Fire, Stitches, And Noxious Fumes All Went Into Making James Cameron's Aliens

One look at James Cameron's "Aliens" and it's clear that the blockbuster sci-fi sequel is a labor of love. Coming seven years after Ridley Scott's 1979 truckers-in-space horror masterpiece "Alien," Cameron's pluralized title promised more firepower and more monsters for thrill-seeking audiences.

Returning to the lead slot in the cast is Ripley, reprised by Sigourney Weaver as the lone survivor of space freighter Nostromo, which fell to a hostile extraterrestrial creature with acid for blood and a rude way of reproducing. The creatures, called xenomorphs in "Aliens," are back in the sequel, this time on exomoon LV-426 where an unfortunate colony of terraformers have lost contact with the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. Ripley, fresh out of a 57-year stasis, accompanies a heavily armed group of Colonial Marines to investigate the lost colony on LV-426. Among those Marines is the late Bill Paxton, after he'd been killed by The Terminator but still four years before he would meet Predator. Paxton is the beloved Pvt. Hudson whose unfiltered fear and grim wisecracks made him the most relatable of the combat-ready warriors. Speaking with Strange Shapes, Paxton looks back on the epic production of "Aliens," describing the oft-quoted "Drop ship" scene — the one where he quips, 'Hey, we're on the express elevator to hell, going down!' — and how the set's roof collapsed as they were setting up a shot. Later, the same set drew blood — from the director himself.

We had these kind of rollercoaster bars that come down and strap us in there. Jim was sitting where Sigourney was going to be sitting in about an hour. They were blocking out part of the action when the bar just slipped straight down and hit Jim right on the head, cutting him. He was bleeding and had to have some stitches."

What the h*** are we supposed to use, man? Harsh language?

The informative, underseen "Aliens" making-of documentary remembers a slew of on-set hazards in the name of making as realistic an action movie as possible. Weaver, as Ripley, wielded a functional flamethrower near real stunt actors; another fire-filled sequence nearly suffocated the cast.

"We were doing the sequence where Drake has just been hit and his flamethrower shoots an arc of butane right into the ship and it's total anarchy. Well, part of the set caught on fire, and it was this plastic stuff. Now, sometimes, we would improvise. There would be certain dialogue that we would have to say, and then the cameras would still be rolling and they would want us to keep playing the moment. So, I heard Jenette [Goldstein, who plays Vasquez] next to me go, 'I can't breathe!' and I thought, 'Wow, she's really going into the whole smoke thinking. That's good!' But the very next second, I took a breath and was like something had just —whoosh!— taken my breath away. We didn't pass out or anything, but they pulled us out of there and gave us oxygen. They let us go to lunch, and when we came back, it was supposed to be all fixed. On the very next take, the same exact thing happened. This time I really did need a little oxygen. I was hacking hard."

In the BTS documentary, actor Lance Henriksen (who plays science officer android Bishop in the film) chalks the hazards up as par for the course in a blockbuster with an $18 million dollar budget:

"Man, when you get a hundred people in a confined space, something's being overlooked. You're firing a flamethrower at plastic set designs, they're going to burst into flame. What's the surprise?"