Last month H.R. Giger died at age 74. The Swiss painter, sculptor and set designer is best known for his haunting surrealist imagery. Perhaps the most iconic of his works being of course the Xenomorph featured so prominently in the 1979 classic Alien and that film’s sequels. What many don’t know however is that this design actually went through a long gestation of its own.
The first rendition of what would become the “Alien” or “Xenomorph” appeared in Giger’s lithograph entitled Necronom IV as seen below:
In this image one can easily see the core elements that would lead to the eventual “Alien” (as encapsulated by a unique aesthetic Giger had created and termed biomechanical, meant to describe a fusion of the organic and the mechanic). One of the key elements of the Alien’s design was that after it was implanted in its host it would develop in part by mimicking the host’s own physical features. This progression can be seen in the following drawing as Giger began adapting his original lithograph to the concept that would become the titular character of the movie “Alien”.
In the image above we can also also see extending from the Alien’s mouth the second inner set of jaws extended at the end of an elongated tongue-like appendage. In viewing this image one can understand why Fox Studios was so hesitant to initially approve Giger’s role in designing the Alien; as they feared that his work was so disturbing it would turn people off. However, the final rendition of the adult Alien, as seen below, is so strikingly horrific one cannot look away.
The visceral reaction produced by Giger’s designs, and how the creature developed from “face hugger”, to cannibalistic parasite, to an extraordinarily lethal predator, are the core reasons the film was able to achieve such a striking and enduring reaction that leaves it to this day perhaps the pre-eminent horror film of all time (though the movie was a science-fiction film one cannot deny the centrality of the horror aspect).
To say H.R. Giger was influential is an understatement. His creation’s if nothing else truly do make you think, and the images he birthed do what any great artist would hope; they evoke strong emotions that demand a response from their viewers. He will not be forgotten.