'Alien': The Ultimate Franchise Moment Not Even 'Covenant' Could Top

The original chestburster was a "one-take-only operation" due to the mess, director Ridley Scott once explained.
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation/Photofest
The chestburster scene from 'Alien'.

Alien: Covenant is chock-full of dazzling special effects, a few plot twists and turns, and, of course gore, but there isn't a scene that tops the ultimate moment in the franchise's history: The "chestburster" from the 1979 original. 

Now, this isn't really a fair comparison; that horrifying instant in Ridley Scott's Alien being one of the most iconic in cinema history. But still, it is worth bringing up since all the Alien films that followed clearly attempted to have similar shocking moments. 

So why did the first chestburster scene work so well? First and foremost, nothing like it had ever been seen before. The carnage of an alien ripping its way out of a human being was unimaginable for most viewers. 

Next, the effect was practical. This is so important because it looked real. John Hurt, who played Kane, wasn't laying in front of a greenscreen with a fabric-wrapped poll protruding from his stomach awaiting CGI rendering. The scene played out on set.

"This was going to create such a mess, it was going to be a one-take-only operation," Scott said in a behind-the-scenes feature on DVD. 

Hurt's Kane, writhing in pain, was lowered onto the table by the cast during the scene and stretched out so the effects could start. "And somewhere in there, there would be an air line on his chest that would blast pink sugar (which looked like dark blood on film)," Scott explained. 

The set was then cleared and an artificial chest was screwed down onto the table with a t-shirt that had tiny razor incisions so it would rip easier, Scott said. Then fake blood lines with high pressure pumps started to "blow blood everywhere" before the puppet emerged, operated by handlers under the table. 

Even the cast was shocked by the moment. It was scripted that a creature would appear, but most the actors had no clue it would be so gory and realistic. And that is the final point of why the scene is so epic. Everyone — for the most part in the seats and on the screen — was legitimately shocked. 

Tom Skerritt, who played Dallas, said he watched the effect set-up, so he had some idea how it would play out. Other actors, not so much. 

"I remember Veronica [Cartwright] (Lambert) had no idea and wanted to be kept in the dark," Skerritt explained on the behind-the-scenes featurette. "What you saw on camera was the real response she had, because she had no idea what the hell happened when all of a sudden this thing came out." 

Harry Dean Stanton, who played Brett, was in actual disbelief, he said on the feature. 

"It was shocking," Stanton said. "All at once it was, like, for real." 

Star Sigourney Weaver was also stunned. 

"There is this great master where we are all watching it run off like (looks stunned) because we were all totally taken aback. ... It looked alive," she said. "'How'd they do that?' [we asked] as actors and as characters."

Watch the ultimate Alien scene below: 

For more from Alien: Covenant, take a look at why the Xenomorph remains horrifying to audiences decades later, this handy primer for what you actually need to know before seeing the latest sequel/prequel and our interview with star Billy Crudup.

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