Hans Rudolf Giger, who just died in hospital from injuries sustained in a fall, is best known globally for designing the iconic Xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s Alien, as well as his work on set design for the entire movie, and for an immediately recognizable style that transposed comfortably into media from furniture to human skin – via tattoos. He apparently played up to his own image to the hilt, and some harsher critics might agree with the Associated Press’s reference to unkind dismissals of his work as “morbid kitsch.” But influential it certainly was, and Giger himself repaid his literary influences through clear citations and tributes, most explicitly in his first book of artworks, Necromonicon, released in 1977 and named after H.P. Lovecraft’s notorious fictional grimoire. To this day, he is more or less known as the archetypical artist of Lovecraftian horror, though Lovecraft himself was never so interested in the fusion of flesh with machinery that became Giger’s trademark. (He called some of his most disturbing creations “biomechanoids.”)
Giger was clearly an artist steeped in literature, and well able to realize the visions of writers. The one great body of his work that probably most people would most like to see is the designs and plans that he executed for Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s abortive movie adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Designs and costumes in the David Lynch-directed version that finally did hit the big screen bear more than a passing nod to Giger’s grim, industrial body-horror aesthetic, but were not a patch on what his own creations might have been – hardly surprising since the body horror of Lynch and David Cronenberg also mined the same black vein. The HR Giger Museum in the Château St. Germain in Gruyères contains a huge archive of his work, in an appropriately Gothic setting.
His style or themes may not have evolved much, but Giger pursued one narrow but original and completely distinctive vision consistently through decades, becoming almost an institution in the process. Probably his imagination has worked its way into the nightmares of horror fans and moviegoers everywhere. That deserves a sort of dark immortality.