Remembering H.R. Giger - Heroes Must Die Style!
When people pass away in the entertainment industry, there is usually an outpouring of support and prayers for the unfortunate soul who has moved on to the other side. Now I feel bad for anyone who passes away in the entertainment industry, especially those who had a little something to do with my personal entertainment while growing up. Bob Hoskins is the latest example of such a person, who here old enough to remember will ever forget Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Eddie Valiant will always live on as the one person who got to party with the Looney Tune-type cartoons that I worshipped as a child.
I felt bad that Bob passed, but I rarely feel a shock when someone in the industry passes away like I did when I learned H.R. Giger left us on Tuesday, May 12th.
I’m going to take a little bit of a swerve here with my latest blog and would love to share with you some memories and insight of H.R. Giger’s work on the Alien franchise. I’m going to keep this exclusively on the Alien franchise, because this is a blog entry and I could easily turn my Giger memories into a small novella. Now some of this is going to get a tad explicit, there’s usually no alternative when talking about Giger’s work, so if you have a queasy stomach or children present, please hit the “back” button.
The father of biomechanical surrealism...unless you’ve taken an art history class or look up some really odd stuff on Wikipedia, the average person wouldn’t know what the heck “biomechanical surrealism” is. Confession time: I did not see Alien until much later in my life. I saw the VHS box constantly when out at video rental stores when I was really young (remember those?) and was always curious as to what it was, but my mother always told me it was a movie for adults...I’d comply and rent Tron or The Cat from Outer Space for the 400th time and wouldn’t think twice.
My first actual foray into Giger’s work came from “Aliens” – and without the buffer that could have been “Alien”, I really wasn’t prepared for what I was going to see. So to make the long story short for the five people who haven’t seen “Aliens”, this overly-macho army squad, along with a gorgeous, ass-kicking woman who is the sole survivor of a Xenomorph attack years ago (Ripley...obviously), go to a terraformed planet that Ripley had been to 50 years prior where they found the Xenomorph. The planet has lost contact with Earth, and they must go and investigate what has happened to the colonists. So with huge muscles and ammo busting from their pockets, they all go face to face against a nest of the mighty Xenomorphs...and that first time I saw the marines engage the titular enemies...
...Scared. The. CRAP. Out of me.
I’m man enough to say when I’ve been scared as a kid, and I can remember staring slack jawed and wide eyed as the Xenomorphs tore the marines a new one...and even if they were killed, they exploded into acidic gore that burned them up anyway. That first all-out fight scene made me instantly forget about the baby Xenomorph that tore its way through someone’s chest and was set on fire with a flamethrower not a few minutes prior. I didn’t even know what a Facehugger was at the time either, but I quickly deduced that anything with 8 legs and mimics a cross between a spider and a scorpion while trying to give your face a loving death-hug wasn’t good. I can say with all honesty that I had to hide my eyes a few times, but I got through the movie...and those old feelings still come back to haunt me whenever I see a Xenomorph in any media.
It would be a little more of a decade later when I would only fully begin to understand Giger’s genius. I was much older when I finally watched “Alien”, loved it as all fans of the Xenomorph do, and was given the opportunity to do a little more research on the subject thanks to school. Just what made the Xenomorph truly frightening - it was so much more than just its surreal shape and desire to kill. Wrap this around your brain for a second - have you ever really looked at a Facehugger before? Here’s a picture – recognize anything?
To sum this up without it becoming a 15 page academic paper:
1) Giger’s designs for all stages of a Xenomorph reverses the sexual role of the female genitalia and turns it into the male aggressor.
2) The Facehugger sees everyone around it as a possible host for the egg it carries, and it unleashes itself upon the unsuspecting host, using its long finger-like legs to hold fast to the victim’s head while shoving its...suggestive “self”... into the victim’s mouth.
3) It wraps its tail around the throat of its victim in a type of “loving embrace”, so intent on ensuring the delivery of the egg that it will kill the host if it’s removed.
4) After delivery is complete, the Facehugger dies, and the Xenomorph begins to grow.
5) From the death of its “mother” via bursting through the chest, the Xenomorph takes on a slight humanoid appearance, usually possessing male phallus and female dentata, and a desire to kill everything around it that is not a Xenomorph.
If all this sounded a little like one of those forced sexual incident scenes with unwanted pregnancy...you’d be 100% right. THIS is what makes the Xenomorph truly repulsive – while it was Dan O’Bannon’s idea to make the alien force itself on a victim, Giger was the one whose design made the actual act truly hideous. He designed the alien genitalia - both suggestive and literal - as aggressive and disgusting, the act of sexual relations repulsive, and the performance of “giving birth” something that would make you run for a cross and an exorcist. The fact that the “child” that results from this act is a killing machine that's something out of your worst nightmare is really a bonus of the true grotesqueness that is Giger’s brainchild.
Not since the modernization of the vampire has sex been such a focal point for horror, only while the vampire glorifies it, the Xenomorph demonizes it. I doubt we’ll ever see something as provoking as Giger’s work again, and with the National Film Registry has placing Alien in it’s records as culturally, historically, or aethethically significant to American cinema – I’m pretty sure they agree.
I’ll never forget Giger’s biomechanical surrealism or his genius on the Alien franchise, and the world truly lost an artistic guru with his passing.