The Chestburster (variously: Chest Burster, Chest-Burster or chestbuster) is the infant (or nymph, because it resembles the adult and does not form a cocoon to reach maturity) stage of a Xenomorph. It is most well known for its horrific method of gestation — as an embryo it is implanted into a host lifeform's chest cavity by a Facehugger, and upon maturing it will erupt violently from the host's chest, killing them in an incredibly bloody and traumatic fashion. Chestbursters are small, generally not more than a foot tall and around two feet long including their tails, although larger examples have been seen.
Chestbursters resemble large worms, beige or brown in color and with a mouth of metallic teeth and a tail capable of propelling the creature at some speed. Some Chestbursters have been seen to possess arms, but this is not always the case, with others merely having small stubs where presumably the arms will eventually develop. It is possible a longer gestation period may determine the presence of arms at birth; notably, Queen Chestbursters (which have a considerably longer gestation period) have been known to birth with all four of their arms present, as well as legs and a partially developed head crest. In Alien3, the Chestburster seen at the beginning of the movie births fully formed, with arms and legs, essentially just a smaller version of the Runner that it subsequently developed into. Why this is so is not explained in the theatrical cut, although the extended Assembly Cut seems to imply the Chestburster was unable to escape its host's body (an ox) at the usual time, presumably due to the animal's stronger ribcage and chest structure, resulting in the premature death of the host and further development of the Xenomorph within.
During development, the Chestburster is attached to the host via a small umbilical cord, through which it presumably gathers the nutrients it needs to grow. Owing to the Xenomorph's tendency to assimilate a degree of its host's DNA as it develops, Chestbursters will also vary widely depending on the lifeform in which they gestate. For example, Xenomorphs born from Yautja will feature the mandibles of their host at birth.
If born away the Hive, a Chestburster will actively search for a safe location to hide and a food source on which it can develop. It also will attack and kill humans and feed on them, although its proficiency in this regard is limited in the early stages of its growth. They will consume any part of the human victim (such as facial extremities or genitals), but prefer internal organs such as the brain, liver, or heart. Growth is rapid, and Chestbursters can mature into a full-grown Drone within a few hours. It will repeatedly shed its skin like a reptile as it grows, and these skins are often the most visible sign that a Xenomorph is nearby. Aliens: Steel Egg also shows that they do have regular body processes when one of the crew discovers a pile of excrement containing a human tooth while exploring the ventilation system. However, Chestbursters are adept at hiding and as such, immature Xenomorphs are rarely seen, remaining hidden until fully grown.
A Chestburster is generally implanted into its host by a Facehugger, although in Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem the Predalien was shown to be capable of inserting embryos directly into a host without the need for a Facehugger. It is speculated that Chestbursters develop in a manner similar to that of the immature heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis), which migrates through the host body absorbing nutrients before establishing itself. It's unknown if the embryo travels to the host's stomach or to the bronchial tubes. Another theory is that the Alien begins its life in the host body not as an embryo but as a tumor that later takes the shape of an immature Alien. In this theory, what the Facehugger injects in the host is not an infant Xenomorph but a small egg that inserts its proteins in the host's DNA and commands its cells to "create" the Chestburster which has both Xenomorph proteins and those of the host.
The host's characteristics determine the Chestburster's features — embryos are thought to copy 10-15% of the host's genetic code. This genetic absorption is designed to help Xenomorphs adapt to the environment in which they are born and leads to variations in the resultant creature. The Predalien Chestburster, for example, sports the signature mandibles of the Yautja (and grows dreadlocks upon reaching maturity), while quadrupedal hosts produce quadrupedal Chestbursters.
Certain physical defects in the host are known to adversely affect Chestburster development. For example, Larry Purvis, one of the civilians impregnated by scientists aboard the USM Auriga, suffered from a thyroid deficiency which dramatically slowed the growth rate of the embryo inside him. As a result, birth did not take place until several hours after would normally be expected.
When fully developed, the Chestburster releases enzymes that softens the bone and surrounding tissues of the host's chest cavity before finally forcing its way through the sternum. While the host may experience some discomfort in the minutes and hours leading up to the event, including mild chest pain and nausea, the actual birth itself is rapid, with the Chestburster exiting within seconds of the onset of severe pain upon the host. The process begins with cramp-like pains in the victim's chest but rapidly progresses to debilitating agony and uncontrollable convulsions. When the Chestburster finally emerges it induces severe shock, organ rupture/puncture and massive blood loss; death is almost instantaneous, but excruciatingly painful.
