PJ: Hey everybody. Welcome back to Scaredy Cats Horror Show Episode 3. This week, we’re talking about the 19979 movie Alien with guests Dani Pudi and Carmen Maria Machado.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay. Here we go. Um, welcome to Scaredy Cats. We are on episode three. The- this is the show where I make my poor co-host watch horror movies in the hopes that I will no longer have to call him my poor co-host because he actually enjoys watching them. Um, PJ and I, of course, are both in quarantine, and so, since I can't watch the movies with him, we have set up what we call the Mantzoukas Rules, named for Jason Mantzoukas from our first episode. Um PJ has to watch all the films at night, in the dark with nobody there with him. Um, the things that are not allowed are stopping and starting, unnecessary bathroom breaks, calling friends on FaceTime–
PJ VOGT: Unnecessary bathroom breaks.
ALEX: Okay. Well there's a reason (PJ: I know, I know) for that because you said–
PJ: I just, I've agreed to a very constricted life for myself.
ALEX: Uh, opening the curtains, checking Twitter or second screens. Um, so did you follow those rules today?
PJ: I did follow the rules.
ALEX: Okay, good work. Um. This week, our guest is actor Danny Pudi. He played Abed on the show, Community. Uh, Danny, thanks so much for being on the show, man.
DANNY: Thank you very much for having me.
ALEX: Um, so PJ, I guess the- the- the big question I gotta ask you is, did Alien scare you?
PJ: I'm gonna really surprise you here. I think.
ALEX: (laughs) Uh, go ahead.
PJ: I didn't find it that scary (ALEX: (gasps)) and I enjoyed it.
PJ: Yes. Yeah.
DANNY: That's wonderful.
ALEX: Oh my God. I feel like- this feels like turning a corner in a big way. I am so excited–
PJ: I would hold onto your horses here because, honestly, I have a lot of, I have a lot of questions and observations and feelings. Like I really, I really liked it as a movie. But like, the big thing that I walked out of it wondering is like, did it not scare me because I am, um, you know, because like I- this is sort of working and I am changing a little bit? Or did it not scare me because I'm not totally convinced that what I saw was a horror movie.
DANNY: So here's what I'll say. When they asked me if you'd like to be on this podcast, I wou- say, I said yes immediately. And then they said it would be a horror podcast. And I said, uh, I can't really watch horror movies, so I had to watch Alien- I rewatched it during the day, because that's one of the rules I have, um, implemented in my own, uh, lifestyle, is that if I have to watch anything remotely scary, it's gotta be like noon. I have to have, um, multiple hours of sunlight afterwards to walk it off, to shake off the scary. So this movie is, I think, perfect because I actually really enjoy it. So in terms of horror, I feel like this is on the lighter end.
PJ: When did, when did you first see this?
DANNY: I probably saw this movie way too early. Um, I grew up in an immigrant household and we were just watching scary movies too young.
ALEX: Do you have- do you have a rough age estimate?
DANNY: Oof, probably around 12 or 13-years-old.
PJ: Oh Jesus.
DANNY: Yeah, I was probably 12 or 13.
PJ: Were you getting like fucked up by these movies? Or were you just like, oh, that's interesting, it's kind of- like were you, were they getting in your head?
DANNY: Oh yeah, I couldn't sleep for most of my childhood, PJ. I'm you in many ways. (Laughs)
PJ: Okay. How close are you to me? And like, where are you different?
DANNY: I think I'm close- I'm definitely closer to you than Alex with this. I think I've- I've learned to sort of appreciate films. Again, I have some rules for horror films. I can't really watch slasher movies at all, but I can appreciate certain films, uh, like this one.
ALEX: It's so funny to hear you both say this because I was- I've been- one of the things I've been trying to do as an exercise as part of this, as part of this show, is to get in PJ's mindset, which is a lot of times he's talking about how, you know, he's trying to outsmart the movie and the things that he would be scared for. And so I was watching it in a, in a way where I was like, if I were- if I were a scared person, if I were a scaredy cat, as they're called, um, how would I be watching this movie? And I–I started to find this movie really scary in ways that I didn't expect.
ALEX: I started to find this movie really scary in ways that I didn't expect.
PJ: Wait, so you like Freaky-Friday’d with me?
DANNY: What changed?
ALEX: I feel like we body swapped, yes. Um, so the reason I picked this movie is because I feel like it's a bit of a synthesis of a bunch of different kind of movies for me. Like it's a haunted house movie, at its heart, in space. Um–
DANNY: I've heard Jaws in space.
ALEX: Jaws in space, but it's also kind of a slasher movie. It's like one person killing people one by one. Um, and it's got sort of Lovecraft stuff in it, sort of the- a- a- like horrifying monster waiting millions of years for people to find it and awaken and destroy them. And most importantly, like the thing that I find most unsettling about it is that it has a body horror component to it. And I don't know if that's a thing that you're familiar with at all–
PJ: No, what does body horror mean?
