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H.R. Giger's 'Necronomicon'

The dark force behind Alien, H.R. Giger's 'Necronomico'n is a sci-fi horror lover's dream.

By Bill ShaffirPublished 6 years ago 5 min read

Necronomicon is the first major published compendium of images by influential Swiss artist H.R. Giger. The book became very popular in the world of sci-fi, and it was famously given to director Ridley Scott before he made the seminal science fiction film Alien — it's got an incredibly impressive 97 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes all these years later. Scott liked it so much he hired Giger to do the Alien art.

Giger's trademark dark and beautifully twisted art became a staple of much of the modern science fiction ever since he won an Academy Award for best achievement for visual effects for his work on Alien. Over the years, the man has left an undeniable mark on the industry and has become somewhat of a pop culture hero.

Much of his work features erotic bio-mechanical mixes of human beings and machines, with humanoids often thrown in. Born during World War II in Switzerland, Giger became obsessed at an early age with birth and death — especially death.

During this time, when machines were becoming more dominant in our every day lives, Giger experimented with humans and machines in his artwork, and sometimes they would interact in pretty jarring, sexually explicit ways. His work was so thought provoking that it caught the eye of legendary screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, who'd eventually pass it along to Scott. H.R. Giger's Necronomicon can not be overstated in terms of its importance to the sci-fi genre as a whole, it is much more than just an art book.

Now that we've talked a bit about H.R. and his impact on the sci-fi genre, let's dive deeper into the book a bit. Necronomicon is a milestone marker on the darkly lit path once traversed by great artists like H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe. Giger's remarkably vivid book of the dead and partially living gave us some of the most powerful images an artist ever drew, or that an imagination ever conceived.

In fact, the title of the book itself is named after a grimoire (a textbook of magic) that appeared in many of H.P. Lovecraft's most iconic tales. It's an homage to one of the darker minds in literary history, somebody Giger definitely read carefully, partly because they had the same big fascination: death.

Pain, torment, and sex are the major themes he plays with throughout his most well revered work, often to uncomfortable graphic levels. The monochromatic and futuristic style of drawing is incorporated into everything, including his landscapes, creepy but sexy women, and mutilated figures. It is so viscerally effective for the type of science fiction/horror imagery he’s producing, and it looks as if these drawings could have been drawn 500 years in the future.

The image that really caught Ridley Scott's eye was "Necronom IV." This print was to be the one that sparked the idea of what would become the Xenomorph in Alien. "Necronom IV" was the original inspiration for the creature design, and a terrifyingly relevant representation of the alien species that would appear in the classic movie.

In Alien, if you really think about it, the incredibly aggressive and violent alien rapes and kills in hopes to propagate its species. It's dark, but if you look at Giger's original image it's even more clear the creature's intent: the back of its head is basically a giant penis. Obviously, this had to be cleaned up a tad for a feature film with a multimillion dollar budget, but the resemblance and overall spirit of the image remained intact. Without H.R. Giger's Necronomicon there is no Xenomorph, and there is a great chance that the film's cultural relevance could have suffered, as well.

Once hired on by Ridley Scott, Giger put his masterful talents to work, and he began bringing his dark and disturbing work to life, and in so doing he created one of sci-fi and popular culture’s most iconic villains of all time. His work was so moving it has been on the big screen many times after in the sequels, and it's still relevant to this day.

After seeing H.R. Giger's Necronomicon we know that Ridley Scott contracted him to get to work on the design for what would become the Xenomorph. If you haven't seen the classic sci-fi or are unsure where the creature fits in, I'll describe it briefly.

A starship receives distress signal in space, they check it out leading to a strange pod field, and wind up getting into big trouble with an alien life form. The alien attaches itself to one of the crew member's face. Against Sigourney Weaver's advice, the crew member is allowed to reenter the ship where they try to remove the alien.

They eventually get it off, but the cut spills acid blood through many levels of their spacecraft. From there on out they make several attempts to get the creature off the ship or kill it. Nobody has ever seen anything like it before, and chaos ensures. It ends up becoming a Jaws in space style of adventure, with H.R. Giger's terrifying creation in place of a massive Great White Shark.

It was truly one of the most fear inducing creatures put on screen to that point, and its legacy has been everlasting, as every sci-fi horror movie that followed had borrowed from it in some way, or another. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone interested in the genre who is unfamiliar with H.R. Giger's Necronomicon.

Since Alien's release, his terrific movie work can be seen in the subsequent Alien films, Batman Forever, and most recently, Prometheus. Sadly for sci-fi fans, Giger was on the creative team behind one of the greatest science fiction films never made, Dune. In 2013, H.R. Giger was rightly placed into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. He passed away in 2014, leaving behind an incredible body of twisted and otherworldly work.


About the Creator

Bill Shaffir

Lover of gangster films and worried about the future of artificial intelligence.

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  • J3 months ago

    I read somewhere once that the xenomorph's elongated skull evolved in shape and size not only to protect its massive hive-mind brain, but also to help it blend in with the nature of its environment... almost like a form of camouflage. Makes me think of those butterflies that disguise their wings with patters of owl's eyes to deter predators (Predators... hmm). Not saying it's not phallic, just saying it might not be because they're 'rapists by nature', which is always an icky cop-out for assault. From what I remember of the movies (and what I know of galactic bodily orbits), the xenomorphs' world was 'interfered with' by human ship, just as the human world was by the engineers in Prometheus, if not in exactly the same way. The danger presented by the xenomorphs only ever seems to stem from human instigation such as disturbing a nest and threatening their young, or unwittingly invoking an ancient prophecy not meant for us, or attempted colonization resulting in the removal their offspring from its natural environment to be born somewhere unfamiliar under immediate stress (residential schools, much?), etc. Queen X always gave me 'angry momma bear protecting her cubs' energy, with the Predators' quest for honour, glory and conquest giving way more 'phallic' energy. The fact that humans and our technological counterparts find ways to over-empathize with one or the other and choose sides, or try to re-craft them to our liking, is an over-arching theme throughout the series, and one that I think people tend to overlook precisely because of how true it is, as is often the case with uncomfortable truths. I think Geiger was always onto that crux, and Ridley Scott recognized it, which is why the adaptation of the books made the Alien franchise so accessible and relatable. Ironic and paradoxical in theory, maybe, but that's kinda the point ;)

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