H.R. Giger is the father of the Xenomorph. We call it an alien, we call it a monster, but to Giger his creation was beautiful, no matter how many people it raped and killed. Known for its interspecies sexual domination and wanton destruction, the xenomorph is not unlike ourselves. Perhaps we are the real monsters.
Just a fair warning, this episode covers topics that some of you may not want to hear. Due to the nature of the Alien films and renowned artist H.R. Giger, the guy who created the iconic xenomorph, I’ll be covering some violent and sexually explicit themes that are unavoidable in a study of this creature from outer space. A movie monster is what a movie monster does. Now is your chance to skip over to another episode of Paracosms, maybe one about young wizards or spandex-wearing superheroes. If you’re not the squeamish type, then stay tuned and learn a bit about the infamous alien species that has been raping humans to death for the last several decades. I am Arthur McMahon, and this is Paracosms.
Back in 1977 director Ridley Scott was working on a romantic film called Tristan and Isolde. He had just wrapped up his directorial debut on a historical drama called The Duellists and was in Los Angeles to promote the release of the movie, but as fate would have it his colleague, producer David Puttnam, convinced Scott to join him at the theater to watch another new release of the time, a little movie called Star Wars.
Scott remembered that experience in an interview with Deadline Hollywood where he said, “By the time the movie was finished, it was so stunning that it made me miserable. That’s the highest compliment I can give it; I was miserable for week. I hadn’t [yet] met George [Lucas] at that point, but I thought, Fuck George.”
It was then and there, after watching Star Wars for the first time, that Ridley Scott dropped his current project, a romantic drama, deciding that he had to do something different. Something bigger.
Giger’s alien was a reflection of humanity’s darkness, the pure, primordial desires and impulses buried within the deepest pits of our inner selves.
The screenplay had been written by newcomer Daniel O’Bannon, a student of the USC Film School who was broke and homeless before finding a buyer for his Alien sceenplay. Having used beach balls and toilet plungers as alien monsters in his student films, Bannon dreamed of one day creating a frighteningly real alien creature. He found inspiration in the Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger and used the artist’s horrific biomechanical creations to illustrate his script.
In an interview with David Konow of Tested, Bannon said, “I was struck by the originality of Giger’s paintings. Not only were they frightening works, but they were absolutely, utterly original and beautifully executed. Looking at them I thought, If somebody could get this guy to design a monster for a movie, it would be something no one’s ever seen before. So I went in knowing that I had the cherry on top with the visualization of the thing.”
Bannon’s space story coupled with Giger’s hideous monstrosities landed on the laps of studio executives immediately after the surprising blockbuster success of Star Wars. All of a sudden 20th Century Fox was interested in pumping out more space-faring fiction to ride along on George Lucas’ money-making coattails, and Bannon’s Alien script was one of the only few relevant screenplays to choose from at the time.
Through their collaboration on the project, Bannon shared Giger’s compendium of artwork, his Necronomicon, with Ridley Scott.
After looking through that bewitching book of the dead it was clear to Scott that H.R. Giger should design the creature for their horror movie.
Giger arrived on set as an illustrator who was given the sole task of designing the Alien creature. The artist wanted to create an original monster for the film, but Scott was infatuated with two specific Giger paintings from the Necrinomicon which were titled Necronom IV and V. “I had never been so sure of anything in my life,” said Scott. “They were quite specific to what I envisioned for the film, particularly in the unique manner in which they conveyed both horror and beauty.” The director insisted that Giger follow the form of those specific pieces of art in the creation of the alien that would come to be known as the Xenomorph.
Giger’s style was unique at the time. He created dark, gritty, and overtly sexual images that were often called futuristic, though the artist insisted that he drew his inspiration from the reality he saw in his daily life. This frightened the studio execs at Fox who nearly pulled Giger from the production. The studio considered him too over-the-top for general audiences, but Ridley Scott fought to keep the artist on the project. It was already set to be labeled as an R rated film. What harm could Giger possibly cause?
After witnessing how much skill Giger had for production design, the producers granted him the task of not only creating the monster itself, but also most of the set design— everything from the alien planet to the derelict spacecraft. Giger likened his flavor for design to what he called biomechanics. Aspects of his creations were fused between the natural and mechanical, blending beauty with horror, flesh with metal. And sex, well, that was everywhere.
Bannon’s original concept for the Alien film included violent scenes of interspecies rape, a theme that Giger had the necessary special set of skills to exploit. His Necronom evolved into the Xenomorph, a monster with enough phallic notoriety to make Ron Jeremy blush.
