Out of the darkness descends a shadow, unfolding from the somewhere unseen above. It curls down and drops to the gleaming metal floor below, at home in darkness, and only after it is standing at its full height do you realize it’s seven or eight feet tall.
Light glints off its edges, giving you an impression of a sleek, bony frame and sharp, shining edges carved of something jet black. It rises above you, towering like an obelisk.
You start to back away, horrified as black lips slide away from silver teeth that seem to shine with their own light, emerging slowly from the slick black head. And suddenly an entire second set of jaws explode forward like a battering ram, a living bullet, tearing through flesh.
That’s if you’re lucky.
Much more likely is the creature, the alien, will ambush you. You’ll never see it coming as its long, thin claws wrap around your face and chest and it rips you off the ground with incredible strength, dragging you off to its hive. There, it will secrete a glue that will bind you, cocoon you, to any hard surface. There, you’ll wait.
You’ll wait for the babies.
The alien might eat you, sure, if it feels like. But what it wants to do is feed you to its hive’s young. Imprisoned in the hive, another sort of alien, which looks like a spider, will attach itself to your face, force a tube down your throat, and lay an egg in your stomach. Where it will grow.
Before long, it’s time for the baby to be born. It’ll use its teeth. And it’ll come through your ribcage.
That’s easily the most horrifying experience I can imagine – becoming the victim of a creature that doesn’t just want to eat you, but to rape you so fully that when you finally give birth to the bastard child, it will kill you; and that you’ll help in the creation of a thing that knows nothing but murder. I’ve been captivated, and held captive, by visions – and fears – of the monster ever since I first saw Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” and even before that, when I read the novelization of writer Dan O’Bannon’s script for the film when I was around 9.
I found the novel, its cover coming loose and pages hanging half-free of the binding, in a used book store in Toronto. “Alien 3” was released just two years before and when that happened, the film series became a part of my consciousness that I’ve never been able to shake. A fan of sci-fi for the entirety of my life, I couldn’t put the book down. It was incredibly frightening – the story of a group of bored working-stiff spacemen on a tugboat dragging an interstellar mine across the galaxy. And then they were attacked by a monster that killed them all in the most vicious way possible.
O’Bannon died on Dec. 17 at the age of 65. He was a writer and director for films, including “Return of the Living Dead,” a genre-altering zombie movie. (The zombie moaning “braaaaaiiiins” is the child of “Return.”) But O’Bannon’s work on “Alien” is what changed the worlds of science fiction, film and horror for me forever.
There are occasions when I’ll awake with a start and a cold sweat, searching the darkness in my room, convinced that one of those huge creatures is waiting just out of sight. There are few other stories that have had such a profound effect on my psyche. When I was young, I consumed all I could from the “Alien” universe – movies, novels based on the films, comics, video games, even toys.
O’Bannon’s death reminded me of how acutely this one story has affected me. The alien and its awful power and singular purpose still is one of the most original horror conceptions I’ve ever encountered – nothing I’ve seen that’s been created in last 30 years even compares. How many movie monsters have you ever had a nightmare about? Because my list is short (though it is a list, and maybe that makes me weird).
The list of things I can designate as “Made Me Want to Be a Writer” is huge, with more items that I can enumerate or probably even remember. But high on the list (really, really high) is the work of Dan O’Bannon on “Alien.” Really, it boils down to a single idea – but that single idea, that alien creature, holds the place as the scariest thing of which I’ve ever heard. That’s an incredible achievement, in my mind.
The very reason for creating something is to have a serious effect on the lives of others. O’Bannon didn’t do a ton of memorable work – the majority of his movies are some of which I’ve never heard – but just this one idea was so formative to me that the man had a serious influence on my writing in all genres, and in science fiction and horror in particular.
I wake up from bad dreams about O’Bannon’s monsters.
But it’s always a good thing.