Psychosexual Terror, or Why Xenomorphs Are Scary

Hey kids, remember me?

Hey kids, remember me?

If you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, you share a common fear with your peers: xenomorphs. The infamous aliens of the Alien franchise burst onto the silver screen in 1979,  and subsequently struck terror into the hearts of both men and women. HR Giger, known for his phallic art, really struck a nerve with science fiction fans across the globe – but why?

Surely, xenomorphs are frightening in their capacity for violence. The species is first introduced when a face-hugger violates one of the crewmembers, who later expires in a rather well-known scene, in which a fledgeling xenomorph bursts from his chest cavity. This alone would be reason enough to fear xenomorphs, but there’s more to it than that.

Hello my baby, hello my darling!

Hello my baby, hello my darling!

What truly sets xenomorphs apart from any other alien horror – aside from the obvious – is their ability to equally victimize women and men. It’s no secret that the means by which xenomorphs reproduce is, in itself, a rape motif. However, the motif differs from the norm in that sex is disregarded: it doesn’t matter who or what you are, you can be violated and impregnated.

In most creature-features, the antagonizing entity stops at death. At worst, you’ll suffer before expiring, but there is no prolonged torture beyond this. With xenomorphs, the individual is not only traumatized and assaulted, but, in seemingly random cases, is also forced to carry the monster’s offspring. The random nature of this selection adds to the terror, as one can never tell when the victim is going to be lunch or a baby (xeno)momma.

As far as similar examples go, Deliverance of 1972 explored rape as it applies to males as well, but without the potential pregnancy. Those of you who, like me, were traumatized by The Thing as children may draw similar conclusions to Alien; the alien organism in The Thing violates its victims in that it, too, prolongs death, but it refrains from truly fermenting the aforementioned rape motif.

The Thing is bringing sexy back.

The Thing is bringing sexy back.

All three films are effective as examples of media that tap into some of humanity’s baser fears, but it’s Alien that runs the full mile with the theme. As was mentioned earlier, a xenomorph does not care who or what you are – all it wants is to feed and, in the case of facehuggers, to reproduce. Man, woman, dog or otherwise, Giger’s xenomorphs are apex predators with no discretion: something you’d do well to remember if you ever find yourself drifting quietly amongst the stars.

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Comments

  1. Good article, Ab. The first movie really deserves a full analysis at some point, there’s a lot of vaguely Freudian stuff that isn’t really present in the rest of the series – the womblike atmosphere of the ship, the phallic imagery in Ash’s final scene, maybe some stuff on the androgyny and suggestive nature of the xenomorph’s appearance.

    You’re right that there’s something very equal-opportunity about the movie; sexual horror aimed at men is almost always designed to titillate as much as horrify. Contrast Alien against, say, Species and it becomes really obvious.

  2. You have to understand not all sex between aliens and humans is unwanted. Those films do not show the loving couples like my parents. I’m part alien, part human and part terminator, and alien partners do not want to hurt either male or female partners in reality! So much easier to make us the villains I guess

  3. billiamhe says:

    It’s not so much that the Xeo’s were feminine, it’s more their lack of sexuality. They themselves do not breed or have any sexual organ, the unparalleled hunter. Their lack of sexuality allows either gender to associate with them and thus find a special place in our brainstem that says FLEE! Remember what you were saying, there are three distinct genders of Xenomorph… Male (facehugger that now makes me think of a specific song from Hamlet 2)… Female (Queen, badass egglaying force of destruction)… And Neuter (hunterkiller). So in turn it is not their femininity that makes them terrifying, but instead their lack of gender.

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