The Xenomorph. It’s a creature without a language. It’s not cultured, not overtly intelligent, it doesn’t fly. Xenomorphs are nothing like the little green men people once imagined were zooming around in their saucer-shaped UFOs, nothing like the sentient, governable races found in the Star Wars universe. What Giger created was a horrific, animalistic parasite that raped and killed in order to propagate its own species. The entire life cycle of a xenomorph is filled with sexual violence and little else.
Let’s go through the phases. You might be expecting me to jump right into the facehuggers, which are undeniably the most sexually graphic creatures in the alien films, but we’re not there yet. In the beginning of the alien reproductive cycle there are the eggs— hatcheries of which are laid by a queen, often in damp, dark places that humans unfortunately tend to stumble upon. Giger originally designed the eggs to look like vaginas from which the facehuggers would launch out of, but the producers had a fit over the idea. They said it was too specific, that it wouldn’t fly in “Catholic countries.” In an article with Cinefantastique, Giger talked about his battles with the production team, ultimately having to give up his desire for the vaginal display. He said, “So to satisfy Catholic audiences, I modified the egg, and made the opening a cross on the top. I like the opening of the egg in the film. They used real meat from a slaughterhouse, mmmm.”
Some concessions were made to the producers, but not many. Now we can jump on in to the facehuggers, or rather, they would likely be the ones jumping us, latching onto our faces and forcing their embryos down our throats, orally assaulting the first living thing that they came into contact with. Somehow they survived the producer’s criticisms. The design of the facehuggers is basically a fusion of two hands with two penises, one penis to shove down a victim’s throat and the other to wrap around the outside of the victim’s neck: perhaps some weird reflection by Giger on human bondage fantasies or something of the ilk.
The facehuggers inject their spawn into a host, which can be a human, a dog— anything that breathes and has an orifice to violate, apparently. The embryo grows inside of its host, quickly, and then through another violent penetration it bursts out of its host’s chest cavity, birthing itself by causing the death of the host creature.
This phallic theme continues as the xenomorph grows into its adult form. The alien creature has a long, sleek, phallic shaped head, and when it attacks another phallus extends out of its mouth with another set of biting teeth, often punching itself through another creature’s flesh. Giger has not denied the sexual innuendos, in fact, he has celebrated them. In discussing the xenomorph he has said, “When the mouth is closed it looks very voluptuous, beautiful. But when it opens its jaws the tongue inside the mouth is more like a spear… also very suggestive… which penetrates the head with greater velocity, snagging bits of brain. From Beauty to the Beast.”
The xenomorph is just a giant walking penis, a monster born from society’s darkest truths and fears.
Giger’s alien was a reflection of humanity’s darkness, the pure, primordial desires and impulses buried within the deepest pits of our inner selves. Looking at the harsh realities of war, we can see how easily humans succumb to their primal instincts. In the havoc and mayhem we become animals, predators.
Throughout human history there have been countless travesties, many of them laced with a blatant disregard for human life, with destruction, pillaging, and violent rape, even necrophilia. The xenomorph is an animal, lacking the sentience to understand the destruction it causes. What was it Ash said? He admires its purity. He called it a survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
We, as members of the human race, don’t have that excuse. We do have a conscience, we make judgements on morality. Yet we have committed the same heinous acts as the xenomorph— to each other, billions of times over. If we call the alien a monster because it does not have a choice in how it acts, does that mean that we are more loathsome than it because we understand the choices we make?
The xenomorph species continues to surprise us, though. Whatever unlucky being a facehugger latches onto ultimately becomes a part of the xenomorph that grows within it. In Alien 3 we were introduced to the dog alien. Yeah, a dog was violated by a facehugger and was killed in the resulting birth of a xenomorph. The dog alien looked like a dog and acted like a dog, a violent, rabid dog. A dog that exuded all of the worst tendencies a dog could have. It was a frightening beast for sure, but nowhere near as thought-provoking as a human xenomorph. Dogs are only so deep. We know what a bad dog is capable of. This new monster lacked the depth of introspection and philosophy that we were able to derive from its more human-like counterparts.
This adaptive trend was continued in Aliens vs. Predator where a predator was impregnated by a facehugger, eventually spawning the first predalien. This fusion of ultimate hunter and ferocious prey combined to make a fearsome beast that was more dangerous than either of its conjoined parts, but like the dog alien it lacked depth. The predalien was stronger, smarter, faster, more efficient— it had many of the characteristics required to be the most frightening monster in the Alienverse yet.