ALEX: Body horror is basically, um, a horror convention where, um, your body is- is changed or mutates or falls apart in some way that's well beyond your control (PJ: Oh yeah.) and is uniquely unsettling. Sort- sort of like David Cronenberg is the sort of early example of this, like The Fly where he sort of is slowly turning into like a half-man, half-fly through the movie.
PJ: Yeah, I took a test once. There's this online test you could take that was supposed to measure what disgusted you.
PJ: And it was sort of like the Blade Runner test, but it was just all like “You're walking down a road and you see like, uh, a giant pile of like human feces, like one to 10 how does it make you feel?” Or like you're walking in a road–
PJ: Four. Yeah, I’m like a four,
PJ: All this stuff that was like, gross I didn't care about. But the body shit, like you see in a corpse with an open wound or whatever. That was what drove me nuts. So in theory, I don't know. I'm confused, and I kind of want to walk through the movie cause like, I've been trying to think about- I have theories for why this didn't feel bad.
ALEX: Before-- Before we even do that, why don't I just give the two sentence description of this movie (PJ: Yes.) So people know what we're talking about. It's a movie about some people who are basically like truckers in outer space. They're on a giant refinery in space that's returning to Earth. They get woken up by the computer because they receive a distress signal from a planet. They go down there–
PJ: Well they think it's a distress signal–
ALEX: They think it's a distress signal. And then there are, uh, there are these weird eggs, one of which, uh, opens and a monster attaches itself to a guy's face. And then from that guy's body, an alien is born and they have to fight the alien. (DANNY: Yeah) That’s kind of
PJ: The rest of the movie is just like crew members dying one by one at the hands of this alien. (ALEX: Right.) And it's like evolving over the course of the movie. It's like getting scarier and bigger and stuff.
PJ: So the first scene where I was like, oh, I'm sc- the scene where I actually felt the most scared and it's, I don't think it's the scariest scene in the movie, but it was like, where I was like scared of being scared and like felt horrible is like they're like puttering around the ship for half an hour and then they get what they think is a distress signal and they land on an alien planet. The planet itself is really foreboding and spooky. It's like black and gray and blue, and like the first thing they see is this massive corpse of an alien.
[movie clip plays]
Ash, can you see this?
Yes I can. I’ve never seen anything like it.
PJ: And like when they find the egg of the alien, it's just so like viscous and lit and weird…
[movie clip plays]
PJ: I think it was the part where I most felt also ahead of the characters where he like, obviously this is where they're going to commit the transgression that is gonna haunt them for the rest of the movie. Like they shouldn't be here. They shouldn't be doing this. I wish they would stop. They're not listening to Ripley, Sigourney Weaver's character, who clearly is the person who knows something. Like that was actually the, maybe the worst part of the movie for me, was there.
ALEX: Characters don't know what's gonna happen, uh, and you do. Does that upset you more because you feel powerless to save them? Or does it make you feel like, okay, I know what's going to happen, like I can be prepared for this, frightening thing–
PJ: Definitely more scared. Definitely more scared.
ALEX: OK. one of the creepy eggs opens up and this creature comes out
it looks like sort of like a spider with a tail.
PJ: It's really gross–
ALEX: it also has sort of like sacks on the side. Um, and it attaches itself to this crew member … his name is cane, Kane's face and they take him back to the ship.
[movie clip plays]
PJ: And that moment, I think was actually a moment that shifted me because in a- in a horror movie that I hate, it's constantly being like, don't go in there. Don't do that. I wouldn't do that. You're being stupid. In that instance, she's following like ship protocol and she's doing what obviously you should do, which is not let the alien infected person onto the ship. But I was like, "Oh, this hero is more capable than me and smarter than me, instead of less capable than me and dumber than me."
DANNY: Yeah, when I'm scared, I like to be with more people. (PJ: Yeah, me too.) versus, I think she was like, "No, it's wiser to like, shut it down."
PJ: The other thing as we're talking about this, that I realize is like most horror movies I've seen- okay, so, so in a way it's like a horror movie because there's seven people when the movie starts out and one by one they're being picked off by this alien with one interesting exception. Um, but it doesn't feel like they're just being hunted. Like it feels like they are hunting it, which is like, to me, that's more of an action movie or a thriller. Like they're trying to get the bad guy rather than just waiting as the bad guy killed them one by one.
I think in the moments that were the most scary, I just told myself, like at least they’re Do you know what I mean?
ALEX: In a way. So, so, so, I mean, I guess we should get to sort of the next big thing that happens. The thing that jumps on his face, which in the- in the parlance of the film is called the facehugger, PJ, because it hugs your face.
PJ: [Sounding disgusted] Oh, ugh.
DANNY: (Laughs) Yuck.
ALEX: It eventually crawls off and dies. Um, and Kane comes to and he's like, uh, he basically was like, "Well, good as new, let's go have dinner."
ALEX: And so it's almost pretty much the next scene–
PJ: Well, no, then it’s really scary cause he's at dinner and he's like, eating like, fist fulls of ramen.
DANNY: Ugh, yeah. And he's eating like a crazy person.
