In celebration of Harry Dean Stanton

Harry Dean Stanton has passed away, and the acting world is a little bit lesser for it. Stanton was in my mind one of the finest actors of the last 50 years, and not as the BBC would have it, a ‘cult actor’. In fact it’s only when you look at his C.V. that you realise the man didn’t stop working for six decades so you can’t call someone who appeared in huge mainstream films and on massively popular TV series as a ‘cult’ actor. He was an actor who didn’t look like a leading man, but instead looked like ‘normal people’ and this was his attraction in a medium where people look extraordinary.

Like most people of my age I first noticed him in Alien. where he enjoys a great death scene.

Imagine Alien though without Stanton (or indeed any of the cast) and with traditional Hollywood actors and it wouldn’t work as well. In fact you only need to look at Alien: Covenant to see what that looks like. However as my education into film progressed it wasn’t hard to see Stanton seemingly everywhere from the glorious Cool Hand Luke to what’s still one of my favourite WW2 films, Kelly’s Heroes.

It is safe to say though that after Alien, Stanton became a higher profile actor and during the 1980’s carved himself a niche playing roles in some of the best (and in some cases vastly underrated) films of the decade. From The Rose, to Escape From New York, Stanton would appear in crucial roles but three films he appeared in during the 80’s also happen to be in my mind three of the best films ever made.

Death Watch is a SF film shot in a Glasgow still blacked by the industrial revolution and still dragging itself into the 20th century. It’s a fantastic backdrop for a story that seems prescient as reality TV vomited into the world a few decades later.

Repo Man is one of the few films that hits a perfect Punk attitude. The film shares some of its DNA with the comic Love and Rockets, and is wonderfully seedy in a way we never seem to get in film anymore.

Paris, Texas is one of the best films ever made.Stanton makes the film soar with one of the best openings you’ll ever see in a film.

In 1990 Stanton and director David Lynch finally linked up with Wild at Heart, then a few years later with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

He later worked with Lynch in a small, but crucial role in The Straight Story and Inland Empire, while seemingly never stopping working in films good, bad and just plain bloody awful or popping up in cameos in mega-blockbusters like The Avengers.

A few weeks ago the Twin Peaks return finished on a high with Stanton returning playing the same role as he did in Fire Walk With Me 25 years ago.

I could list more and more, but Harry Dean Stanton had a career like no other and will never be replaced because he’s a one-off who leaves us an amazing body of work. He’ll be missed.

The original Alien trailer is a thing of horrific glory

Alien: Covenant is out today. Directed by Ridley Scott this is a prequel to 1979’s Alien, and 1979 was a vastly different time to today. Today film trailers force feed you the same stuff as all trailers are the same…

1979 was a different world. Computers were the size of a room, flares were still being worn without the aid of drugs and beige was the colour of choice of parents of all schoolchildren in the UK. Film trailers were different too and in Alien’s case, it produced one of the greatest trailers for a film I’ve ever seen.

Brilliant isn’t it.

A word of appreciation for John Hurt

John Hurt has passed away, and the world is a wee bit darker today. I’m not going to go on as there’s better than me doing tributes for the man, but this is a little tour through what Hurt meant to me.

I first saw him as a kid in the superb I, Claudius, and I think at that point he became an actor who I deeply admired and over the years from there even as a young lad often unable to get into see his films I tried to keep up with his work but the man was prolific. It was however Alien that cemented Hurt in my mind forever in a scene that’s a classic in horror cinema.

From there Hurt seemed to pop up everywhere from the splendid Elephant Man, to even taking the piss out if his death in Alien in Mel Brooks Spaceballs.

Hurt dabbled with science fiction often his role as Winston Smith in 1984 is for me, utterly perfect, and although he ended up doing stuff like Harry Potter and Doctor Who, this just showed how astonishingly a versatile actor he was.

So cheerio to John Hurt, we quite literally will never see another like him again.

