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RIP H.R. Giger, Who Gave Us the Oscar-Winning Xenomorph in 'Alien' and Other Fantastically Macabre Art (VIDEOS)

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood May 13, 2014 at 3:40PM

The famed Surrealist artist H.R. Giger, best known for his game-changing designs on Ridley Scott's "Alien," has died at age 74. He had been hospitalized after a fall down the stairs in his Zurich home.
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H.R. Giger
H.R. Giger

The famed Surrealist artist H.R. Giger, best known for his game-changing designs on Ridley Scott's "Alien," has died at age 74. He had been hospitalized after a fall down the stairs in his Zurich home.

H.R. Giger

It was the hammer-headed Xenomorph from 1979's "Alien" that won Giger his Oscar in 1980 for Best Achievement in Special Effects. (It was based on his 1976 lithograph "Necronom IV.") He then went on to contribute designs for "Poltergeist 2," "The Other Side," "Alien 3," "Species" and "Prometheus," to name a few, as well as designing out-of-this-world, macabre album covers for Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Debbie Harry and Danzig.

In terms of the look of his art, Giger himself described it as "biochemical." He returned again and again to monochromatic landscapes, steampunk visions of the fusion of the organic body with machines, monsters and genitalia. He opened his own museum to display his work in Gruyeres, Switzerland in 1998, where he also exhibited others Surrealists' work -- including the greats, like Dali and Fuchs.

Giger was most recently featured in interview in the terrific documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune"; he had been approached by the Chilean filmmaker to contribute VFX designs to the doomed epic Jodorowsky envisioned, before plans fell through and the film went to David Lynch.

Meanwhile, the Letters of Note blog has a fascinating, strikingly honest letter from James Cameron to Giger, penned in 1987, apologizing for not having contacted the designer for his sequel "Aliens."

Here's a few tidbits from what the web is saying:

Huffington Post:

The image of a brooding, mysterious artist was nurtured by Giger working only at night, keeping his curtains permanently drawn and dressing mainly in black — a habit he acquired while working as a draftsman because it made Indian ink stains stand out less on his clothes.

While his work was commercially successful, critics derided it as morbid kitsch. His designs were exhibited more frequently in "Alien" theme bars, short-lived Giger museums and at tattoo conventions than in established art galleries.

Rolling Stone:

Punk group the Dead Kennedys included a poster of Giger's Landscape #XX, also known as Penis Landscape as it depicted rows of erect phalluses in coitus, in the packaging of their 1985 album Frankenchrist, and were subsequently put on trial for obscenity. When a 14-year-old girl bought the album for her 11-year-old brother, her parents filed a complaint with the California attorney general. The Dead Kennedys had included a sticker on their album art bearing a warning about the poster: "Some people may find [it] shocking, repulsive or offensive – life can sometimes be that way." The group later removed the poster and included a voucher fans could mail in for it. The obscenity case ended in a mistrial.

Associated Press:

His mother Melli, to whom he showed a lifelong devotion, encouraged her son's passion for art, despite his unconventional obsession with death and sex that found little appreciation in 1960s rural Switzerland. The host of one of his early exhibitions was reportedly forced to wipe the spit of disgusted neighbors off the gallery windows every morning.

And below, watch clips from Giger's film work

, as well as a charmingly dated, feature-length documentary from the mid-70s that investigates his unusual artistic methods. 

This article is related to: News, Obit


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.