DANNY: He is- he's just going at food. His skin is looking weird.
PJ: You know it’s bad. Like you know that's not good.
DANNY: It's not good. You know, there's just something, something's off. He's not really- there's not a lot of give and take between him and the, and the other people who are able to eat and talk at the same time.
Movie clip plays
I’m eating [cough]
There's a, there's kind of this weird sweat coming out of his face.
[coughing and hacking]
It's just, yeah.
PJ: Oh, yeah.
ALEX: Um, did that scene scare you, PJ?
PJ: I felt scared, but I felt manageably scared. And I also knew, and maybe this is- I'm curious how it felt for you, Danny. like, I know that the most famous thing that happens in Alien is an alien jumps out somebody's stomach.
[movie clip plays]
[sound of something writhing and jumping out]
PJ: Yeah, I knew, I'm sure that that was like a seminally like, surprising moment for horror fans, but like in 1979 or whatever, but I knew it was coming.
DANNY: Yes. Yeah. So that's, yeah, uh, I remember that, the chest burster scene. It's a, yeah, it's a famous scene. To me, I'm like, I was watching this movie being like, okay, so I tried to transport myself back to when this film was made, and I think that would be, I think the key here. It's sort of like, you know, going back to a month ago, and when my buddy put, you know, the Golden Gate Bridge on his background in Zoom, and I was like, how did you do that? Now you know, everyone's on Saturn's rings or whatever, you know, it's just like, you have to remember what it was like. And I think then, that was probably such a moment in cinema to have something like that. The visual effects are actually pretty minimal until I think that actual scene. Like you really don't see much crazy stuff happening and then that scene happened and it's just, yeah, it is a shock. And I think, I just remember hearing about all the stories about, uh, how they filmed that scene.
PJ: How did they film it?
DANNY: I think a lot of it was sort of secretive, right? In the filming of it? Like I don't know how much the actors were aware of what was actually happening. Uh–
ALEX: They knew- they knew the alien was going to come out in this scene, but they didn't know exactly what it was gonna look like.
DANNY: Yeah. Is that what it is? Okay.
ALEX: Or, or, or to the degree or like sort of what the effect was going to look like. They didn't prepare him for any of that- them for any of that.
PJ: They seem genuinely terrified. Like people don't seem like they're acting in that scene.
DANNY: Yeah, I saw that they had collected different, uh, intestines and parts, I think Ridley Scott or maybe of, uh, just to make it more real and visceral on the alien and using pieces of intestine. And then, um,
ALEX: Veronica Cartwright, the woman who plays Lambert– When she got sprayed with blood, she was like, so- she was so surprised that she- she sort of stepped backwards and I saw a take of this when I was, when I was looking into this. She, she sort of, she sort of angled backward and fell, like flipped over a table or something or flipped over something in the background.
ALEX: And it was like on her back and had to jump back up and continue acting—
ALEX: Because they were still filming when she was so freaked out.
DANNY: I was trying to think of something that was comparable in my career, and I just remember one time in an episode of Community they said we’re gonna have a food fight, and we asked how we were gonna do that, and they just said we’re gonna roll the cameras and just see what happens, and they covered all the cameras with like plastic and I was scared (laughs) because there were just plates of spaghetti handed out all over the place, bowls of mac and cheese and there were no rules? This is on another level
PJ: That actually sounds very fun. I’d rather macaroni than viscera.
DANNY: It’s a different level of fear, but I mean yeah the reactions feel very real in that scene.
ALEX: One of the things that I mentioned earlier that I was finding it more unsettling than I- than I have in the past watching this movie, and part of the reason that I felt that way is because, you know, I remember the movie as a series of sort of iconic moments, right? Like, you know, the face, the facehugger jumping out and grabbing onto his face, and like the chestburster bursting out of his chest and the alien sort of appearing out of the darkness here and there. But, um, what, what I, what was giving me tension is just, I kept watching it from the perspective of, PJ hates the tension moments, and every scene where there was tension lasts so much longer than it should in a normal and like a normal horror movie there. Uh, the character that's played by Harry Dean Stanton.
ALEX: um- it- he- he- they're- they're searching for the alien and, and Ripley tells him to go back and get the, right? She tells him to go back and get Jones the cat.
[movie clip plays]
ALEX: And, the time from him going back there to actually getting picked off is like way more agonizingly long than I remembered it being, and I was just like, "If I were PJ right now, I'd be stressed!"
PJ: Oh that, so that scene scared the shit out of me.
DANNY: That's the scariest scene in the movie for me, is him with- looking up and the water and taking off his cap.
[movie clip plays]
PJ: Yeah, yeah, I was yelping there. They're like, he, he's like, he looks up and there's water dripping on his face and you're like, "That's not good. That's not good."
[movie clip plays]
PJ: And then they flip to the perspective of the cat who's just watching.
DANNY: Yeah. I will say in terms of like fear, I think it is unsettling, we've talked a little bit about just the levels of moisture overall in the film.
ALEX: [laughing] It's a very wet movie.
