Ripley rams the APC through the reactor wall. Debris showers as it screeches to a halt broadside. The marines clamber inside, Drake brings up the rear, firing his flamethrower as he goes. Vasquez turns, grenades an alien. It explodes on Drake, acid everywhere. He falls, reflexively arcing napalm, engulfing the inside of the APC. Vasquez loses it. Ripley finds reverse and opens the throttle.
Suddenly, claws clutch the edge of the door. Newt screams. An alien wedges its face through the opening, grinning ferociously. Eat this, Hicks yells, sticking his shotgun in its teeth. BLAM. Acid everywhere again, Hudson shrieks. Total mayhem.
It’s at about this point you pause Aliens and take your fifth cigarette break. And that’s if you don’t smoke. Such is the frazzled tension of the 1986 action-horror sequel written and directed by James Cameron that folds shock upon catharsis upon shock upon catharsis leaving viewers in a state of giddy exhaustion. “Forty miles of bad road” one of Cameron’s friends called it.
Well, tomorrow night you get to forgo the comforts of home and immerse yourself in terror with a couple hundred other cinema-goers when Hot Chicks With Big Brains teams up with Changer Studios to present a 30th-anniversary screening of Aliens at Palace Barracks Cinemas.
“We show a feminist or queer film every two months,” says HCwBB’s Bri Lee. “But it’s also ‘legit just one of my favourite films, so I probably have a vested interest in seeing it on the big screen,” she laughs.
Hot Chicks With Big Brains started in 2014 as an interview series with women that focused on their work and themselves. But it has quickly grown to become a fully fledged, inclusive community. “We’ve had a great response from people commenting that they feel our events are really welcoming,” Lee says. “That might be men, or it might be people who are non-binary, or younger people or older people.”
Hence the film nights. Two months ago it was Tangerine, a comedy about two transgender sex workers. Aliens by comparison might seem a conventional choice, but Lee reckons the return of Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley and her battle with the alien queen is underrated as a piece of feminist cinema.
“Ripley is the most badass ever but the second film is particularly feminist,” Lee says. “Because the child who has survived on this space station happens to be a girl, Newt. And the absolute villain is an alien queen. Ripley is protecting her adopted daughter. The queen is protecting her young. It ends up this battle between two mothers. And the fact that they’re mothers doesn’t make them weaker, it only makes them stronger.”
Cameron has always presented strong female characters in his films, but seemed to get Ripley the best (even though she was created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett for the original Alien film in 1979). Then again, Aliens also packs other strong female protagonists in the shape of Newt and Vasquez, and Cameron to this day credits much of the success of Aliens to his wife at the time, Gale Anne Hurd, who produced the film.
“In terms of the complexities of women and how incredibly badass they can be, they hit it out of the park,” Lee says.
Either way, it was a character that men engaged with just as much as women did. Some of the stories from the original US cinema run in 1986 are legendary. Audience members were pulling armrests from their seats, strung out with tension, and moments of betrayal and redemption were met with boos and standing applause, respectively.
“I’m 24. A lot of people of my age wouldn’t have seen it on the big screen,” Lee says. “There’s something special about seeing action films in the cinema. Because the screen is massive and the explosions are all around you.”
The night includes meeting in the Barracks foyer for pre-event drinks, door prizes and an afterparty at Streetside Bar on Caxton Street, with drink deals and a special cocktail for the night called The Sigourney.
Hot Chicks With Big Brains and Changer Studios screen a 30th-anniversary showing of Aliens at Palace Barracks Cinemas Wednesday, August 3. Tickets are available here.