It didn’t quite raise that bar, however. The predalien moved further away from humanity or a reflection thereof. It was purely another destructive beast, one that we had no connection to. Despite the creature’s inherent power, the horror that was spawned in the first Alien movie was gone. The predalien could cause havoc unlike any other, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the dude-in-a-rubber-suit-xenomorph that Ripley squared off against in the claustrophobic corridors of the Nostromo.
That’s because we didn’t know what we were up against in the beginning of the franchise. H.R. Giger and Ridley Scott have both been quoted as saying that the monster was the most important part of the first Alien film, an idea that apparently was lost over the subsequent movies. That first xenomorph was kept in the shadows throughout the first Alien film, shrouded in mystery. Parts of its shape were revealed in quick flashes, creating tension, unease, offering the audience a chance to wonder what it was that lurked in the darkness.
This experience was lost in the following movies because we now knew what we were up against, we knew what the alien was capable of. That original intrigue the audience felt wasn’t revived until Alien: Resurrection came out in 1997. That’s when we got to meet the newborn.
It was only a brief experience, but in Resurrection we finally had a new monster on our hands, one that we could relate to, one that we were wholly unsure of what it was capable of. The newborn was a new breed of xenomorph that had been fused with human DNA. Its skin was softer than the other alien’s. It had a recognizable face with a nose and eyes that were sunken deep into its skull. It was a baby, a nine-foot-tall giant baby with superhuman strength and a hostile temper given by its alien DNA.
Ripley cared for the monstrous newborn because, in a twisted way, it was her child. This gave the audience a reason to care for the creature, though we also feared its untamable penchant for destruction. The newborn caused us to question ourselves, our opinions of what is right and wrong. It may have been short-lived, the decision of whether to kill the newborn for the sake of humanity was destined to go the way that it did, but it only took a few moments of uncertainty for the audience to care about the fate of the monster.
That’s all it took to bring us back to those same emotions we felt in the first movie where we had to question and define what it meant to be human. The newborn, like the xenomorph, offered us the chance to see how far humankind had come from its primal past, but to also consider how easy it can be for us to revert back to those primitive ways at any moment, given the proper circumstances.
Other variants of xenomorphs exist, further showcasing the breed’s adaptability and rampant interspecies sexual domination. The Prometheus movie from 2012 gave us the little Deacon which looks like a xenomorph, acts like a xenomorph, but because of studio politics it isn’t called a xenomorph. It is though, come on. Alien: Covenant introduces the neomorphs which are more natural, plant-like xenomorphs. And then there is a wealth of comics and toys that have spawned all sorts of variants, all of which are feasible due to the way the xenomorphs can impregnate just about any living thing.
We call the xenomorph an alien. We call it a monster. We do this because we want to separate the creature from ourselves, labeling it as despicable, disgusting, something unrelated to humanity. That’s not the truth though, is it? It’s not unlike ourselves. You know well enough what human beings are capable of. We can be disgusting, despicable, and far more terrifying than a xenomorph. We would make one hell of a movie monster. A human being, now that’s something that a family of aliens would fear.
Imagine the movie titles. Man. Mankind. Man vs. Predator. Oh wait, Arnie already starred in that one.
Science fiction is often used as a setting to introduce terrifying threats to humanity. It’s like we use it to distract ourselves from the monster within, to trick ourselves into believing that we aren’t the most evil presence in the universe. Do we need these scifi monsters to feel better about ourselves? To prove that humanity is worth preserving, worth fighting for?
Let me leave you with this quote from the creator of the Xenomorph, Mr. H.R. Giger.
“Nowadays I think people like science fiction the same way they take, or would like to take drugs or whatever to escape from reality. People need science fiction because it makes them happy. It shows them to areas they would be too afraid to explore otherwise. Many people find my designs horrible at first. But if they look at them a little longer, they eventually accept that world they had not seen before, and admit there is some harmony to it. It’s just another kind of peace, but not so well-known. I don’t want to instill trouble into people’s minds.”
This has been an episode of Paracosms. Giger and Scott were right, the alien really is the most important part of the story. The xenomorph is an iconic movie monster that is recognizable even to those who have no interest in the films. There is so much more to be said about H.R. Giger’s artwork, about Ridley Scott’s films, about Ripley, and even about the xenomorph. I’ve barely scratched the surface.
The good thing is that means there is plenty of material left for future episodes. If you want to explore more about Aliens on your own you can always pickup an audiobook from Audible. Remember you can get one for free and help support Paracosms by visiting audibletrial.com/paracosms. There are actually a good number of highly rated Alien books on Audible. There’s even an Alien vs. Predator series with hundreds of ratings averaging 4.5 out of 5 stars. I’m going to check it out myself.
Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this world and I look forward to seeing you at the next.
- The Nostromo by Underground Spirit