DANNY: This alien is so drooly. It's just such a drooly alien where there's so much like just a lack of self awareness with this alien where, how are you going to trust this creature that just has so much liquid coming out of its face at all times? And then, just overall, it's just like they go from a very warm, dry, central base around the dinner table, their hearth, and then anytime they go near the alien, there's just like water coming out of the ceiling. There's just like droplets on the floor. This alien is drooly and moist, and I think it's that moisture, which isn't just like nice little droplets of water. It's like gooey and like grey and it's, yeah, this, this, this, this viscosity around, which just makes you feel kind of like, I need a shower.
PJ: Tot—There's also like a weird sex vibe to it that I couldn't totally pin down.
PJ: It's like lube-y, viscous fluid and then the alien kind of looks like, phallic?
DANNY: It is very also like- got this weird movement to the alien, which I haven't researched or, and I'm just curious about the alien itself. It's like a constantly moving— whenever you see the alien, it's moving in a sort of like, dancer kind of way.
PJ: He looks like he’s at Burning Man. Like he’s, cuz he’s like–
PJ: You know what I mean?
DANNY: There’s a shroom quality to him.
ALEX: I mean, I think for the, for me, the, the real horror of this movie pretty much is like the design of it. Like this sort of weird, fleshy unpleasantness of it. You know what I mean? (PJ: The viscousness) Like we keep- we keep talking about the viscousness and (DANNY: viscousness) this dampness. (DANNY: Yeah.) Like that is what body horror is. That's what like, what body horror- like, something being inside of you and you having no control or even awareness of it and it popping out of you. Like that kind of thing, really, I find it really unsettling. Um, um, and what's it called, the- the guy who wrote it, Dan O'Bannon, he had Crohn's disease, (DANNY: Oh, interesting.) which is like a gastro-intestinal disorder, and he actually died from it.
PJ: Oh wow.
ALEX: And I re- re- I saw an interview with his wife, and she was like, I think that the alien is just like him trying to externalize this thing in his body he had no control over that caused him immense pain.
DANNY: Wow. Yeah.
ALEX: And I totally, like, there's, I was in a really bad bike accident in 2011. It really like opened my eyes to sort of like my body's fragility and like the ways it can be manipulated and fucked up. And I had to have stuff put in me and taken me and, and, um. That feeling of like, I- I- I seeing that reflected back on the screen, like having people losing control of their bodies, like that to me, like is both unsettling and kind of comforting to watch. It's like externalizing that fear a little bit. And like for me, that's what Alien- is so unsettling about Alien and like why I decided that we should watch it. Apparently, that doesn't quite hit on the same wavelength for PJ.
PJ: Well, no, I found it, I definitely found it scary. Like I just, I enjoyed it. Like I just liked- it felt like a good movie.
ALEX: I have to say, PJ, I'm really heartened by all of this. I feel like this is an important step on the, on this journey.
PJ: I feel like it's a step. I feel like- I feel like you're like a doctor that's kind of like, I'm like still pretty sick and you're like, you're good, you're good, you’re good. But um–
DANNY: Name it to tame it, name it to tame it. Let’s run the scenarios.
PJ: I do think this- I- I would not have- I- Alien was a movie that was definitely going to live and die and not watch. Um, and I'm glad I watched it. And I enjoyed it. And that's a surprise.
RETRACK: PJ: after the break, we talk to author Carmen Maria Machado about Alien, and we unveil the next movie, which is true hell.
PJ: So I wanted to talk to you because um—first of all, we knew that you were a fan of Alien and a fan and a fan of horror but also your writing sort of—you used kind of a horror re-imagery as like a tool of metaphors and to express all these human things. And Alien, watching it, I kind of felt like, "Oh, this this is like horror movie that makes me wish I was in college," because like watching it in college is like, clearly there is like stuff going on here and I felt like it was like sort of lightly brushing past my stupid brain. I basically wanted to do the dumb person thing of being like, "Carmen, what does the movie mean?"
CARMEN: Um, I think that's a good— the feeling that you're watching something and you're like, I know there's a lot stuff of going on here and I kind of want a chance to chew on it, is a really good response. Um, and for me I feel like is one of me favorite types of responses to a piece of art. Cause I think if you're watching a thing and you're like, "Okay, got it." That's like not a great response, you know?
PJ: Right, like we watched Nightmare on Elm Street, which like there was—there are totally things that I appreciate about it but I was like I know this movie is like this movie is about the fear of fear. And it's about nightmares. Like there's something—there's like weird sideways—like, okay. So, for instance, in Alien, one of the first things where I was like, "Oh, something's going on here," is like the ship's called mother. The whole thing like it's like you're watching the process of a thing being born in like a hugely grotesque and scary way. Like-like what the fuck is going on with the motherhood stuff in this movie? In your opinion.
CARMEN: Well, I also should like—there was a like a whole like sort of—this was also true of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer but there's like an arm of academia that has like been devoted to this film in particular.
ALEX: Yeah, there's like an Alien cottage industry of interpretation.
