aunt Barbara’s for my next trim, we didn’t immediately pick up right where the story left off. And now, with Alien: Covenant in theaters, it seems like the kid was right to ask the question: “But how does she know [the alien is really gone]?”
Show Full Article I had to wait a month to find out. I couldn’t stop thinking: What did the alien look like? Would the aliens emerge and welcome them with music? I met Jones the Cat and started to root for Ripley (who hadn’t made a positive first impression because she wouldn’t let the injured Kane back on the ship). Aunt Barbara lived about two miles away, and every month or so, my slightly older brother and I would visit for a trim. “Then the alien burst out of his chest.”
That was how the story ended that day: the alien burst out of his chest. Burst out of his chest. In the summer of 1982, getting my hair cut became a terrifying experience. It’s a tribute to Ridley Scott and his team that when I finally watched Alien, the chest-burster scene lived up to the nightmare in my head. Those actors make the scene real in a way that reminds everyone of the scared 9-year-old inside. home or landed behind Devil’s Tower at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Her serialized stories helped make me love movies and eager to see if they were as good on the big screen as they were in her telling. She was a vivid, imaginative storyteller, conveying all sorts of plot, character, and suspense to a kid who would commit every detail to memory in order to fit in with the cool kids who had cable and saw the movies he wasn’t allowed to see. Or worse, would an alien burst out of her chest, like the unseen horror that I couldn’t shake? In the summertime, she’d set up her chair in the backyard, drape a towel around our shoulders, and take her time snipping our manes as she asked us about our lives and activities. Both are possible, and it really doesn’t matter. She had forgotten our last conversation, and I semi-patiently waited until the first lull in the conversation before I asked, “So what happened to the man with the alien in his belly?”
She stopped cutting my bangs and smiled. In fact, I had the best and coolest barber you could ever imagine: my father’s youngest sister. In August 1982, Aunt Barbara saw Alien. Would I return in a month to hear that the alien had crept back on to the shuttle and devoured Ripley and Jones in their sleep? Scary to me was Darth Vader cutting off Luke’s hand. My aunt was checking to make sure my hair was even on both sides, brushing off a few clingy stray hairs before my brother jumped in the chair, when she said the words that would haunt me for years. I avoided it like the plague for as long as I could. Aunt Barbara continued to cut my hair until I went to college, and if I still lived nearby, I’m sure she still would. But like everyone else my age, I’d been changed forever by Star Wars and its first sequel, and begged to see every space movie that followed, like Disney’s The Black Hole and Steven Spielberg’s E.T. Needless to say, I had not. I was only 9 years old, but it wasn’t the barber’s chair or the buzz of the clippers that spooked me. It’s terrifying to watch, but not just because of the sharp-toothed critter that punches its way through John Hurt’s T-shirt. She had her own children, even younger than I was, but she loved to pick our brains about school and sports and movies that we liked. Thanks to my Aunt Barbara’s storytelling, I could bluff my way through those conversations — but I had no desire to see what my brain had imagined. Over my next two haircut visits, I learned the fate of Kane and Dallas and the rest of the Nostromo crew. The alien looked different than I imagined, but the humans I recognized too well. The alien. Rather, it’s Hurt’s anguish, his writhing, his helplessness, the way Tom Skerritt and Yaphet Kotto freeze at the first geyser of blood, and the way an overwhelmed Veronica Cartwright shrieks “Oh, my God” as the beast emerges that made me squirm. What in hell did that mean? My aunt and her husband had HBO, a forbidden luxury in my own house, and she would often regale us with the plots of the latest hit movies that played round the clock on the nascent cable movie station. Was my aunt ending the story this way out of convenience, because my haircut had been finished for a good 10 minutes by that point?