How The 'Chestburster' Scene In 'Alien' Was Made

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How The 'Chestburster' Scene In 'Alien' Was Made

Today the world is mourning the loss of legendary actor Sir John Hurt, who sadly passed away on Wednesday at his home in Norfolk, the BBC reports.

In 2015 the 77-year-old was treated for pancreatic cancer, but despite being given the all-clear, his doctors advised he pull out of Sir Kenneth Branagh's production of The Entertainer.

Hurt brought many roles to life, such as the popular character Ollivander in the Harry Potter series, as well as Kane in Alien and John Merrick in Elephant Man.

He's perhaps more well known these days for giving Harry Potter his first wand, but a scene everyone speaks about is the 'chestburster' scene in the 1979 film Alien.


The moment, when a monster bursts out of Hurt's chest, was seen as a pinnacle of the horror movie.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

How the scene was made was brilliant - almost as brilliant as the scene itself.


To a certain extent the actors involved didn't really know what was going to happen. They were told that 'this thing emerges', and were shown a mock-up, but very little details were included, upping the eventual shock and surprise.

"We read the script. They showed us a mock-up, but they didn't show how it was going to work," Veronica Cartwright, who played Lambert, told the Guardian. "They just said, 'Its head will move and it's going to have teeth'," while director Ridley Scott said: "The reactions were going to be the most difficult thing. If an actor is just acting terrified, you can't get the genuine look of raw, animal fear."

In order for the monster to break its way through Hurt's chest, a fake body was made. The actor lay underneath the table, poking his head through the t-shirt so that it looked like he was connected to the body.


Credit: 20th Century Fox

For the blood and gore, Ridley decided to go to a local butchers and fishmongers to buy raw meat and organs.

"Prosthetics in those days weren't that good," the director said. "I figured the best thing to do was to get stuff from a butcher's shop and a fishmonger. On the morning we had them examining the Facehugger; that was clams, oysters, seafood. You had to be ready to shoot because it started to smell pretty quickly. You can't make better stuff than that - it's organic."

It was going to be a messy one, clearly, yet the rest of the cast, who were in a separate room while the set was prepared, didn't have a clue.


Brought down to the room they were filming in they didn't really notice something was a suspicious, but maybe should have.

Veronica Cartwright told the Guardian: "When they finally take us down, the whole set is in a big plastic bag and everybody is wearing raingear and there are huge buckets around. The formaldehyde smell automatically made you queasy. And John is lying there.

"They have four cameras going. You see this thing start to come out, so we all get sucked in, we lean forward to check it out. They shout, 'Cut!' They cut John's T-shirt a little more because it wasn't going to burst through. Then they said, 'Let's start again.' We all start leaning forward again and all of a sudden it comes out. I tell you, none of us expected it. It came out and twisted round."

It's fair to say that the scene was constructed very well, and given that it was filmed in the 70s, was quite realistic.


This is just one of the many great scenes that John Hurt filmed, and one of the many reasons why he'll be sorely missed.


Featured Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

Topics: Alien

Mark McGowan

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