CARMEN: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah yeah. I mean, because you're right. Because it has like so much happening in it. I mean for me the sort of dominant, I guess like, themes or ideas are about like class and like corporations and capitalism is like sort of one arm of it. And then I feel like the other arm is like birth, womanhood—yeah, like the body, the sort of grotesque body and I mean, this is also a theme they sort of knowingly kind of string through a lot of the other—like the sequels and prequels.
ALEX: Yeah. The second Alien is all about the aliens protecting their eggs and Ripley protecting a sort of daughter stand in.
CARMEN: Because her own daughter is—became an old woman and died.
ALEX: Yes, while she was in hypersleep.
CARMEN: Right, yeah. So like she never gets to like see her own daughter again. And then she like—yeah, there's like a daughter surragote. Aliens is really good also, I mean is you like Alien, like Aliens is really good.
PJ: I actually did. I told Alex this but I did enjoy Alien. Like it felt like it was about a lot of stuff and I like movies to be about a lot of stuff.
ALEX: You just couldn't figure out what it was about.
PJ: Yeah, well, I mean, I noticed the class stuff. And I think that was actually one of the things that made the movie feel real to me is like, you have people being like I'm not getting paid enough to be on this fucking scary space fighting mission.
PJ: And like that felt like they did a really good job of making the dynamics between the crew—they got like work place tension down really well, I thought.
CARMEN: Yeah. Yeah.
PJ: And it just made it feel like you're not just in a scary scene generating machine.
ALEX: I mean, part of what makes the first one so good and it's sequel sort of a diminishing return is as they go on the metaphors get a lot more hamhanded, especially with like the company, the mysterious company controlling everything. And the motherhood stuff gets much more explicitly weird and not as sort of subtle and frightening, I think.
PJ: What do you mean frightening?
ALEX: The thing that I think makes Alien interesting and subject to so much interpretation is that it doesn't explain too much. And as the movies go on (CARMEN: Yeah.) it's like, Ripley's the mom. Newt is the girl she's protecting.
ALEX: And then in the third one—spoilers for everyone who hasn't seen the third one—Ripley has an Alien inside of her and there's all kinds of weird birth stuff.
CARMEN: Yeah, you're right. It doesn't‚ like it's full of metaphor without being shoved full of metaphor, which I think is actually—I do like some of the other Alien movies but I agree that like they made this accidentally magic with Alien, that I think is like hard to reproduce. one of my favorite parts is like when they first enter that one chamber or there's like that creature like in the chair.
ALEX: Oh, yeah.
CARMEN: And they're like, "What the fuck!", and you're like, "What the fuck!", and like it's never—I mean, when the movies over you're like, okay, so clearly I have a loose sense of something happened but like, yeah, that's you're never given like, "In the dawn of time...", like you're never given this huge back story, I think, that is the power of it, that it's just so horrifying and feels so ancient and unexplainable and like gives the alien the sense of dimension and space that feels like horrifying on this primordial level.
ALEX: I watched a documentary about the movie a couple days ago and one of the things they were saying is they were like, "We were mid production. The studio came to the set. They're like, 'What the fuck is this big thing you're building and why are you spending so much money on it!,'"and he was like, "You don't understand, like it's gotta be scary." And they were like, "Just make them go down into a hole and find eggs." And he was like, "No! That's not how it works! You got to have the space jockey."
PJ: It gave you that feeling of like—I think that was my most, like that was the part that got seared into my brain the most too. And it just gave you the feeling of like you're shining a little flashlight into a world that's way bigger than you're ever going to understand.
CARMEN: Exactly. You can't really like do that with like backstory and like neat kind of narratives that like meet up with each other.
CARMEN: Exactly. And I think we underestimate how, like the kind of depth of emotional response that that creates in just like humans in general. You can't really like do that with like backstory and like neat kind of narratives that like meet up with each other.
CARMEN: You know?
PJ: Carmen, like where—I don't actually know where you are on the me/Alex's scary gradient and I don't know where—how scary Alien is for you, as well. Like are a scaredy cat?
CARMEN: No. Well..I mean like—I'm not—no. I'm not a scaredy cat. I love horror. I find horror very bracing and very soothing.
ALEX: That's what I'm always saying. Maybe you can explain it better than I can.
PJ: Yeah, can you try to explain it because this is one of the things that I feel like I'm shopping for, is like I feel like I'm trying to get everyone to talk to me about buying a buy but the like car's a feeling. And the feeling is like, enjoyable fear.
CARMEN: Sure. Well, I think—I mean, I should also like—I mean, I'm a very anxious person.