The Chestburster is arguably the most vulnerable stage of the Xenomorph's life cycle. While it grows rapidly, in the early stages the infant is almost defenseless, save for its acidic blood. If born in a populated area a Chestburster will immediately seek escape, preferably via a means that will not allow easy pursuit (e.g. through air ducts or vents, possibly going as far as burning a hole in a wall or floor with its own blood). Additionally, the extreme psychological impact of the birth mechanism has actually been known to have an adverse effect on the survival of other embryos — witnesses to the gory spectacle who discover they are impregnated themselves often seek to end their life before enduring such an agonizing end, whether through their own actions or assisted suicide. This can be fatal for the Chestburster, although depending on the manner of death it is possible for it to survive even after the host has died and emerge later.
While the birthing of a Chestburster is inherently fatal, in Alien3 it is said to be possible to remove a Chestburster before it emerges with no long-term residual effects to the host. This procedure is later shown at the beginning of Alien Resurrection, when a Xenomorph is successfully removed from Ripley 8, who then goes on to make a full recovery (although owing to her altered genetic structure, it is unclear how true this statement would prove to be for a normal human).
Conversely, Aliens: Colonial Marines claims that even if a Chestburster is successfully removed from a host, the host will later die anyway as the placenta the Xenomorph creates during development is highly cancerous and quickly fatal. It is not elaborated upon whether removing an embryo at an incredibly early stage would prevent this.
Prior to Aliens: Colonial Marines, the successful removal of a Chestburster from its host was often shown in many comics, including Superman/Aliens, Dredd vs. Aliens and Batman/Aliens II. However, these comics are not canon. An attempt to remove an embryo is also shown in the 2010 video game Aliens vs. Predator, when the android Katya uses some equipment to stabilize Corporal Tequila, however, Karl Bishop Weyland shuts down the device's power before the removal operation can be completed.
A noncanon example exists in the Alien: Resurrection video game in the form of the Auto-Doc item, which kills and removes a developing Chestburster from the host body using targeted radiation. Whether this is an effective treatment for impregnation is unknown, as it is only shown in this game in response to the fact that the player can be facehugged.
Another non-canon theory about a survival from an embryo was shown in the Batman/Aliens II comic. The female antagonist Dr. Fortune was impregnated by a Facehugger but the chestburster was unable burst out from her body because by the time she got impregnated, she was suffering from leprosy which resulted in a stunted embryo (later revealed to be a Queen) As a side effect, it granted Dr. Fortune enhanced strength (similar to Ripley 8). Later the Xenomorph embryo seemed to have become deformed and the outline is visible on her stomach.
Alien 2: On EarthEdit
- Main article: Alien 2: On Earth
In the non-canon film Alien 2: On Earth, the Xenomorph Chestbursters are shown to erupt from the host's face instead of their chest, earning them the colloquial name "Facebursters" among fans. At first glance, the Faceburster resembles the typical Chestburster, but when fully exposed they are considerably longer and more worm-like in proportion and appearance. They are also seen to use their long tails to slice off victims' heads.
While Alien 2: On Earth has nothing to do with the official franchise, the idea of an Alien erupting from someone's face was later used in Alien Resurrection, when a Chestburster emerges from Larry Purvis and bursts through Dr. Wren's head, erupting from his face, as the two struggle. The particular Chestburster responsible has been referred to as the "Faceburster" by the film's crew and fans, although anatomically it is no different from a standard Chestburster.
Behind the ScenesEdit
- Main article: Alien (film)
Intended to be Alien's big shocker moment, the Chestburster was perhaps, next to the physical form of the fully grown Alien, the most important design to be made. If the chestbursting lacked punch, then the audience may not take further events and dangers seriously. For its design, H. R. Giger was pointed towards the art of Francis Bacon by Alien's director, Ridley Scott. Bacon, already a favourite artist of Giger's, served as the inspiration for the first incarnation of the chestburster. "I think when you want to be really scared," Ridley Scott said to Cinefantastique, "you’ve got to think about what it is that makes you very physically uneasy, that upsets you in a primal way. And I’m not easily upset, but we looked at various painters’ works, and the one that caught us was by Francis Bacon, the three flesh necks with the jaws on the end. The primality, if there is such a word, was what interested me."
