Ridley Scott Wanted Real Reactions in 'Alien,' So He Shocked His Actors

That Alien chest-burster scene? The actors didn't see it coming.

As surprised as you might have been the first time you saw the creature burst out of John Hurt's chest in Alien, the actors were even more shocked. That's because they didn't know it was going to happen.

In Dan O'Bannon and Walter Hill's script, the description merely read, "the thing emerges." Hoping to elicit authentic responses from the actors in the scene, Ridley Scott engineered the practical effect in private. "If an actor is just acting terrified, you can't get the genuine look of raw, animal fear," he told Empire Magazine.

"In those days prosthetics weren't that good," Scott continued. "I figured the best thing to do was to get stuff from a butcher's shop and a fishmonger." That's right: the blood and guts are cow organs, clams, and oysters. "You can't make better stuff than that," said Scott. "It's organic."

On the day of the scene, Scott had his team stuff Hurt's "chest cavity" with the baby Xenomorph and butcher's organs. They pumped stage blood into a couple of hoses and, when the moment was right, set the gag in motion. Actress Veronica Cartwright was immediately hit by a spurt of blood; she was so shocked that she passed out on the spot.

As if scaring his actors half to death just once wasn't enough, Scott surprised crew members with a similar trick on the set of Prometheus when he rigged a creature to fly out of a character's mouth.

A new video from Vulture details the "gut-wrenching" process from Alien:

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7 Comments

That's pretty funny when you think about it

November 30, 2016 at 2:43PM

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Logan McNay
Cinematographer
350

Bit late to the presses here NFS reporting news that's over THIRTY years old goodness gracious.

November 30, 2016 at 4:41PM

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Tim Brennan
Big Boss
183

Easy, tiger. Considering probably more than half of NFS's readers weren't even born when Alien came out, it's very likely news to them. :-)
Me, I was in the audience on opening day, and I remember nearly soiling myself. Ridley Scott is a f**king genius.

November 30, 2016 at 9:25PM

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Scott Vanderbilt
Production Sound mixer
170

Paul Greengrass did something similar in Captain Phillips. The first time Tom Hanks and the others on the bridge of the ship "met" the Somalia Pirate actors was when they stormed the bridge yelling with guns, etc..... The reactions are instinctive and thus very real, a very effective technique!!

December 1, 2016 at 10:26AM, Edited December 1, 10:26AM

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Man I love this. I never knew this, but love watching the faces again and seeing the real in them...

We won a 48 hour contest years ago by not telling the actors they were in a mocumentary, but rather a drama called "Murky Waters" ... some of the reactions were priceless, and by the days end everyone had pretty much walked off set.

The experience always stuck with me; this weird line between narrative and documentary. I'll share it here if you want to see it, but be warned, its a good 10 years old and like one of the first things I ever tried to make.

https://vimeo.com/6193401

Actually got beat up twice on this shoot. Was worth it.

December 2, 2016 at 1:37PM

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Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor
605

December 5, 2016 at 11:16AM

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Kyle Lowe
Filmmaker
89

I did a film a couple of years ago with Veronica Cartwright, and I asked her about this. She calls BS. She said they all new it was going to happen, how could they not? John Hurt was laying on a table with SFX guys underneath with wires, sticks and remote controls. They had all seen the baby Alien in pre-pro. She said it was a surprise the blood squirted everywhere, but other than that...

June 16, 2020 at 8:01AM

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Anthony Wood
Writer/Producer
155