CARMEN: So like for me, I'm deeply anxious. I'm on medication for anxiety. I go to therapy. I am a hypochondriac, like I sort of, you know, I'm kind of very highly strung in all the ways you would sort of expect. So it would seem weird that like for me that horror would really speak to me but I think what it is is that it creates this sort of change in my internal temperature that I find really pleasurable. Because I feel like, you know, when you consume a piece of art and like it can be anything. It can be like just looking–watching an episode of TV or watching a movie or reading a book or looking a painting or whatever, where there's some sort of shift, however sort of small, that happens inside of you. And it can be in any direction. It doesn't have to be like, I feel like better or smarter. It can be like, I feel more afraid and alone, as if like, you know, the sense of like the bigness and unknowableness of the universe, you sort of like, you like moved in some direction like towards in one direction or the other, like towards it. Umm, and I feel like, for me, it reminds me in this like sort of soothing way of like where I exist and it reminds me that there is so much I don't know and I must find comfort in that because otherwise, how can I wake up in the morning.
PJ: I like that too. I think like for me, like, one of the things as I've been like thinking about like why it's hard for me to enjoy this thing and and like I want to enjoy it. Like I want—I think in the beginning I was just like, "Ha ha ha, I'm doing something that's awful for me." And now I'm like, "No, I actually want—I want to get in the pistachio of this."
PJ: Um, but I think the thing that I'm really … The thing that—I feel like a lot of horror—I've had like one or two years of my life where just like a lot of really bad things happened that were like not—they didn't feel like meaningful tragedy. They felt really meaningless and awful. And for like a year, the world just like tasted like cigarettes and everything felt like a farce. And I felt like a sad little nihilist. And then like things got better. And there's a kind of horror that like to end on that feeling. You know?
PJ: Where it's like it's never a happy ending. The heroes never win. Meaning isn't found. It's just like people are punished by something awful and there's tiny moments where their head gets above water but it's always pushed down in the end. And like with Alien, it felt like—I don't know, Sigourney Weaver's such a fucking badass. LIke It felt like you could face your fears with someone who was going to kick fear's ass. And I think for me, I have a harder time understanding liking to spend time with that feeling of nihilism.
CARMEN: yeah, I mean, like that makes sense.
CARMEN: I mean like, I think, also like the thing about horror is it's—sorry it's my dog shaking herself for reasons unknown.
CARMEN: I do feel like there is a sort of genre or a sort of—not even a genre, like a trope of horror in which the ending is sort of despair.
PJ: The stuff that I really like to watch, I feel like it helps me—I'm saying this like it's much more insightful than it is but like it genuinely helps me understand the world. Like three weeks later when I'm reading a news article about powerful person doing something awful and trying to figure out why I think it happened, I'm like, "Oh well, there's this thing that happened on Breaking Bad that felt true to me about human behavior and this feels true to me.
PJ: Like I think another thing I liked about Alien is it's kind of like it's like interested in the people on the ship even though, not in a back story way, but they feel like real characters (CARMEN: Mm-hmm. Totally, yeah.) trying to sole a problem in a real way versus a lot of horror. It's just like the dumb victim who like keeps walking into the woods when they shouldn't walk into the woods. And like, there's like nothing to watch but the monster.
ALEX: So Carmen, I'm curious. So I was reading about this movie before I decided to show it to PJ and I read an interview with Dan O'Bannon, who was the guy who wrote it, and he said of the movie, he said—this is the quote, "I'm gonna attack the audience sexually. I'm gonna attack the men. I'm gonna put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs." And I'm curious like,
CARMEN: Oh, that's interesting.
ALEX: Like, I think that so much of the alien architecture and just like the way it kills was like all super phallic?
CARMEN: Well, what I think is so interesting about the alien is it's both phallic and umm..
PJ: Just to jump on this grenade for you—it seems like a penis vagina. It seems like
PJ: It seems like a monster that's a penis/vagina.
CARMEN: Yeah, it's both.
CARMEN: Right, because like, okay, the facehugger is like this sort of this encompassing thing. And there's a word, serclusion, which is like the opposite of penetration.
PJ: Oh wow.
CARMEN: Which I know because I write a lot of super gay fiction. So...
CARMEN: Um, like I was like, there must a word that means the opposite of penetration. So like the idea of like engulfing as the act—like as the sort of central act, instead of being penetrated. So that—it's serclusion. And so the the face hugger is like this sort of like, I feel like a feeling of like...[laughs]. Oh, my God. People are going to get so mad at me—cunnilingus, like the sense of just like it you're like amazing—he's like being sort of suffocated and like held in this thing that's like on his face. And then when it comes out of him, it's both a birth imagery but the alien that comes out of him is super phallic, like it looks like a fucking penis, right?
ALEX: Right, it looks like a weiner [unintelligible]
CARMEN: Absolutely. And then like it runs away. So it's like a little dick just like running
CARMEN: Um but then also, like there's like a lot of vagina dentata sort of imagery. Like this idea of like sort of um like it kind of opens and there's teeth and then a thing comes out of it. I feel like a read of it would be that it's sort of both. What makes the movie so good is that it doesn't actually fit—it doesn't neatly fit into any of these categories. It's not like the alien is a woman and the crew are men. Or like—
also, I feel like the ship is so interesting because it's like both really—it's like metal and like moisture.