"Ridley Scott asked me to do something based on a crucifixion painting by Francis Bacon," said Giger, "in which the only thing of the figure you see is a mouth and some flesh behind. He wanted something like that which could go into the stomach or come out of it. First it was designed as a little dinosaur and I didn’t like it at all, but finally we gave him a worm-like shape with no legs … I believe the strongest, scariest feeling is to see an alien-worm inside a person’s body moving under his skin."
Giger’s first Chestburster design was received with reservation and ridicule. "To me, it looked like a plucked turkey" said Roger Dicken, "a veined, repulsive-looking thing with fangs … Obviously, you couldn’t get something the size of a large turkey out of a human chest, but they were going to cheat it somehow."
Despite his incredulity at the design, Dicken crafted a workable prop from the design. "Dicken reproduced it very faithfully," Ridley told Cinefex. "The problem was that what looked great on paper didn’t in actuality." Dicken had brought the prop to the studio and operated it like a hand puppet. The effect looked "entirely comical – it looked like some kind of plucked, demented turkey."
Frightened of the Chestburster eliciting laughs rather than screams, Ridley went back to the drawing board. "We went back and re-examined various illustrations and ideas, and tried to come up with something we thought would be the most frightening," he told Cinefantastique. "I wanted more of a biological link between the baby, which is what we were really designing, and what the final creature would look like. And I wanted it to be a very smooth object. The other was all wrinkled and ancient-looking, like some malevolent muppet. And when it came out, I wanted it to look very rude – and totally carnivorous. So to be honest, that beast was very much the product of several people – Giger and Dicken and me, and even a bit of Gordon Carroll."
"We worked for weeks on the baby [chestburster]," said Scott. "I knew I didn’t want something with bumps and warts and claws. You know, I find that most horror films have never really frightened me; and I tend not to be convinced by a lot of science-fiction films specifically because of the effects. So I knew it had to be good, this baby. We decided that the big chap, in embryo form, would have a head either tilted down or tilted back. We tilted it back because it seemed more obscene that way, more reptilian, more phallic."
Roger Dicken: "The overall look of the chestburster was this long banana-shaped thing with a head on it from the Giger drawing. I made various models of it. One afternoon, Ridley Scott came over here and over cups of tea we literally constructed the thing by trying on different tails and so on, and it was finally agreed that that was what it would finally look like."
For the Alien's birth, the production crew "had gone to a butcher’s shop and got animal innards," according to Ron Shusett. "Livers, hearts, things like that."
Scott kept the design of the Chestburster hidden from the majority of the cast, bar John Hurt, from who'’s chest the Chestburster would sprout. Producer and co-writer David Giler told Cinefantastique that "the ‘Chest Birth’ was simulated for the actors by surprising them with a shower of animal entrails. That’s why their looks of disgust and horror are so real . They had no idea what we were going to shoot that day."
"I was there," O’Bannon told Fantastic Films, "and they had three cameras set up ’cause they wanted to catch it from all angles and all the cameras were covered in clear plastic tarps. The lenses were covered with flat optical class like underwater cameras and Ridley and the D.P. and all of the technicians were all wearing overalls up to their necks. It took them three to four hours to get the actor doing to do the stunt rigged because there was mechanical stuff involved. Meanwhile the other actors didn’t come on set, I don’t know where they were, they had a room where the actors could hang out and talk to each other. Then they brought them in when they were ready for it, they hadn’t seen all the preparation. All they did was they walked on, they saw all these tarps, and they saw huge hydraulic machines with hoses leading to this rigged man, and they saw everybody wearing coveralls. I looked at Sigourney Weaver, who’s the lead. I saw her face as she looked at the tarp, coveralls and camera, and she seemed to go a little shaky. The actors looked real uneasy when they saw the set-up because it looked like they were trying to prepare for Vesuvius."
"I knew that the special effects men were trying to rig the blood so that it would hit me," said Sigourney after the film’s release. "I was absolutely green. There had been a huge vat of kidneys and livers and intestines floating around on the set for two days and the stench was awful."
"I noticed Sigourney really looking scared," said Shusett. "I said, ‘You’re really getting into character.’ She said, ‘No, I have a feeling I really feel I’m going to be pretty repulsed right now.’ A couple years later, I read an interview where she said, ‘The reason I knew it was I saw Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett over in the corner, and they were putting on rubber raincoats and laughing like little kids on Christmas morning. So I knew it was going to be a blood-bath!’ It worked so great. Veronica Cartwright – when the blood hit her in the fact, she totally passed out. I heard from Yaphet Kotto’s wife that after that scene he would go to his room every night and not talk to anybody."