Eye of the Storm: Ridley Scott – Alien/Giger’s Alien

Alien is generally considered a classic SF/horror film, and that its influence has reached on for decades after the film came out. In 2017, Ridley Scott returns to the world he helped create with Alien: Covenant, which promises a return to the horror roots of the 1979 original.


Back in 1992 Scott was the subject of the BBC’s Omnibus, which was an arts documentary series and this section is all about Alien. It contains some snippets of deleted scenes and is a pretty essential, is somewhat obscure, bit of Alien lore.

In 1979, the creator of the creature, H.R. Giger was the subject of a wonderfully 1970’s documentary, Giger’s Alien, which apart from having an amazing Tangerine Dream style 70’s soundtrack, has one of the worst, and often painful, voiceovers you’ll hear in a documentary. It is however a fantastic little film rarely seen that contains some great archive footage.

2017 is going to be a big year for Alien fans, and these films are a nice way to look back at the start of something which has entertained, and scared the shit, out of people for nearly 40 years.

Being a fan of a film in the analogue age-What the marketing of ‘Alien’ tells us about how hard it was to be a fan

In 1979 I was 12, six years away from seeing Ridley Scott’s Alien which had an X certificate which meant nobody under the age of 18 could get in. Now I could just about get away with getting into a AA film (sort of like the current 15 rating but you could normally get in if you were accompanied by an adult) but there’s not a chance I could escape the Stasi-like stare of a cinema usher.

One of the joys of seeing AA films was you got trailers for X rated films, so when I went to see the Ralph Bakshi animated Lord of the Rings, I was confronted with this.

I was hooked but couldn’t see the film, but what I could do was nag my parents and brothers to get me everything related to the film. See in today’s digital age if I were 12 again, I’d be able to actually see the film if I had a computer and access to an internet connection. In 1979 there was no internet, and the idea of home computers was a dream only of people like Clive Sinclair.

So first thing I got was Alan Dead Foster’s novelisation, the easiest way to live a film without having to see it.


That wasn’t enough. I eventually managed to get a copy of The Book of Alien, which is still an amazing book.


Then I had Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s stunning Alien:The Illustrated Story.


I also managed to grab the photonovel (photonovels were fumetti, and hugely popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s) of Alien, a chunky, huge beast of a book.


I even managed to somehow get a Alien model kit which I lovingly built until years later it suffered a fatal breakage that would make even Olympic athletes cringe.


One of my brothers managed to pick up a film programme, something you never see but this piece of marketing stuck with films til the 1980’s at least.Somewhere I’ve got a few of these sitting around.


There were also the Alien poster magazines.



I even grabbed in the Barras in Glasgow a copy of Warren’s Alien special.


Then there were various issues of Starlog, Starburst, Fantastic Films, or any of those great film magazines that used to be around.


In effect I knew every single bit of minutiae of Alien, but I was utterly unable to see it. Then in 1981 at a science fiction convention in Glasgow I saw a Super 8 edited version of the film.


There’s even a copy (in badly dubbed French) on YouTube.

These Super 8 abridged versions were the only way most of us could own any version of a film we loved before the days of video. The Super 8 versions of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are also fantastic examples of this now long gone form of memorabilia.

I digress only slightly, but here’s the point. Pre-video, you could get a dazzling amount of tie-in merchandise, but owning a copy of the film was amazingly hard, if not impossible outwith of the Super 8 versions so you hoped it’d turn up on TV or in my case, my balls would drop hard enough for puberty to kick in so I could blag my way into a cinema years before I was legally able to.

Thankfully I finally saw the complete Alien, albeit on a small screen in 1982 when ITV broadcast it during the World Cup of that year.

