The First Night of Alien

The word got around. The Savoy was about to re-open.
For months the dilapidated foyer had echoed to the clatter of hammers and the buzz of power drills.

Now the word was out. The year was 1979, we were sixteen years old, and the movies were the crux of our social lives.

The re-opening of the Savoy Cinema was a big deal to us. When we heard that the first film to be shown would be 'Alien', that deal became a good deal bigger.

Ridley Scott's 'Alien' was coming to Sligo with some major advance publicity. It was, we read, the scariest film ever made. The poor cinema-goers of London were dropping dead of shock in their seats. We simply could not wait for it to arrive.

The Savoy re-opened on a fine Summer's Friday evening. We queued from Seven o'clock, a full hour early, to be super-sure of getting in. When the mesh curtained French-doors finally swung open we may have shuffled nonchalantly up the newly-carpeted steps but our hearts were beating fast.

The d├ęcor might have changed but thankfully Marie, the horn-rimmed lady in the ticket booth had not.

Marie ran her very own little censorship office from behind her Plexiglas screen. While the powers-that-be had judged that 'Alien' was worthy of an 'X' certificate and therefore suitable only for persons over eighteen years of age, Marie figured otherwise. Although 'Alien' contained mayhem, death and dismemberment aplenty, there was absolutely no sex whatsoever. Marie therefore reckoned it was all right for us to go in and see it. She was a fine woman.

We opted for balcony seats. Only Feeney, proud possessor of a new blonde girlfriend, headed for the stalls, having heard a rumour of the re-instatement of 'courting seats' in that area.

For the uninitiated, 'Courting seats' were unpartitioned couches designed to accommodate two like-minded souls. An evening in a courting seat was considered a success if the pair managed to swap their positions without ever standing up. Feeney was all on for giving this a go.

The rumours were right, the courting seats were back - built for pleasure and speed - but this was not to be Feeney's night. While he installed himself hopefully in the first courting seat, his girlfriend was busy settling into the second.

She stretched out, put her feet up and grinned across the vast expanse to where Feeney lurked.
"These big seats are great, aren't they?" she said.

It was about then that Feeney knew he would have been as well off upstairs on the balcony with the rest of us.

'Alien' was great, at least I thought so. Full of dark corridors, dripping acidic fluids and shiny designer-creatures, it remains one of my most vivid movie-going experiences.

But not all of my friends agreed. Half way through the film, at a particularly tense moment, an unimpressed ne'er-do-well called Gilmore got frustrated with the pacing, picked up his duffel-coat and threw it out over the balcony.

I have many memories of Sligo's Savoy Cinema, now dark once more.

One of my fondest is of the screams which rose from Feeney's nervous girlfriend when, alone in her oversized seat, a mysterious fuzzy alien, with floppy arms and a hood, descended on her from the darkened skies above.


Matthew S. Urdan said...

Nice post. Alien was great. But Aliens was even better. I remember seeing Aliens with a bunch of friends. We couldn't wait to see it. But the audience wasn't watching the movie so much as they were watching me.

I was literally squirming and jumping and pulling my knees up to my chest and covering my eyes and screaming during the show. (I CANT believe I'm admitting all this! But it's true.)

Yes, half the audience were watching me and laughing hysterically. But the other half, and I believe the saner half, were watching me as a cue of when to cover their own eyes.

Aliens had it all, and Sigourney Weaver really earned her Oscar Nomination for Best Actress for portraying Ripley in this awesome and most excellent of all scary movies!


Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

Great story, Ken. I've never seen Alien - or any of the four except in bits, in fact, which my bloke laments. I'm not sure why I haven't though.
I'd like I hope I wouldn't react like Matt describes himself doing...

My local cinema in Lifford has courting seats (and yep, put them back after refurbishments even though the new ordinary seats are comfy too) - they're great for watching long films in if you can get one each as there's more room to wriggle about when your backside gets numb.

Jena Isle said...

Ken, your memory is amazing, remembering all those details.(grins)...Well as usual, this story brought a smile to my face.

I once wrote a story about aliens too, but it did not venture farther from the confines of my room....This is one genre I am fascinated with - sci-fi.

You should try writing one long story....Kudos !

Jim Murdoch said...

Have you posted this elsewhere? I'm sure I've seen the title at least – anything with "Alien" in the title would pique my interest. I have to say I don't remember where I saw Alien the first time, probably Glasgow I suppose, the Odeon most likely. It's a film I've never grown bored of. I have the – stupidly named – Alien Quadrilogy boxed set and AVP. I've not seen AVP2 yet but I'm sure I'll end up with the DVD for Xmas.

Jaws sticks more in my mind – I have a clear memory of an entire audience lifting off their seats at one point – but the falling coat moment belongs to my brother who, after the head had just floated out of the wreck, said, in a far-too-loud voice: "It's just a rubber head." Thankfully, I wasn't there during that performance. I actually think he got kicked out for that.

I remember the first film I ever saw in a cinema, it was The Legend of Lobo, a Disney film made in 1962 and I howled. I thought it was an awful experience – I thought the wolf had died at one point – and I couldn't understand why my dad had inflicted this upon me. If this is what the pictures was like I was never going back.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks for your comments, which I greatly enjoy receiving.

Matt: God, I would have loved to have dropped a duffel coat on you - 'think of the fun!! Aliens is an super movie, super, but the original holds this special place in my heart...

Catherine: You should try 'Alien' it's really worth seeing, even all these years later - treat the Bloke to a DVD night, dress up like Ripley... all right, I've gone too far again :)

Jenisle - I've got a sackload of longer stories - I'm still debating whether the blog is the best forum to show some of them - long posts can be *hard*, you know? As for my memory, I think your grin may signify your expectation that my follow-up post will reveal how my memory may not be quite as good as I make it out to be. :)

Jim: Yes, this has been posted elsewhere - it was the signature story for an earlier web writing page of mine, you might well have happened upon it.