CARMEN: So it's like wet. There's like wet flap and it's really organic looking while also looking really clinical and sort of metallic. And I feel like that that combination is very unsettling and like very weird and feels, —no pun—like distinctly alien. and I think we also haven't talked about Geiger. Right? Like we haven't talked about the sort of aesthetic —like the guy behind the alien and the design of the ships.
PJ: I, actually, don't know. The only thing I know, which is like a piece of cliche trivia that I don't even know how it's been knocked this hard to my brain. I know that Giger is a German, possibly, person...
ALEX: Yeah. It's Giger and he’s Swiss.
PJ: So Giger is the person who designed the monsters and he was like, "If we give them no eyes, it's scarier." That's everything I know.
ALEX: I mean...
ALEX: So he did these like airbrush paintings in the 70s. And like they were—I remember them. I, mean, other than Alien, like the place that I saw them was like Emerson Lake and Palmer album covers and shit. Like, that's the kind of stuff that I saw. His whole thing was sort of like a combination of Egyptian stuff, like he really loved like the sort of hieroglyph look a Egyptian stuff with like flesh and technology and like that's where this character came from. But like everything he did was just a bunch of penises, basically.
CARMEN: Right, and I think that, also—So I—story that I read about Geiger, that I really love, is apparently like—or the story is that he was stalked, like going through security at an airport and he had like drawings like from like his sort of character designs or like his of from Alien. And apparently a security guard asked him if they were photographs, because they were very realistic looking. And he said, "Where would I have photographed them? In hell?"
CARMEN: Which is like...
PJ: Sir, we're taking to the side for extended screening.
CARMEN: But I don't know. I think also like part of what makes Alien work is the fact that it does have this also this sense of vision, in sense that the aesthetics are so distinct.
CARMEN: And like I think part of it is the fact that his sort of vision for these movies—or his vision for like the aesthetics of the movie and like sort of the way that they pull it together like really really has this sort of full force vision that again like sort of defies like easy metaphor and just has it's own like weird internal logic that like makes the movie work.
PJ: Yeah. I think you're totally right. I think it's like a movie where you kind of imagine a person being like—it's just so clear that somebody's like, "No. The spaceship has to be exactly this wet (CARMEN: Exactly.) and this kind of this wetness. (CARMEN: Yeah.) And like obviously, it's metal. There's no wood." And you're like, I don't know why you're right but you are right.
CARMEN: Exactly. Yeah.
PJ: Like and once you see it, it's right.
CARMEN: Yeah. And I think it's like a—it's like being inside a person's brain. You know?
CARMEN: And like, I also feel like there's a thing that I think I know about Alien as a film is that like Ripley was not supposed to be a women in the beginning. Like all the characters were supposed—were all characters were written as men but it was like they were like, it could be—all the characters could be men or women. It doesn't really matter?
PJ: I was surprised—I feel like I had a different—I felt differently about Ripley than I think I felt about maybe any character in a movie. Umm, like I never watched a movie before where I was like I felt like she was protecting me. Like I was like [Carmen laughs] I'm safe in this movie because Ripley's here? At the risk of being—she's definitely a queer character, right?
CARMEN: I mean, we don't know. But certainly I read her that way. She feels very gay to me but also all—everyone feels gay to me.
CARMEN: It's like a problem that I have. I mean I feel like there are lots of very good readings of her that I feel like—yeah, you—I mean, I read her as a gay character but I don't think there's any like actual sort of textual evidence for that. I think it's just—I just, I don't know. I love her so much.
PJ: I honestly there was a button I could hit watching other scary movies that would make Ripley show up. And then I could watch.....[unintelligible]
ALEX: She busts through the wall like Kool-aid man. "Oh yeah."
PJ: She's like, "No ones watching this movie anymore. It's cursed." And she like snaps it over her leg and.. Like if there was a Ripley button I'd be fine.
ALEX: Umm...so, PJ. [laughs]
ALEX: Are you ready for your next assignment?
PJ: Yes, I'm ready for my next assignment.
ALEX: Uh, okay. So what I've learned so far is that you enjoy movies—you enjoy horror—what I learned—
PJ: Let's not—let's watch our verbs here.
ALEX: Okay, what I've learned so far is that you don't enjoy horror movies that are sort of like that are like very very genre and very very sort of...gross. You like good movies. You don't like the trash is what I'm trying to say.
PJ: Uh-huh. Yeah.
ALEX: And keeping that in mind, with the end goal of being that you can enjoy modern horror movies that are not trashy. I'm going hard this week, bud.
ALEX: Cause I'm hitting you with a double feature.
PJ: I have to watch two movies?
ALEX: Yes, you do.
ALEX: Um, they are the Ari Aster films, Midsommar and Hereditary.
PJ: Are you fucking kidding me?
ALEX: No. I'm dead serious.
PJ: Oh my God, dude.
CARMEN: Wait, can we—can I recommend that you watch them in a certain order?
CARMEN: I think that you should watch Hereditary first and then Midsommar.
PJ: Oh my God, I can't believe this is happening to me.
ALEX: So I've been thinking a lot about this because I know this is a big leap, man.