"The amount of blood was just unparalleled," continued O’Bannon. "I saw Veronica Cartwright get drenched from head to toe in blood and scream her fool head off and fall backwards over a table and brain herself … Then afterwards these two people pick Veronica Cartwright up and she was weak-kneed and they had to help her off the set. She was drenched, all her clothes sticking to her, and her hair sticking to her with this red dye and she was near hysterics. And twenty minutes later they come back and they had showered her and fixed her up and put a duplicate costume on her and she looked the same, but a little spooked, and I went up to her and I said, ‘That was really terrific. Was that all acting?’ And she looked at and said in a kind of spooked voice, ‘Well, I was a little freaked-out.’"
"John Hurt had been lying there for about four hours while they fixed him up," Cartwright told Fantastic Films in 1979. "By the time I got there I was thinking, ‘uh oh’. They had three cameras so they could get all our first reactions – our gut reactions. That’s what you see in the film. Those reactions are totally raw. Nobody quite anticipate what was going to happen. I was told I’d get some blood on me. I had no idea the hose was pointed at my face. I felt very queasy afterwards."
- Main article: Aliens (film)
According to Matt Winston, "No sequel to ALIEN would have been complete without paying homage to the infamous 'Chestburster' scene, so director James Cameron memorably included the grotesque parasites in ALIENS as well."
Alien's design remained practically unchanged by the Alien FX team at Stan Winston Studio, apart from adding two tiny arms to create consistency between it and the anatomy of a full grown Alien Warrior. Cameron and Stan Winston decided that the addition of arms also made sense on a purely functional level, allowing the Chestburster to pull itself free from its victim's chest.
To achieve the effect of the Chestburster emerging from Mary (Barbara Coles), Winston and his crew created two Chestburster puppets. The first was built to be tough. as it needed to be able to rip through Coles' artificial foam latex chest multiple times. The second, "post-burst" puppet didn't have to withstand the same abuse and so it featured a more delicate cable-controlled mechanism that allowed a wide-range of fluid motion.
- The time it takes for a Chestburster to develop and emerge from its victim varies wildly throughout the Alien series. Following the death of the Facehugger attached to Kane in Alien, it takes only a few hours for the embryo inside him to emerge. However, in Alien3 the Chestburster inside Ripley takes several days to develop (although this particular embryo was that of a Queen, and can therefore be assumed to have a longer gestation period, due to it's greater size and complexity). In Alien vs. Predator and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, Chestburster development was accelerated rapidly, to the point where the creatures would emerge only 5 to 10 minutes after implantation. In the more recent video games featuring the Xenomorph, a gestation period of several hours is once again typical.
- Alien/novel/comic (First Appearance)
- Alien Resurrection/novel/comic
- Alien vs. Predator/novel (film)
- Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
- Aliens versus Predator 2/Primal Hunt
- Aliens vs. Predator (2010 video game)
- Aliens: Infestation
- Aliens: Colonial Marines/Stasis Interrupted (video game)
- AVP: Evolution
- Alien: Out of the Shadows
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Warren Presents the Officially Authorized Magazine of the Movie Alien Collector's Edition
- ↑ Alien Anthology - Disc 2: Aliens - commentary
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Vincent Ward (writer) and David Fincher (director). Alien3 Assembly Cut [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- ↑ James Cameron (writer and director). Aliens [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- ↑ "Weyland-Yutani Archives - Alien Queen Chestburster Alien 3". Retrieved on 2013-04-25.
- ↑ Joss Whedon (writer) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director). Alien Resurrection [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett (writers) and Ridley Scott (director). Alien [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- ↑ Vincent Ward (writer) and David Fincher (director). Alien3 [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- ↑ Ann Crispin (1997). Alien Resurrection novelization. Warner Books, Inc., 91.
- ↑ Alan Dean Foster (1979). Alien novelization. Warner Books, Inc., 136.
- ↑ Aliens vs. Predator [Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360]. Rebellion.
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Matt Winston (September 5, 2013). "ALIENS Behind-the-Scenes - How the alien 'chestburster' mechanism was made. | Stan Winston School of Character Arts". Retrieved on January 22, 2014.