Thanks for mentioning Jaws - I actually have a post nearly complete on that *wonderful* film. I sometimes think my early life can be defined by movies much in the same way that Nick Hornby defined his with soccer matches in his book 'Fever Pitch'. If there is a defining movie in my own story, then 'Jaws' must be it. More anon.

My first movie was 'Darby O'Gill and the Little People'. Scared the livin'...

Rachel Fox said...

I cried so loudly during my first cinema visit ('Bambi' around 1972 maybe) that I had to be taken out of the cinema...
Then I went to 'ET' with a friend (1982 or so) and she cried so loudly that other people complained...
Saw 'Alien' in video...safer obviously.
I loved the details about your old cinema. I do like a cinema with a personal touch. Well, not too personal...but you know what I mean...

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Jaws....Actually, I didn't squirm once. I read the book when it first came out, before the movie. That opening scene with the skinny dipping hottie...that was quite erotic for a ten-year old, let me tell ya.

But I do have a shark story....

In 1998 I was in Hilton Head. Very hot summer, even the water was like 90 degrees off the coast of South Carolina. EVERYONE was in the water swimming. I swam out to the sandbar. It was great, had an awesome time. That night, after I got back to the hotel, I was watching the evening news. There was this helicopter shot of all of us oblivious idiots in the water, maybe 500 swimmers or so. In between everyone were probably the shadows of 250-400 sharks. They were everywhere. If any one of them were so inclined, someone could have been eaten.

I haven't gone swimming in the ocean since. I prefer the safety of the Great Lakes and the Class V rapids of whitewater rivers.


cubagold said...

Love the blog Ken so keep on getting those stories on.janex

Kat Mortensen said...

Ken, In 1994, at the age of 33, I spent part of my honeymoon in Sligo - a memory we both treasure.
Unfortunately, we never got to the Savoy. There's a pic of me standing next to the bronze? statue of Joyce (or was it Yeats? middle-age has claimed my memory.)
My husband is a great fan of Alien - I am slightly less so, but have seen it a number of times. My sister scared the crap out of me when she jumped into my lap while we were watching it on a late movie one Friday night. (I've seen it in the theatre also.)
You really can't beat that scene where John Hurt's belly emits the little baby Alien, can you? Classic.

Thanks for popping in at my blog. I'm really enjoying your writing - loved the finale to this piece (well, all of it really). I'll be linking to you and would be pleased should you choose to do the same.

I hope you'll come back and check out some of my other works.


Susan at Stony River said...

LOL! Great ending; I loved it. Brings back memories of going to the cinema with friends and how we used to time our pokes and jabs to make each other scream. Only got thrown out once, surprisingly.

Jena Isle said...

Hi Ken,

I'm still entertained by this story. Very well crafted. Thanks for sharing.

Kat Mortensen said...

It seems I said it all before. I don't do well with sci-fi. Kev's a big fan, but I find all that sciency stuff a bit boring, really. Now, Alien that was different - scared the Bejeesus out of me.


hope said...

Sadly I saw it years later on t.v. and although grossly amazing, I'm guessing that um...break through...moment was more horrifying on a big screen. I do believe the flying coat might've done me in.

Of all people, I never would've thought Matt would freak. He tries to drown himself regularly with this thing he calls white water rafting [I think of it as liquid death]. You never know. :)

Thanks Ken...we don't have such interesting seating here. Boys seemed to merely prefer the back row, up top, which was the darkest spot of the theater. ;)

Marie said...


Our old theater also had a balcony with loveseats. It was quite an honor to have your date head up to the balcony. lol And now anyone who tried such a thing would get a smart smack from me and a "Pull yourself together, I'm here to see the movie!" lol

Maybe that's why I don't date that much. lol

You grew up in Sligo? My family is from Roscommon, many are still there. Not far. :)

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Hysterical, even on a second read some time later....I think I would have had a heart attack if in the middle of Alien or Aliens someone's coat landed on top of me at the wrong moment.

Beamer said...

Alien I saw at home thank god. I am good at seeing the really scary ones much later at home with pause button at the ready.

Probably the scariest movie I ever saw at the cinema was the Exorcist. When it came to the Upchucking, I had to bail. Way too much input for my 17 year old eyes. (Being a sympathetic vomiter didn't help any)

Excellent post again. The longer posts can be broken into smaller bits (part 1, part 2, etc ...)

I didn't care to watch Old Yeller at the show with my parents. Not a pleasant ending at all, especially if your a dog lover.

Had never heard of courting seats before. Sounds interesting.


Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks guys, for earlier comments from first posting.

Susan: You got thrown out? God you must have been bad. I got 40% of the cinema audience thrown out one night (about 15 people) but that's another post. :)

MAtt: Thanks. Sometime around this, a movie called Squirm came out which featured worms. We toyed with the idea of tipping some worms over the balcony but didn't... honest. :)

Actually can I just say (overall) a big thank you to my beloved regulars who keep coming back even when I repost quite a bit of stuff, as I have done this last fe posts. I really appreciate it! There's is rather calculating method to this madness and I'll explain that in a month or two.

In the meantime, lots of new stuff on the way so bear with me eh? :)

and... thanks.

Anonymous said...

Ah I remember the Savoy, only very vaguely though. Didn't it meet its end when a gas canister from a next door premises blew through the Savoy wall, or something like that?

I have far stronger memories of the old Gaiety, the queue all the way down the steps and the concrete ramp to Wine St, the tiny ticket booth and the sweet shop in the middle, the brilliant balcony and acres or velvet curtain! First film I saw there was Flash Gordon