CITY Screen, York, will mark the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott's Alien with a special 8.30pm screening on Monday.

Released in 1979, in the wake of Star Wars (there was a glut of science fiction films in the wake of George Lucas’s runaway success), the science-fiction horror film offers an altogether grimmer view of reality.

According to Christopher Booker, there are only seven basic plots, and Alien is "Overcoming The Monster" par excellence.

When it was pitched to Hollywood studios, the sales summary would, later, become renowned: "Jaws in Space". The crew of Nostromo are deep in space when they are awoken by a distress beacon, which they then investigate.

This turns out to be a bad mistake, as one crew member becomes infected by the Alien breed on the planet. Trapped on a space ship, the crew are decimated by the rapidly growing creature. It’s a nightmarish vision of Darwinian survival as the crew become more and more desperate in their efforts to defeat the monster.

The best sci-fi is unflinching about an imperfect universe, and the crew are depicted as entirely human, with arguments about how much they are getting paid, and who should take responsibility for the unfolding crisis.

The cast are great: the scene where Harry Dean Stanton goes in search of Jones, the ship’s ginger cat, and removes his hat to allow dripping water to splash on to his face is still - remarkably - beautiful and tense. One of the things that makes the film work is the way it unfolds slowly. Nothing is rushed - unlike many films today.

Psychologically, it is tremendously powerful, as we barely see the creature, and the lack of glimpses realise the power of the unseen, in a similar way to The Blair Witch Project.

The soundtrack touches on the oddities of finite existence, and uses noises of breathing and heartbeats to powerful effect. Ridley Scott is a genius with light and dark; his other films such as Blade Runner and Gladiator are brilliant at it too, but it is perhaps at its best in Alien, with the persistent gloom and darkness punctuated by shafts of light. The design by H R Giger is grotesque, with its Freudian echoes of sexual imagery.

The film made a star of Sigourney Weaver, only 29 at the time of its release. Her character, Ripley, emerges slowly from the crew as the film’s heroine, and the film’s use of a female lead (with a little known actor) was surprising.

Alien’s most famous scene, where the creature leaps out of John Hurt’s chest, became a big moment in cinema. My uncle, Trevor Brooker, was on set when this happened and related that the surprise on the faces of the cast was entirely genuine: nobody knew what was about to occur. It’s terrific, visceral stuff.

The film spawned numerous sequels, but none was as powerful as the original, which unfolds with tremendous claustrophobic power. A nightmarish vision which looks gorgeous. In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.

Alien (15), City Screen, York, Monday, March 4, 8.30pm. Box office: 0871 902 5747 or

By Miles Salter, York writer, storyteller, music and film buff.