Like many horror fans who came of age in the 1980’s, the Xenomorph from Ridley Scott’s Alien invaded my nightmares on a regular basis! As I got older and more obsessed with the intricacies of filmmaking, it wasn’t long before I was introduced to the arresting art of H.R. Giger. The Swiss surrealist’s work is immediately recognizable; it’s a style often dubbed bio-mechanical, that somehow incorporates concepts of birth, sex, and death in shocking, psychedelic images: Eros and Thanatos intertwined.
Related Article: Ridley Scott Praises the TRUE Hero of “Alien” Without Whom “It Wouldn’t Have Been the Same Movie”
There’s a documentary called Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World that’s a must-watch for fans of Alien, Giger, and boundary-pushing art. It was filmed in the winter of his life and, though his work remained ever incomparable, we saw an old, detached artist who seemed to be drifting away from his mortal coil before our very eyes. Indeed, Giger passed shortly after the documentary wrapped, never seeing the end result that celebrated his many achievements.
Official Synopsis: Filmmaker Belinda Sallin delves into the life and art of surrealist H.R. Giger, whose dark creations have a far-reaching influence in film, music, body art and more.
I recently enjoyed an episode of The Practical People on YouTube; host Christopher Moonlight was interviewing lauded FX artist Steve Johnson. It revealed an extremely troubling aspect of Giger’s life that I was completely unaware of; a detail you’ll find no mention of on Wikipedia; a secret that may have actually prevented the artist from achieving his ultimate potential.
I learned that H.R. Giger had an intense and devastating love affair with heroin.
Here’s a primer on Steve Johnson: For three decades Emmy-Award winning Steve Johnson has been transforming raw elements, cutting-edge technology, and pure thought into mind-boggling creations. His company is responsible for the make-up effects in over two hundred films, countless television shows, commercials, and music videos. He’s blown the doors off audience’s expectations with unbelievable characters and FX in some of the most astounding and beloved films of our time. From the beauty and grace of the aliens from THE ABYSS to the zany antics of the ghosts from GHOSTBUSTERS. From the ground-breaking robotics for Robin William’s BICENTENNIAL MAN to the alien seductress from SPECIES to the multi-tentacled Doc Ock from SPIDERMAN II. (Source)
In Episode 10, released on April 23, 2018, Johnson discusses his most current project: a follow-up to his soon-to-sell-out, 2017 retrospective Rubberhead: Sex, Drugs, and Special FX Vol. 1. In addition to “pimping” his past and current projects, the two discussed the recent Monsterpalooza Convention, Virtual Reality, and even Anthony Bourdain. The conversation eventually turned to drugs… and then to Giger; then Johnson shared some very personal memories of their collaborations and interactions.
About Rubberhead: Sex, Drugs and Special FX Vol. 1: “A ‘how to do make-up’ book this is not. But a freewheeling, hallucinogenic roller-coaster tale of movie making, fame, fortune, and drug abuse.” -John Landis. Dive deep into the mind of award-winning special effects makeup legend Steve Johnson – the Hunter. S. Thompson of Horror. (Ghostbusters, The Abyss, An American Werewolf in London) (Source)
The episode is a must-watch/listen for fans of practical FX, the 1980s and 90s era horror movies, and anyone with passion in their hearts. Check it out in its entirety below; after the video, I’ll highlight Johnsons shocking and, often heartbreaking memories of the incomparable, H.R. Giger.
Official Synopsis: Join host Christopher Moonlight for this emergency episode of The Practical People as we near the deadline to fund the second volume of Steve Johnson’s book Rubberhead. Check it out, here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/…
Don’t say congratulations yet. He needs your help and you can get copies of both volumes before their gone forever.
Have you heard of the movies Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China, Men In Black, Species, A Nightmare on Elm Street or The Abyss? He’s done the effects for all of those movies and more. What about talents like James Cameron, H.R. Giger, Michael Jackson, or Clive Barker? He’s worked with every one of them and now he’s on The Practical People practical effects podcast telling stories and dishing out artist’s wisdom. Whether you’re an aspiring effects artist, filmmaker, or just love to create, you’re not going to want to miss this very special interview.
Note: This is Steve Johnson so some of the languages is a bit blue.
Steve Johnson: My motivation for writing [Rubberhead] is, ultimately, to teach. And I’m not talking teaching how to make a mold; as corny as it sounds, I’m talking about life lessons. How to be a person, whatever that may be. So hopefully the readers of this book won’t become cocaine addicts and destroy their lives and businesses. It’s a cautionary tale. Those days are over. I hope these tales of drugs and sex don’t glorify that [lifestyle]; my intent was to do the exact opposite.
Christopher Moonlight: Here’s my little comment on drugs, by the way: People who do too many drugs run the risk of harming or killing themselves, but besides that, I hear a lot of people saying, “I just wish I had that time back. I could have done something better with that time, something more fulfilling.”
SJ: Drugs are an interesting thing. I think so many talented people become addicts is because, in the beginning, with any substance, you think it’s making you a better artist. Take a look at H.R. Giger: In his heyday, was unbelievable and, I guarantee you, I know the man very well because I worked on 3 films with him…
He was on heroin and he would just focus-focus-focus-focus to the minutia that made him a famous artist. But having known him over the decades, the same thing that made him a better artist, in the beginning destroyed him. By the time he did Species 2, he couldn’t even hold a paintbrush in his hand. He was just doing crazy pen scribbles that didn’t make sense. I guarantee you that’s what happened: The drugs got the better of him.
The entire interview is intriguing, but I found this moment profoundly heartbreaking. Having done my own dances with chemical devils, I could have gone down a dark road myself; and I’ve seen my own friends and colleagues become shadows of their former glory, bowing at the altar of Dependency and Escapism.
No one can understate the importance of Giger’s work, the power of his legacy, or his guaranteed immortality through the art he created. But I can’t help but wonder: What more could this once in a lifetime artist have given us, had his final years been clear? The idea that a drug robbed us of the full realization of Giger’s brilliance is a tough pill to swallow.
About Christopher Moonlight Productions on YouTube: Christopher Moonlight Productions is Christopher Cooksey’s (www.christophercooksey.com) house of ideas. From filmmaking tutorials, interviews, podcasts, analysis videos, reviews, and short films, if you are someone who aspires to be creative, you’re going to have fun here. Now, let’s get to work.
UPDATE: Tom Gabriel Fischer, manager of the Museum of HR Giger disputes the claims presented in this article. Unless Steve Johnson (this article’s source) retracts his statements, we stand by our reporting. It is up to our readers to rate Johnson’s credibility as a source; we found him credible based on his reputation. Also, the spontaneous nature of the information he revealed indicates this was not part of a plan to sell his book. We also believe the message of this article is positive, extremely celebratory of Giger’s amazing achievements, and works as a cautionary tale and a means of destigmatizing dependency.