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In 2014, H.R. Giger died, and, thus, science fiction lost one of its greatest artists – but left behind were a multitude of H.R. Giger illustrations. Giger created some of the most exotic, darkest depictions of bio-mechanical sexualization put to the canvas.
Many science fiction fans are aware that Giger designed the xenomorph from the Alien franchise, but fewer fans are aware of his other contributions to the genre, including designing the alien Sil from Species, as well as unmade films such as William Malone's Dead Star and, of course, Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune.
The works of Giger can be described as alien-sexual. There is no denying his illustrations are incredibly perverse, but the question is how is his art perverse. Is it perverted in a sexually-explicit fashion, or, perhaps, is it perverted due to its dehumanization of the human form? Is it perverted for taking the natural behavior of man in an unsettling, bizarre fashion?
Science fiction fans have been enraptured by H.R. Giger illustrations since the artist gained nationwide design for bringing a face-hugging, chest-bursting alien to horrifying life.
One of the earliest H.R. Giger illustrations, Astro-Eunuchs looks very different from the artist's later works. The shading is far heavier than the lighter, gradual shades of his later work. Shadows are black, and what is exposed to the light is almost completely white.
Yet you can't stop looking at this truly alien depiction of – I don't know, honestly.
The art seems to depict alien life forms on a respiratory system of some kind, with all the breathing masks linked up to one another's body. Specifically, linked to their genitals. This, I suppose, is an early indication of H.R. Giger's obsession with bio-mechanical sexual depictions.
One alien – who is either locked in a seat linking him with another alien or, more grotesque, attached to another sentient creature – is injecting a floating, phallic creature with a syringe, which serves some eldritch purpose.
Of all his art, it most resembles a sketch. But, as one of his earliest works, it's worthy of discussion.
Brain Salad Surgery Cover
Brain Salad Surgery, the fourth album by rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, features an H.R. Giger illustration as its main cover. The band had met Giger while on tour, and, upon seeing his art work, knew they had to use his art for their covers.
Two pieces were submitted. Both were accepted. The interior sleeve of the vinyl depicts a beautiful woman with long hair. But the hair, it turns out, resembles a cross between tubbing and human rib cages. This ribbed-mechanical aesthetic would end up being far more famous over the years, in part due to its influence on Ridley Scott's Alien.
But the front cover – the cover that caught everyone's eyes – was far more ghastly. It depicted a human skull fastened in a metal vice. A circular lens depicts the mandibles of the woman on the interior vinyl cover, implying that the women we see inside the cover is, in fact, the same skull locked in a vice.
In a morbid way, it is sort of a reverse X-Ray. The lens through which we see layers flesh upon bone, rather than strip it away. We now see the lips of a long dead woman, an alluring feature on an otherwise cold, dead feature. This was the first time Giger sexualized a dead thing, but not the last.
Brain Salad Surgery, it should be noted, is a euphemism for oral sex.
One of the most famous H.R. Giger illustrations, Li I proved a highly important piece, as it is one of the earliest depictions of a feminine alien creature. The pice is at once sexually alluring and sexually revolting.
Li I features a woman's face – a pleasing, well-shaped work of art – only to devolve into something truly alien. Instead of hair, strange tubing sprouts from the woman's scalp, crowned by rows of human skulls. The tubes look serpentine – indeed, a serpent even rests on the woman's forehead. If you look closer, you see veins of bio-electric wires coursing under the skin. And other faces emerging from the tubing hair.
This grotesque likeness of a woman, if you look closer, is mounted on a mount of black material. In the background, we see countless domes, spread off to the blackened horizon. We are left unsure of the sheer scale of this face.
Giger would revisit this work multiple times in his career as an artist. Li II, released later in 1974, featured the same face, smiling as ever, only this time wrenched out from its shoulders, now with large, animalistic skulls mounted all around it. It almost looks as though it has been mounted on a wall with other skulls, all interlocked from the rear with bio-mechanical tubes.
Obviously, Li I and Li II influenced the Species film series, where an alien, in search of reproduction, seduces men. However, it is also clear that the video game series System Shock drew from Li I and Li II when designing its AI villain, SHODAN.
Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune Sketches
In the mid 1970s, Alejandro Jodorowsky, the brilliant director behind El Topo and The Holy Mountain, decided he wanted to adapt Frank Herbert's science fiction novel Dune. While his vision never saw the light of day, the mad ambition behind the film makes it one of the most compelling science fiction films never made.
To design the film, Jodorowsky turned to H.R. Giger. He designed numerous sketches, but most noteworthy of all his sketches remain his depictions of Baron Harkonnen's castle. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is the main villain of Frank Herbert's Dune. He is a bloated, fat man unable to walk without the assistance of machinery. He is ruthless, cruel, and sadistic. Jodorowsky wanted Orson Welles to play him.
When designing his castle, Giger decided to craft the castle as a huge replica of Baron Harkonnen himself. The head of the castle is a face that stares ever-outward, unfolding to reveal a skeleton shape beneath. I have no idea how they could ever have hoped to design this thing in the 70s. It seems a little beyond the limits of their special effects budgets – probably one of the many reasons Jodorowsky's Dune never got made.
It is noteworthy to mention, though, that the H.R. Giger illustrations for Jodorowsky's Dune were later repurposed for both David Lynch's later film as well as Ridley Scott's Prometheus, where the Engineer Temple features a giant face overseeing all that strongly resembles Harkonnen's castle.
