H.R. by Andrew Gunn
Flashback 16 years. Standard Grade Art. Mrs Cherrie's fearsome Yorkshire accent.
She introduces the dissertation element of our course—4,000 words on design. Write about shoes. Write about fonts. Write about bridges.
I'm bored by shoes and fonts. My interest in bridges is mild. I'm into movies. I can't think of any movie better designed than Alien. (16 years later, I still can't.)
I'm 15 at the time. The British Board of Film Classification has given Alien an 18 certificate.
—Mrs Cherrie, can I write about Alien?
—Of course you can, lad. Here are some fucked-up books by H.R. Giger.
The implication was, screw the British Board of Film Classification.
I was the first person at my school to write a dissertation about a film. I wouldn't trust myself to remember the specifics, but the gist was this:
Giger created an iconic monster on a par with Dracula, Hyde and Frankenstein's reanimated, lumbering man-child. It's unquestionably the greatest modern monster, developed from Giger's existing art and with due respect to the screenwriters who plotted its narrative life cycle.
The Alien is terrifying because it's biomechanical. The Alien is terrifying because it's aggressively sexual. The Alien is terrifying because it's an ugly amalgamation of bits and pieces we recognise from ourselves.
The wrecked horseshoe spaceship is inspired. It looks like a spare rib or a turd, genuinely unlike any mechanical craft you might design with sane human imagination. Its bowel-shaped corridors are like the inside of a chest cavity. The dead skeletal pilot is too big. The eggs may be expected but the laser nets are not.
The Alien species is built to rape. Out of the egg jumps a spider with finger-legs. It shoves its cock down your throat and spunks until it's dead. You sleep. You wake up with a case of the Rohypnols and the fucking flu. Then comes the virgin birth: the critter rapes you from the inside out and your death is an unfortunate side effect.
The fully grown Alien is man-shaped from the neck down, albeit a man with an exo-skeleton made from oily vaccuum cleaner parts and fried chicken bones, and with a scorpion tale of rose thorns. Its head is a rigid penis. It has no eyes, ears or nose. Its mouth conceals an auxiliary, snappier, retractable mouth—beware the French kiss that can punch through your skull.
The design takes our sexual and reproductive iconography and filters it through a predatory nightmare. What if an egg hatched a spider, what if oral sex led to pregnancy, what if the creature's brain was its hard-on. The design terrifies on the surface, and the concept terrifies below the surface. We can't unthink it.
I mean, look at this motherfucker:
Unity of form and content makes the Alien a work of art. The film around it is also pretty fucking great.
The Alien was conceived from Giger's extraordinary images. Alien, the film, swallowed the embryo and set the monster free. The monster made the film a classic.
The monster ripped through sequels. The monster ripped through monsters from another franchise. Alien vs Predator is the new Godzilla vs King Kong. But Godzilla and King Kong are much-loved hero monsters. The Predators have been somewhat neutralised by their code of honour. One of those guys gave Danny Glover a musket. The Alien is still unsettling, still unfathomable, still frightening.
Alien is maybe the greatest horror film of all time. Alien is a wonderful collaboration between many talents, one of those productions where all the key people were at the top of their game. But the strength of a monster movie, in the end, comes down to its monster.
Farewell Hans Rudolf. You creeped the shit out of me then, and you creep the shit out of me still.
Originally published 14 May 2014.