Making 'Alien' Was Even More Horrific Than The Final Product

While Alien is arguably one of the most terrifying movies of all time, members of its film crew claim making the thing was even scarier. Production on Alien was a complete nightmare for pretty much everyone involved, including director Ridley Scott. The set was hot and smelly, the actors were constantly endangered by malfunctioning equipment, and the studio could barely even get the movie made in the first place. 

So what was it really like on the set of Alien? The cast and crew have been fairly candid about their experiences. They've frequently shared their firsthand accounts in interviews, and the consensus is that it was hard. Actors fainted from the grueling conditions and traumatic images they saw on set. The stench of rotting animal meat was everywhere. It was a dank hellhole designed to be both a psychological and physical labyrinth. These are the most traumatizing stories from the set of Alien

  • The Set Reeked Of Animal Intestines, Formaldehyde, And Rotting Seafood

    Making movies can be messy work - especially in the 1970s. According to numerous crew accounts, the set of Alien stunk to high heaven. There's a good deal of blood and guts in the film, and Ridley Scott was known to be a bit of a perfectionist when it came to the aesthetic of the movie. Since prosthetics at the time were of fairly low quality, Scott resorted to using real animal parts to make the gore as realistic as possible. In his words:

    I figured the best thing to do was to get stuff from a butcher's shop and a fishmonger. On the morning we had them examining the Facehugger; that was clams, oysters, seafood. You had to be ready to shoot because it started to smell pretty quickly. You can't make better stuff than that - it's organic.

    Other crew members complained of the horrific stench on set: a mixture of rotting organs, shellfish, and formaldehyde. 

  • Actors Nearly Blacked Out After Spacesuit Oxygen Tanks Malfunctioned

    Fox execs were notoriously tight-pursed when it came to Alien, and it took some serious convincing from Scott to boost the budget from $4 million to $8 million. Even then, sacrifices were required in various departments to make the movie happen. This included the props and costume departments, which ended up being quite dangerous for the actors.

    The spacesuit costumes seen in the film induced claustrophobia and required air tanks to pump oxygen inside for the actors. The tanks were shoddy at best, and actors Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright both claim to have nearly suffocated due to tank malfunctions. These suits were hot and heavy, making it even more difficult on the actors. 

  • The Actors Were Deliberately Trapped On A Self-Contained Set

    Alien was designed to engender isolation and helplessness, and the set was specifically constructed with a short ceiling to make it more claustrophobic. It was built with only one entrance and exit.

    The layout of the Nostromo demanded walking through the entire thing to get out. This made the actors extremely uncomfortable - like they had no way to escape - and likely influenced their performances. 

  • Ridley Scott Made The Pulsating Alien Egg Move

    There were a lot of real animal parts used in the making of Alien. Scott believed that actual viscera looked more realistic than prosthetics and used them wherever he could.

    In the scene with the original alien egg, the egg is actually filled with sheep intestines and beef organs to give it a more organic look and texture. Scott took it upon himself to animate the egg, donning a surgical glove to wriggle the insides around. The crew was fairly disgusted by this writhing mass, which is precisely the effect Scott was going for. 

  • Ridley Scott's Young Children Passed Out Inside A Faulty Space Suit

    To make the scale of the Space Jockey scene as impressive as possible, Ridley Scott used his own children instead of the main actors to portray the characters in their spacesuits. This made everything in the shot appear larger, but it was also extremely taxing for the kids. The air tubes that were supposed to circulate oxygen throughout the suits were not very effective, and the kids were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes. This led to them passing out on at least one occasion. 

  • Veronica Cartwright Passed Out After Being Showered With Chestburster Blood

    There were many tough days on set, but the chestburster scene was particularly difficult for the cast. They had no idea what was going to happen that day, because Ridley Scott deliberately kept them in the dark. When asked about this decision, Scott said:

    The reactions were going to be the most difficult thing. If an actor is just acting terrified, you can't get the genuine look of raw, animal fear.

    No one had as big of a reaction to the visceral explosion as Veronica Cartwright, who plays Lambert in the film. According to her castmates, Cartwright had a bit of a panic attack and fainted shortly after the take. Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon notes that a three-foot jet of blood "caught her smack in the kisser."