The first time I saw the first Alien movie, I was so unnerved I had to turn on the lights a month later when an ad came on TV late at night. The first time I saw “Aliens,” I thought it was the most comprehensively effective thing I’d ever seen. Perhaps you had to be there - if you’re younger than I happen to be, you’ve seen “Aliens” repeated over and over again. But at the time? This was every movie we’d waited for.
This (as usual for Lileks) is exactly right.
When "Alien" came out in 1979, I was ten years old, and only a solid month of wheedling directed at my mother got me in the door of the theater for what was my first R-rated movie (we didn't even have cable until I was about 15). Mom, who had volunteered to screen the movie first, told me as I got out of the car (and before waving to the girl at the counter that it was okay to let me in), sent one last warning: "It's going to give you bad dreams."
Boy, was she right about that. I have nightmares about Giger's monster literally to this day. But on the whole, it was worth it.
"Aliens" was released seven years later, and by that time I had a driver's license and was just tall enough to not get carded at R-rated movies. It opened with a free midnight show in the next town over, sponsored by the local radio station. Two buddies and I piled into my hand-me-down Ford LTD (handed down from my mom, of course), and rolled over to Dothan to check it out. This was obviously pre-internet, and "Aliens" was launched with very little promotional fanfare. We literally knew nothing about the movie other than it was a sequel to "Alien" (which by then we had practically memorized thanks to videotape), and that based on the title, there was probably going to be more than one of the critters.
I remember that I bought a big tub of popcorn, and set it down under my seat just as the 20th Century Fox logo rolled.
I didn't touch that corn for the entire movie. Completely forgot it was there.
To say that we were blown away by "Aliens" is kind of like suggesting that Richard Pryor sort of liked drugs. At well past 2:30 in the morning, the three of us just babbled about the movie for the entire drive home, then carried on about it for another hour or so sitting on the car in the driveway. As James notes above, it was absolutely everything we wanted in a movie at that time. Bill Paxon's Private Hudson immediately became our unofficial imaginary friend, to be quoted at every opportunity--and come to think of it, he's still there, on the occasions when we all get together.
I think my gang of cronies all went to see "Aliens" at least ten times that summer. Every single time, in the infirmary scene where the facehuggers are chasing Ripley and Newt around the room, we'd nudge each other and mutter, "You going to jump this time?"
And every time, we all did.
Try it yourself at home, with the DVD. I bet you'll still jump.