This still wasn’t seeing it in a cinema with an audience on a big screen and decent sound. I had to wait another couple of years for that when Alien finally turned up at the GFT, and finally, around six years and a set of bollocks dropping later, I finally saw Alien on a big screen.  The last time I saw it on a big screen was in 2003 when on a visit to Stockholm for their film festival the directors cut was playing at a cinema in the old part of the city. It still works oh so well on the big screen but this was a film I had to work hard to actually see rather than flip open my laptop, go to some website of dubious legality, and then download what I want.

So kids, when you’re complaining that it takes too long between Marvel films, or that you want a new Star Wars film every week, think of us poor fans back in what you’d probably call prehistoric times. We had to work for a living, tsk…

My Top 20 SF Films-3-Alien/Aliens

I’ve recently dived into doing ”best of’ lists, so as I’ve explained, I’ve decided to do my top 20 SF films. This is my personal list, so feel free to disagree with it and of course, you’ll be horribly wrong.

Previously at # 20, The Matrix19, Seconds, 18A Boy and His Dog17Sunshine16Dark Star15Rollerball14 Altered States13, Close Encounters of the Third Kind ,12Forbidden Planet11The Star Wars Trilogy10The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension9Dark City, 812 Monkeys, 7, Starship Troopers6The Day the Earth Stood Still ,5, Videodrome and 4, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

As we enter the top three, it’s a double bill of Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s superb sequel, Aliens.


Alien is one of my favourite SF films (and it also works as a horror film but stick with me here) because it presents a working future world, an alien planet and a species so totally alien to humans. It builds all this up so well that it provides a base for the horror film that breaks out around 45 minutes into the film. Without the world-building for the first part of the film we would be watching any B Movie for the 1950’s with a man in a rubber suit going ‘ARRRRGHHH’ at actors in jumpsuits.

The beauty about Alien is that it’s a bit like that but it spends the time, and more importantly money on exceptional talent to create what we’re seeing on screen in front of us, so by the time we get to that scene with John Hurt we’re sold. Once we see the monster in it’s shadowy glory we’re fascinated and scared silly at the same time because this really is about making sure we’re thrilled, but scared.

I love the film obviously, but it took me a while to see it. I was too young to see it initially at the cinema, though I do remember the queues snaking round the Odeon in Glasgow that seemed to last for weeks and weeks. The first time I saw anything of Alien was an edited Super 8 version (in the past before VHS or DVD this was often the only way anyone not stupidly wealthy could own a film)  at a SF convention in Glasgow. Then I saw it on VHS, then on TV and from then I’ve seen it on a big screen at the cinema several times. I suggest taking the chance to do the same if you can.

Alien is almost perfect. It was however only a matter of time before a sequel pulled up and ruined it for everyone. Well, thankfully that bit is wrong….

Aliens is James Cameron’s excellent sequel. It doesn’t attempt to remake the original as many sequels do, no, he makes his own film which is the first real SF combat film that was rooted in real world battles.

I was at the opening of the film at Glasgow at the very first performance on the first afternoon with the rest of the lads (bar one or two) from the legendary comic shop, AKA Books and Comics. It was to this day an astonishing experience as we were all pumped up for this film after months of being teased by what little information and footage sneaked into the UK. This was before the age of internet spoilers so you really did walk into films not quite knowing every single thing which is going to unfurl itself onscreen in front of you. This was the case with Aliens.

After eventually leaving the cinema after toying to stay to watch the next performance (you could stay in an watch the film again back in the day) we decided to go out, get something to eat, and grab the stragglers who missed the afternoon performance so we could go back for the Friday night show, and this ended up being one of the best night’s I’ve ever spent in a cinema. The crowd were brilliant. They reacted at the right bit, and the tension in the air, especially at the end could be boxed and sold. As for the final victorious ending I’ve never had such a feeling of relief, and of course, exhilaration as then. Well, it’d be a few years til I did but that’s a story for another time…

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen both films. Every time I do they still seem as fresh as a daisy, and that’s the sign of a great film, and of course, a great sequel.

Next time, we go on the hunt for Replicants….