Van Vogt wrote two stories – “Black Destroyer” and “The Scarlewt (Something – I can’t remember what)” that he later inegrated into the novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle (He called the process of writing short stories and publishing them, then piecing them into a novel a “fix-up”, a term the Science Fiction Encyclopedia has adopted). “Black Destroyer” has becopme the classic “monster loose on a starship” story. I don’t know if it was the first, but it’s the best remembered. It’s always bugged me because the actions of the people seem illogical, and the ending doesn’t make a lot of sense. The only resemblance to either of the films I seee is the “monster loose on the spaceship” idea. “The Scarlet whatever” was another Monster on a Spaceship, but this one introduced the idea of it laying eggs in the crewmen’s bodies. Truly scary concept, borrowed (I assume) from the behavior of certain wasps, like the Ichneumon Fly.
Jerome Bixy wrote the screenplay for It! The Terror from Beyond Space in the 1950s. I’d be surprised if he didn’t at least know about Van Vogt’s stories, even if he hadn’t read them. But the only resemblance is the “monster on the Spaceship” idea, and the way it extracts elements from the bodies of those it attacks. (Black Destroyer took phosphorus, which it confusingly calls “id”; It, coming from super-dry Mars, absorbed water by osmosis, which I thought a neat concept). There’s no egg-laying or the like. The actions of the monster, and of the people, are logical and make sense. The creature chases the people from the bottom of the cigar-shaped space ship to the top, so there’s a cruel logic to it. Once you reach the tip, where do you go? They kill it by venting the ship --the creature uses a LOT of air, and it suffocates when that’s cut off.
There are a few anachronisms that seem weird – people smoke cigarettes (on a spaceship!!!), stores aren’t secured, but just laid in cabinets. They have gubs and grenades on board (why, in God’s name!!!). Even though there are men and women aboard (yay! Social integration!) the women get stuck with all the domestic chores. A very good low-budget and mostly neglected SF gem of a film.
Alien was written by a whole stack of people, and they’re still arguing about it, I think. The plot and concepts changed around a LOT, I understand. One of the writers, and one whose name made it to the final product, was SF film Renaissance Man Dan O’Bannon. In the film Dark Star, which O’Bannon not only helped make, but which he also acted in, he played “Pinback”, the crewman in charge of the cute alien they picked up somewhere on their trip. The alien is “The Beachball”, played by (apparently) a real beachball, painted so as to look organic, with two rubber “monster feet” stuck on the bottom. It gets loose and you have a sort of “Monster on the Spaceship” situation, only played mostly for laughs. (Pinback is stuck in an elevator shaft. The Beachball tickles him.) The Beachball scenes were added for padding, after O’Bannon, John Carpenter, etc. had made the student film version, which was too short for general distribution.
I think the idea stuck with him, and he wanted to do it for real. As long as I’m guessing motives, I’d guess that O’VBannon and company derived their plot mostly from the movie “It! etc.” than from Van Vogt, because that bit about the Alien getting sucked out of the port when they open the door into space echoes the movie, not the story. I suspect they took the idea of the implanted alien embrtos from the Roger Corman flick Night of the Blood Beast, an otherwise undistinguished flick with this one cool idea (MST3K tore up NOTBB in one of their later episodes). Some details seem to have come from the Mario Bava film Planet of Vampires – The finding of a derelict alien spacecraft, the giant skeleton of the spacecraft’s pilot still aboard (I owe Cinefantastique for that – I never would have caught it).
My beefs with Alien:
1.) Come on – how does the little chest-burster grow into that seven-foot monstrosity? Where did it get the mass from?
2.) “There’s a monster loose on this ship. We’re going over here. You go over there, where it’s dark.” They do this three times
3.) You build a warning system and use it once. Badly. “It’s coming, Dallas – get out of there!” Try telling him which way it’s coming from. And then they never use it again (!!)
4.) It’s never clear why the creature is killing people. The excised scene with the cocooned Dallas suggests that it’s providing food for its young, but that wasn’t in the original flick. Thwey never say if it’s eating them or what. It seems to kill out of pure cussedness.
5.) Ash being an Evil Robot comes clear out of left field. Give me a break! If you’re going to have something like this happening, you ought to foreshadow, or at least explain the rules of this civilization. As it is, you think Ash is some manifestation of the Creature at first. And having the Robot side with the Alien is really bad programming.
6.) An awful lot was made about the Alien’s head looking like a skull. You saw this in paintings and models, and shots of Carlo Rambaldi’s mechanical Alien head. But you never saw that skull in the movie. So Big Deal. Who cares?
All in all, I have to admit that the actions of a lot of the crew (Dalls and Ripley excepted) seem pretty non-survival, and maybe we should be happy they’re out of the gene pool. But I hate losing empathy with the characters. Once I do, why should I keep watching?
Last point – they made a big deal about the fact that Ripley’s part was oriinally written for a man, but Sigourney Weaver played it. Bravo to them for having a strong female lead, but I have to point out that this wasn’t the first time this happened in an SF film. The Andromeda Strain did it almost a decade earlier, and the character (who had been male in Crichton’s book) was played by a middle-aged woman, not a young woman, so they get extra points for going against sexism and ageism.