This is what you were waiting for, right?
Necronom IV remains the most famous H.R. Giger illustration. It is, after all, the design used to create the Xenomorph from Ridley Scott's Alien. Even today, Giger's original art is haunting to look at. It is, in all respects, perverse.
At first glance, it looks just like the xenomorph from the film. And, as such, it's familiar to Alien fans. Ribbed chest. Growths from the back. Elongated skull. It looks just like –
But look closer. You will see a few things that changed from conception to creation.
A subtle difference is along the eyes. The creatures has very visible eyes. Or, at least, a visor-like structure where the eyes should be. Again, this is a signature of H.R. Giger's art: the unification of machine and flesh. It resembles a motorcycle helmet visor – or, perhaps, the shield to a space helmet.
A more drastic difference is the more serpentine body. If you notice, Necronom IV, unlike the Xenomorph, has no legs. Its lower half transitions into a serpentine shaft that curls upward into a phallus. The head, too, is more phallic. Both lead out to a bulb that resembles an uncircumcised penis.
Many critics have interpreted Alien as a metaphor for rape and sexual invasion. You have a phallic alien forcing its way orally into a body, where it gestates and erupts forth from inside. When you look at Giger's art, it becomes clear that metaphor was intentional.
Another fusion of sexual alluring features and necrotic-mechanical horror, this H.R. Giger illustration, Carmen I, is yet another work depicting a beautiful woman in a perverted situation. It is very similar to Li I and Li II: beautiful woman face, with hair that more strongly resembles a bio-mechanical mess.
What makes Carmen I distinct, however, is how the hair transforms into a shape reminiscent of a hand. Specifically, the hands resemble a Xenomorph's hand.
Again, a lot of Giger's art from this era would be incorporated into the Alien franchise, but this caress of a hand that really resembles the most terrifying alien's hand – it comes across as a little rapey.
Giger's designs for Alien would be used in every Alien film to follow, right up to Alien: Covenant. The design is so distinct to us now that it's hard to imagine that, for Giger, hands and features of the Xenomorph were just another motive, no more special to him than layering a beautiful face over a metallic skeleton.
This H.R. Giger illustration is part of a series of art pieces that really drop all pretense. It's sex. It's just plain sex. Erotomechanics V, for example, features a flooded hallway leading to a strange archway with a metal shaft plunging through it – it's a penis. It's a penis in a vagina. The walls are legs parted. It's sex.
What sets Erotomechanics VII apart from the other depictions of bio-mechanical erotica, however, is that, on top of depicting sex, the image is downright bone chilling.
We see an engine – judging by the spouts spewing smoke into the air. The engine turbines and tubing, however, is shaped in the likeness of two women. Tubes spread from one woman's nipples and genitals into a massive tube that plunges up the bent-over woman's anus – all while a second, thick, throbbing growth erupts from the first woman's genitals, and into the bent-over woman's vagina.
So yes. It is sex.
By combining sex with the function of an engine, however, Giger reduces sexual pleasure to something alien. Almost as though the mechanics run on sex. The churning of gears and bodies.
An alien concept. In many respects, a truly Giger-esque concept.
This truly grotesque H.R. Giger illustration truly looks like something out of Hell. While many other works of Giger depict erotic pleasure combined with both death and machinery, this looks like bio-mechanical torture.
We have a face – again, bio-mechanical, with the ear displaced and the cheekbones frozen in place by tubing – with tubes forcibly shoved through the eye sockets and locked-tight mouth. It looks like a truly unpleasant, ugly sight.
This is the closest Giger ever came to depicting full-out torture porn. The impression of tension veins makes the human face look so clenched, as though it is struggling. This gives the image a further burst of energy that makes the viewer uncomfortable.
This biomechanical face is resisting the tubes, which makes us realize that, unlike other H.R. Giger illustrations, this art depicts pure violation.
A. Crowley (The Beast 666)
And now we come to what may be one of the most ghoulish, hellish visions Giger ever depicted. Of all the H.R. Giger illustrations out there, this may very well be the closest we ever came to seeing how Giger imagined Hell to look.
What we see is an orgy of bio-mechanical monstrosities. A woman is pleasured anally by a mechanical creature's gas-mask tube. Babies wired into the high-vaulted walls wave overhead. A cone-headed fat man dangles from a wall while clutching what is either a ribbed-cane or his own genitals. Vaguely female creatures with the flesh stripped from their skulls sport breasts strapped to their chest. Faces sport gun barrels sprouting from cheekbones.
The whole thing is grotesque, nightmarish, and beyond imagination.
It is no doubt a blessing that Giger successfully helped a director bring Hell to life. In the 80s, Giger worked with William Malone to create a film that was pitched as "Hellraiser in space."
That movie, of course, is Alien.
Giger went on to design a cosmic-scale Devil, but none of his sketches for that film rival the hellscape depicted in one of his darkest illustrations.
After looking at even a handful of H.R. Giger's illustrations, you end up feeling a little unclean, and more than a little creeped out. For the sake of your sanity, I advise you to step back, and maybe get some fresh air. Take a coffee break. You earned it. You just looked at H.R. Giger illustrations. That sort of thing can inspire Lovecraft levels of existential dread.