PJ: This is the biggest—these are like the movies that like like … this is like just like shoving like hot peppers in your mouth and keeping them there.
ALEX: Well, let—
PJ: Like, I've been eating like Chili's tacos.
ALEX: First, let me say those reports are overblown. It's just not true.
ALEX: And second, I found a—
PJ: The glee on Carmen's face right now really suggests that the reports are properly blown.
ALEX: Like I can tell you're scared of the very idea of watching these movies.
PJ: Yes, I'm scared. I make no promises that any of these fucking rules are getting followed. Like, no promise that I'm watching it at night. No promise that I'm watching like without pausing. If I—oh, man. I wish they wish they would lift fucking quarantine, dude. I need to watch this with somebody...
ALEX: But I will—well, okay. So here's the thing. I would like to watch the movies with you. Remotely.
PJ: Okay. That feels better. That feels a little better.
ALEX: But part of the reason that we pick these is not just because I think you like movies that are very good and also scary but like Carmen has a lot of feelings about these movies.
PJ: Oh, so this is also your fault Carmen?
CARMEN: Actually, it was my idea.
CARMEN: Like like they were like what do you want to do? And I was like, so here's the thing. I was like, Midsommar—I feel like they actually work really well as pair and I would want to talk about them as a pair. So it's really you can totally blame me for this. I'm sorry.
PJ: I do totally blame you.
CARMEN: I—yeah. I mean I think, I'm just sort of speaking generally about like—I think I think if your thing is like, "I want to watch good movies that also happen to be in the horror genre.", I think this is definitely the way to go. I really genuinely do.
PJ: But they're very—would you agree that these are movies that are scarier that 1979's Alien?
CARMEN: I think they're different. I mean, I think the pacing of Alien is very like not modern, like it's sort of slow in this really interesting way. And I think Ari Aster—I mean, I think that both those movies—there is a sort of meditative quality to some of those, to parts of those movies that I think is actually kind of similar to Alien. Um, so yeah. I mean, they're scary. I'm not gonna lie. They're scary and unsettling in a lot of ways. I think you can do it.
PJ: I just ripped the pocket off my hoodie by accident.
PJ: Is how I'm feeling. Yes.
CARMEN: I think if you can get through Alien and admire and appreciate Alien, I think you'll be able to get through these movies. I do. I actually do.
PJ: I am—uh. I wish there was a word that wasn't excited. I am...
ALEX: You're excited.
PJ: I'm not excited. I am apprehensive. I mean, I guess the thing—a silver lining is Midsommar is actually very similar to Get Out. And then I was like, "Oh, everyone's gonna talk about a movie for three months." Like a formative memory of mine is like I had an early reputation as a scaredy cat. There's this day in first grade, where the teacher took the day off and left us with a sub. And the sub put on a—for lunch, a live action video of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And I was like, this could scare me. I'll take my lunch in the hall way. And the teacher came back from lunch and was like, "You got scared of the seven dwarves?", and just like walked in leaving my like burned corpse behind her.
PJ: And that feeling of just being left out as a coward, where it's like everyone's gonna talk about Midsommar for like three months and I just won't get to have an opinion. Like, I-I, again, I wish there was a word milder than looking forward to but a silver lining will be that I will get to experience something that other people experience, which is one of the things that makes me feel like a human being.
CARMEN: Well, maybe you're also anticipating is is your beginning your experience of your internal temperature changing. Like you're beginning, you're like at the precipice of like a thing that's gonna make you feel—you know you're about to feel like unsettled and upset in some way.
CARMEN: That it's like you're anticipating your own growth.
CARMEN: Which I think is...
PJ: I hope so. I fucking hope so.
PJ: I guess I knew this. I knew at some point, I felt this whole experience, itself, has been like a horror movie. And it's like the movies we've watched, I know, are the early scares. Like I've known there was going to come a time where there would be a drop like on a roller coaster and this is just a steeper on than I anticipated but I knew this would happen. And I am going to get through it.
PJ: Or, or you'll show up to record the next episode and I just won't be there.
PJ: Okay..let's...okay. Let's do it.
CARMEN: I think it's gonna be great.
PJ: I'll just change my name and hide.
ALEX: I'm here for you, bud.
CARMEN: Good luck.
PJ: Thank you.
CARMEN: See you on the flip other side.
PJ: Oh, thank you, Carmen.
Carmen Maria Machado is the author of In the Dreamhouse.
Scaredy Cats Horror Show is hosted by me, PJ Vogt, and Alex Goldman. The episode was produced by Jessica Yung and Sruthi Pinnamaneni and edited by Tim Howard. We’re mixed by Kate Bilinski. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Our intern is Lisa Wang. Our theme song is by Mariana Romano, and our closing theme is by Me. Our cover art was made by Olly Moss. Don’t forget to watch Hereditary and Midsommer - They’re both on Amazon Prime. We’ll be back in two weeks, you can catch new episodes early on Spotify on Tuesdays, and you can hear the show everywhere else on Fridays. Thanks for listening.