Posted on Wednesday, March 1st, 2017 by Jacob Hall
Alien: Covenant is a horror movie. Everyone wants us to know this.
It’s a sentiment that comes entirely from an honest place. The audience reaction to 2012’s Prometheus was mixed, so when Fox assembled a group of journalists in Sydney, Australia to visit the set of the latest entry in the Alien series, they seemingly sent out a memo, suggesting that everyone make sure we understood this. And by the time the day was over, we understood it – Alien: Covenant isn’t just an Alien sequel, but a gnarly, blood-soaked horror movie filled with practical monsters. It’s Ridley Scott’s return to the horror genre, everyone insisted.
And it turns out that making a Ridley Scott horror movie means lots of puppets and silicon. And gallons of blood. And spaghetti.
Making Alien Scary Again
“I have to get a cushion and hide behind it,” producer Mark Huffam says of watching footage from Alien: Covenant. “I’ve seen it being filmed and I go ohhhh….don’t look at it!” He’s our first interview of the day. We’ve yet to see the creature workshop and we’ve yet to see the Xenomorph puppets (excuse me, Neomorph puppets), so we have to take him at his word.
“It is going to be more of a horror movie than Prometheus was,” Huffam says. That’s the other trend of the day: everyone not-quite-apologizing for Prometheus, a movie that divided movie fans along passionate lines. Covenant, Huffam promises us, is scary:
It kind of inhabits both parts very well. It’s got the scale of Prometheus, but also it brings in the suspense and the corridors get smaller, darker, and you’re just wondering what’s down there, and they’re still not turning the lights on before they go in.
Special visual effects supervisor Neil Corbould provided a similar sentiment:
[Alien] was probably the old haunted house and this is like the new haunted house. It’s very much a modern day version of that. It’s definitely going to be scary. […] After Prometheus, everyone said they wanted more aliens, they wanted more horror. [Ridley’s] certainly taken that on board and I think you’re going to get that.
While fans of that first Alien prequel will surely appreciate the scope and general weirdness of the some of the stuff we saw on set, we’re also being promised a movie that embraces its R-rating, a movie that “[orders] blood in the 40 gallon drums rather than the 5 gallon drums,” Huffam says.
And Scott is right in the muck, getting his hands dirty with the crew. Yesterday’s gore effects involved pasta and tapioca. “[Ridley] loves practical effects,” Huffam explains. “He just loves to try and do as much as possible in-camera.”
Making Alien Bloody Again
You could listen to Corbould talk about fake blood all day. It doesn’t get boring:
At the beginning of the movie we looked at all types of different blood. Then we put a few tests on to film just to see what color we liked. We got it from all over the world. We made some of our own as well, and we ended up using our own stuff that we manufactured here, which was quite ironic, because we spent quite a few thousand dollars shipping it in from everywhere else. But, in the long run, screen blood’s quite expensive anyways. Everyone has their own little recipe and they won’t tell anyone else, and ours is just basically corn starch and food coloring and that’s it.
But wait! There’s more:
It’s just about getting the color right, because each camera picks up different colors, you know? They’re very subtle, but sometimes it can look silly. It can look too red or too dark, so it’s just about getting the right color pattern. We just tested it on…we’ve got this stand-in that came in for the day, had no idea that she going to be covered in blood. She nearly fainted once. We said, ‘It’s not real. It’s just corn syrup.’ But yeah, that quite funny.
But how do you go about spraying someone with this fake movie blood? Let’s just let Mr. Corbould do the talking again:
We’ve got these blood chuckers, which are different sizes with compressed air and then on the top…they’re like a long tube, and at the end of the tube we put a cap on it with different patterns so it gives you like a spray or splurge. We’re quite artistic.
So…a blood-spraying shower head? Sort of. Different caps provide different looks. Sometimes you want a “sheet” of blood or a “spray” of blood or “big globules” of blood.” Corbould calls it a science and we’ll trust him – the man knows his blood.
Beyond the blood, Corbould handled numerous other effects vital to the film. Mechanical effects, gimbals, crashes and explosions. But really, we keep coming back to the gore:
We’re trying to make it as realistic as possible, because that’s what Ridley wants. He wants the shock factor. We’re going all out for that. From the stuff I’ve seen, it looks fantastic. I think it’s going to have a similar impact to what the original Alien did, because that was quite shocking when everyone saw that. You know, it’s a true, true horror movie. I think that’s what this is going to be like.
And soon enough, we got a good look at the creatures causing all of this gruesome violence.