7 Things You Might Not Know About H. R. Giger’s Work On ‘Alien’

Surrealist artist H.R. Giger’s dark, penetrating works stabbed holes into the heart of the human soul and gave art lovers one less reason to sleep soundly. He did the same for movie buffs when Ridley Scott asked him to design the set and the monsters for his classic sci-fi horror film Alien.

Sadly, Giger passed away this week at the age of 74, but his work on Alien, which was carried through a ton of unnecessary sequels, has forever changed the way film makers look at movie monsters. As a tribute, here a look back at the time Giger spent on the set of Scott’s movie, and seven facts you might not have known about the demented genius.

1. Most of the Crew Was Afraid of Him

The Swiss born surrealist was certainly a very friendly fellow when it came to working with Scott and company on the set, but the crew always kept their distance from the man because they were downright terrified of him. If your work consisted of finding new and creative ways to penetrate human skulls, you might lose a few Facebook friends as well.

According to a feature on the artist included in the Alien DVD, he always wore black and spoke in a very soft, Peter Lorre-esque voice. He also kept a pet cat around the set for company so he could complete his evil, Bond-villain image. In fact, the crew was so uncomfortable around Giger that executive producer Ronald Shusett set up an office for him that was completely separate from the rest of the crew.

2. There Was A Rumor Around The Set That He Had His Dead Fiancee’s Skeleton.

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Clearly Giger liked disturbing people with his work. As such, his pieces often contained elaborate spines and grisly bone structures. So naturally, a lot of rumors started swirling around the guy. The most disturbing one involved his late fiancee, a Swiss model and thespian named Li Tobler. The two were engaged to be married but, in 1975, she sank into a deep depression and committed suicide. Since most of the crew were already frightened of him, rumors started cropping up that he had actually kept her skeleton as some kind of bizarre trophy in his house.

3. His Original Design of the “Facehugger” Alien Was Much Bigger and More Horrifying.

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Giger’s obsession and fear of the human form was a great influence on the design of his creatures for Alien. One of the earliest designs of the tiny “Facehugger” creature (the alien that attaches to a person’s face and forces its eggs down the victim’s throat), was shaped more like a human hand with fingers than a giant, crab like arachnid. Giger said in an interview that he thought creatures with human hands were scary, so he designed the Facehugger to look like a giant pair of meat mittens that face raped its victims.

4. The Chestbursts Were More Bird-Like

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The famous “Chestburster” scene in which an alien offspring literally busts out of John Hurt’s sternum became one of “Alien’s” most horrifying and memorable images. However, the dinosaur-like creature that wriggled its way out of Hurt’s body almost looked like something that would make Colonel Sanders’ puke in one of KFC’s famous “bowls.”

Giger based the look of his “Chestburster” off a creature from a Francis Bacon painting; a large, worm-like monster with teeth that looked like they could bite through anything soft and mushy. The earliest designs were more than just the meaty tube sock that still haunts our dreams. It actually had a gruesome, bird-like body, but it ended up looking more comical than terrifying. as such, producers went with something simpler.

5. One of the Early Designs of the Alien Had Eyes

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Of course, Giger’s greatest creation was the giant, titular alien. It was was unlike any creature ever seen in a movie. It had a long, tubular head, rows of sharp teeth that dripped acidic saliva, and, scariest of all, no eyes. But this wasn’t originally the case.

Giger was inspired by the look of insects to design his gruesome star, and one of the early designs gave it a giant pair of black bug eyes. However, Giger took them out of the final design because he thought it would be much scarier if the audience couldn’t tell what the alien was looking at before attacking.

6. The Space Jockey Was Destroyed by a Lit Cigarette

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Giger’s Oscar-winning art direction didn’t just stop with the gruesome creatures, its spawn, or the piles of mangled bodies that lay in their wake. He also designed the iconic set pieces that set the movie’s dark and brooding mood, including the famed “Space Jockey,” the nickname for the remains of a fossilized skeleton found on the derelict ship.

Sadly, the detailed prop that Giger built was lost shortly after filming when some careless smoker left a lit cigarette near it and burned it to a crisp. It probably looked too horrifying as a burn victim even for the likes of Giger’s dark tastes, so it was eventually thrown out as trash.

7. His Designs Once Got Him in Trouble with Customs Officials.

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Giger loved to horrify the people who viewed his art . But he was so good at making people lose faith in humanity that it got him detained at an airport.

During the pre-production period for Alien, while flying back home to his native Switzerland, customs officials checked his bags and portfolio suitcase. When they found some of the preliminary drawings and designs he did for the movie, the inspectors were so concerned that they detained him and examined his drawings to make sure he wasn’t constructing some kind of weapon of mass destruction, or photographing mangled and reorganized human spines. They eventually released him, but the incident became part of Giger’s legend.