Sole Of Sci-Fi’s tribute the genius of Swiss artist HR Giger, who sadly died this week.
Alien was the first 18-rated movie I ever saw. I was, of course, not 18 at time. I wasn’t, however, doing anything illegal. No nipping in through the fire exit for me (that was reserved for my seventh or eighth viewing of Raiders Of The Lost Ark – I’d figured I’d paid my dues by that point).
Y’see, I may be unfathomably old, but growing up in the early ’80s did have its advantages (Haircut 100 wasn’t one of them). There was a brief period when there was no regulation of VHS tapes for home viewing and it was perfectly acceptable for eager pubescent children to rent out really gross horror movies. Yes, I was a child of the video nasty generation, and it never did me any harm. That strange lump in the patio is just invasive bamboo roots, okay?
So I actually saw Alien when I was pretty young. Watched it with a mate called Nigel, on a Saturday afternoon. It was a regular thing, though the only other horror films I definitely recall us watching for sure were The Exorcist, The Omen, The Exterminator and Parasite. I clearly remember us freeze framing during the decapitation scenes in The Omen and The Exterminator. We may even have done a compare and contrast. I was a budding film critic even then.
Popular myth suggests The Exorcist was banned on video in the UK, but, in fact, Warners did release it in 1979, albeit unclassified. Both Nigel and I were unimpressed with this alleged “scariest film of all time”; we both branded it “boring” and “not very frightening” (it says in my diary, which was mainly full of Doctor Who episode reviews at the time; girls were almost completely absent).
Alien, though, was a thumbs up. We liked that. Especially the chestburster. That was so cooooooweeellllll! That was how we wanted Doctor Who to be every week. Actually no. That was how I wanted Doctor Who to be every week. Nigel just wanted Doctor Who to be “not crap”. He didn’t like Doctor Who. He was weird (he had a budgie) but he liked my mum’s toast. Which always confused me because I couldn’t make out how any other mum could make toast any differently. We got on because I was weird too (I drew comics featuring women with very strange anatomy*) and liked arguing with him about whether Bond or Indiana Jones was the best action hero.
(* Actually, most comic book artists these days draw women with very strange anatomy; I clearly missed my calling.)
The Alien itself was the clear star of the movie; a Freudian nightmare brought to life as a disturbingly-ribbed, lizard-torpedo with a penis-tongue. I’m quite sure I didn’t cotton on to all the phallic imagery on that first viewing, but subliminally I think it must have affected me. After all, I was at the age where a certain part of my body was taking on a life of its own, so to speak, so that toothy tongue slowly emerging from the Alien’s maw would have had some uncomfortable resonance. Watching it now, that bit’s not exactly subtle, though it was some years until I decoded some of the other sexual allusions in the film, especially the shape of the crashed alien ship and the position of its entrance and the eggs inside (it was a true “mother”-ship).
So thank you HR Giger for creating one of the greatest screen monsters ever. The movie may still have been a hit without your designs, but I doubt it would have had one hundredth of the impact and influence on popular culture that it has had. You were a genuine one-off with a striking, distinctive and influential style and you redefined how alien nasties should look. RIP.
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