Alien turns 40: Ridley Scott reveals how iconic chestburster scene almost went horribly wrong

Director wanted to do the scene in one take to capture the organic surprise of the other cast members

Roisin O'Connor@Roisin_OConnor
Saturday 25 May 2019 13:35
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Ridley Scott's Alien - trailer

Ridley Scott has revealed the iconic chestburster scene in Alien almost went very wrong, in an interview marking the 40th anniversary of the classic sci-fi film.

The director spoke with The Hollywood Reporter where he discussed the making of the film and how they landed on the design for the monster.

Addressing one of the most memorable (and disturbing) moments of the film, Scott explained that the one-take event almost went awry as cameras were rolling, which would have spoiled the organic reactions he wanted for the cast.

“I had four or five cameras running that morning on that set, and there’s power lines, air lines, that will blow blood everywhere,” he said.

“I knew once that happens, the white set will be decimated and will take probably two weeks to clean up. So there was no second take. So I positioned everything the way I felt is going to happen, where it was going to come out. And poor John Hurt was lying strapped down on the table under an artificial chest. And we shot and I honestly had to cross my fingers.”

Scott yelled, “Action!”, but quickly realised something was terribly wrong.

“The T-shirt didn’t open,” he said. “All there is, is this bump in the T-shirt that flashes out and then it goes away. So I scream, ‘Cut! Cut! Cut! Cut! Cut!’ And all the actors start laughing, but they’re kind of nervous because they haven’t seen it.

“I go back and say, ‘Clear the set!’ They all go off the set. I crawl in on top of John Hurt — poor bugger lying there — and I’m razor-blading the T-shirt so it will pop when the alien hits the back of the T-shirt. We went again. And it was perfect.”

A chestbuster in 'Alien'

In his tribute to Alien, The Independent’s critic Ed Cumming wrote how the original is ”still the most gripping sci-fi horror ever made“.

“Its pacing, with a slow start building to a frenetic climax, is masterful. Its design has held up where more recent films look dated,” he writes.

“For sci-fi, it depends remarkably little on technology. There are spaceships and weapons and androids, but they are not the main focus. The further we get from the time the film was made, the easier it is to see Alien as an artefact separate from its contemporary technology and the less egregious its clunky computer screens, for example, seem.”

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