Hans Rudolf Giger (more commonly known as H.R. Giger) has died. A grim opening statement to say the least. Many of you may not know who Giger was, or may have only heard his name in passing, but you have without a doubt experienced his work in some form. He will forever be remembered as the man who envisioned the terrifying countenance of the Xenomorph in the Alien film series…but to me he will always be so much more than that.
I usually try to keep everything professional on ITK and let opinion act as the porthole into my personality and those of all the team members – the most explicit information being the occasional anecdote – so in a rare moment of personal introspection, I have decided to expose my past, why H.R. Giger played such an important role, and how our stories are not all that far removed.
Rather the devil you know than the one you don’t: that’s what they say, but when the devil happens to be the boogieman, you can never know for certain. Giger always had a keen interest in the arts from a young age, and in spite of his father claiming art to be a breadless profession, he pursued and succeeded. But art was more than a career for Giger – it was his salvation. Suffering from paralysing night terrors (demonic visions and lucid dreams that haunt the psyche), Giger used his talents as a therapy, bringing his visions to life on canvas – visions that included the now infamous Xenomorph.
Giger never knew it, but he was at least partially responsible for my condition, and at the same time, redeemed himself with his treatment. A vivid imagination can be an incredible tool, but for the young, it frequently spells many a night huddled under the covers in fear. For 21 long years, I suffered with debilitating night terrors, an experience I would not wish on my worst enemy. It’s hard to explain but humour me for this next part:
Cast your minds back to that of a 5 year old. Tuckered out after a day of fun with friends and family, it’s time to say goodnight to Mom and Dad. A bedtime story passes by in the blink of an eye and it’s time to drift off to dreamland…except this isn’t what you remember, and this is no dream, this is real and the beasts of the imagination that retreat upon waking never really do. You’re trapped in your nightmare, and when you do wake up, the nightmare is still there. There’s nowhere to hide, nowhere. Shadows are demons, haunted spirits wonder on the periphery of your vision, and flesh devouring behemoths manifest themselves in your gut and follow closely, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
Night terrors were a part of my life since a young age. The beasts in my head were bad enough, but after I had a taste of Hollywood’s mental imagery, it only became worse. Poltergeist may take top billing for purveyor of most sleepless nights, but Alien provided the most fear. Ridley Scott’s masterpiece lives on in popular culture as an icon of science-fiction and suspense, but the true fear was delivered through H.R. Giger’s monstrous vision. The sleek dome of the Xenomorph with it’s rows of razor sharp teeth and whip like tail was without a doubt one of the prime suspects in my enduring childhood terror.
Where therapy failed as a child, alcohol proved a success as an adult, albeit one that came at a cost. I suppose it’s poetic justice that the influence of Giger and his “Art Therapy” would eventually deliver me from what had haunted my nightmares for so many years. As with Giger, I had always been a keen artist, and moving into the professional world, I owed it to myself to get my visions on paper, whether it helped or not. And it did help. Giger’s biomechanical imagery may have cursed my childhood, but his story was the tonic that delivered me from endless nights wrought with fear that lasted well into adulthood.
This loss is one that is shared not only by geeks and nerds, art lovers and cinephiles, but by everyone. Giger affected popular culture in a way that few individuals have, and without his contribution, the art of horror would not be what it is today. And of course, I would not be who I am right now.