It is arguably the most famous tag line in cinema history – In space no one can hear you scream – and for a generation, it is the film that defined horror in a way that all of Hollywood’s vampires, zombies and supernatural entities combined could not hope to emulate.
When tyro director Ridley Scott unleashed Alien on the world in May of 1979, few could have anticipated the impact the film would have – and fewer still the longevity of the franchise it would spawn. Claustrophobic, tense and realistic – no shiny, spacious USS Enterprises here – the film was also tautly written and impeccably acted by its little-known (at the time) cast. The direction was also superb – the tale of how the rest of the cast was kept in the dark before shooting John Hurt‘s pivotal scene, in order to heighten the element of surprise, has passed into film-making folklore.
But for all of the cast and crew’s very considerable achievements, in many ways Alien belongs to that most unsung of contributors, the concept artist: Hans Rudolf Giger, born on this day in 1940. H R Giger was a Swiss surrealist artist and designer, whose disturbing work, replete with transgressive sexual imagery and demonic melange of the organic and the mechanistic was perfect for the truly alien look of Scott’s film.
Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon said, ‘His paintings had a profound effect on me. I had never seen anything that was quite as horrible and at the same time as beautiful as his work. And so I ended up writing a script about a Giger monster.’ After he introduced Ridley Scott to Giger’s work, Scott knew immediately that his design problem had been solved and flew to Zurich to meet the man who would design all aspects of his alien and its environment.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
H R Giger, we salute you.