Alien: Giger's Alien Head

 
leading from


a) Human skulls from India
 
a.i) Using actual human skulls  in the sculptures
 
Giger requested actual human skulls so that he could use them to build the Alien creature, instead of using ones made from plastic kits.
 
The production bought him three skulls made available for medical purposes in India which back then, film Tobe Hooper noticed were cheaper than the actual plastic reproductions
 
Dan O'Bannon remembered that they had all arrived wrapped in plastic. 
 
They were three of the most perfect and beautiful skulls that Dan had ever seen in his life. 
 
a.ii) Suspicions about the origins of the skulls
 
However he had become slightly suspicious about their origins, since every tooth was intact with not a single filling, and it was as if they were fine young healthy people who had died. 

It would not be until some years later that his suspicions would lead to a realisation of something else about these skulls. 
 
He remembered that they cost something like $700 each because they were so fine.
 
a.iii) Skulls come from illegal activity?
 
Some years after the production, it would dawn on Dan O'Bannon that the skulls would have to come from young people to be so perfect and assumed that some illegal activity had been going on there to make such things available. 
 
a.iv) Reference in 'Return of the Living Dead' spells end to Indian skull exports?

It was shortly after the release of Return of the Living Dead (1985) in which a character makes a comment about a skeleton farm in India based on a comment that Dan's friend, film director Tobe Hooper, director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, had made about there being skeleton farms in India. 
 
What appeared to be happening back then in1985 ws that the Indian government banned the export of human bones after human rights groups raised questions about how the bones were being collected, particularly in north-eastern areas of India, forcing the trade underground. Before the ban, traders legally purchased corpses from relatives of the dead before exporting the skeletons.
 
After this, it became difficult for medical schools to get them. Dan wondered if it was due to his zombie film.
 
  1. Dan O'Bannon: There's a line of dialogue here where they talk about the skeletons with perfect teeth and he thinks that there's a skeleton farm in India. Well, in fact, when i was working on Alien. HR Giger asked them to obtain some real skulls for him to work from, to build the alien, the full size alien. And they did, and they purchased them and they brought him skulls which were wrapped in plastic just like that and they were the most beautiful skulls I had ever seen, they were like works of art, I was struck by the perfection and the teeth were all perfect, and I was told that they were ordered from India, and then sold for medical purposes but the production had bought them for Giger to use, and he took a hacksaw and cut them into pieces and put them back together, and subsequently when i was working with Tobe Hooper, who was meant to direct this film himself, we were talking about this scene. Hooper was aware also that medical skeletons were purchased from India, and he said that the eeriest thing. Tobe did did, he thinks that they have a skeleton farm in India. I thought about it a while, it was such a creepy idea that when i wrote the script, I put that in. The picture was released and a few months after the picture opened, i read a news item that the government of India had suddenly stopped the deportation of all skeletons for medical purposes, and ever since then it's very difficult for medical schools to get them. They use plastic skeletons and it may have been a coincidence or the film may have indeed come to their attention and they put a stop to it. I have a feeling, the creepy feeling that there was something very criminal going on in India. At what age does a person have an absolutely perfect skull and set of teeth? When they're young. (commentary for Return of the Living Dead) 
  2. Dan O'Bannon: Three of the most perfect human skulls I've ever seen in my life. They were beauties, they must have borrowed them off a living person to get them that perfect, every tooth was intact, not a filling. I think they cost something like $700 each, they were so primo (Fantastic Films #10, p14)
  3. KATE: To create these moments, you had incredible art direction. Your art director, Robert Burns (for Texas Chainsaw Massacre), was pretty industrious. I read that you ended up using real bones and animal cadavers that would actually start to rot during filming.

    HOOPER: Yes, some of the skeletons were real. When he’s impaled on the tombstone in the beginning. It’s a real human skeleton underneath it. That was a practical, budgetary thing. It was less expensive to get real human skeletons from India than to buy plastic reproductions.

    KATE: That’s crazy.(https://www.interviewmagazine.com/film/tobe-hooper)

  4. In 1985 the Indian government banned the export of human bones after human rights groups raised questions about how the bones were being collected, particularly in north-eastern areas of India, forcing the trade underground. Before the ban, traders legally purchased corpses from relatives of the dead before exporting the skeletons. See:https://www.thenationalnews.com/world/asia/ban-fails-to-stop-sales-of-human-bones-1.528471/ "Ban fails to stop sales of human bones"


 
A stock photo of anatomical skeletons.
Prior to a 1985 ban, India was one of the world's leading exporters of human remains.
https://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/23/asia/india-bone-smuggling/index.html
 
 


b) Adding a human skull to the Alien head
 
b.i)  Giger starts with the skull parts

Giger took one of the human skulls and jammed it into the front of the head area, riveted it into place and then started modifying it. 
 
Giger took out a hacksaw, sawed off the jawbone, then extended it by about six inches and creates a distorted jaw bone. 
 
He began to attach other fixtures and built an extension to the back of the skull. 
 
b.ii) Dan watches Giger work on the skull

It was fascinating at the time for Dan that actual human skulls were being used.
 
Indeed the presence of a human skull in the construction of the alien would remain a mystery to fans for many years to come. 
 
Extending physical anatomy in various ways was something quite prevalent in Giger's artwork as well, so one might easily find extended heads, limbs and fingers and toes in many of his images. 
 
  1. Dan O'Bannon: The face of the thing is a real skull. He took a human skull and jammed it right on the front, riveted it in place and then started modifying it. It was such a beautiful human skull. It has been a real person, not like one of those plastic model kits, and he takes out his hacksaw and he saws the jawbone off and extends [it] like six inches. He puts an extension on it, and creates this distorted jawbone. Then he starts attaching other fixtures to it and building a new extension on the back of it. He's doing this to a real human skull. When he finally [finished] ,a cast was made of it. It was a craftsman who actually cast the rubber costume of Giger's sculpture. When they were finished casting in rubber, he used his airbrush and painted the costume the same way he does his paintings. I truly believe that that monster in Alien is absolutely unique looking. I think it is two strides beyond any monster costume in any movie ever before. (Cinescape vol 3 #9 adapted from the intervview from Fantastic Films #10)
  2. Dan O'Bannon: - the face of the thing is a real human skull. He took one of the human skulls and jammed it right on the front, riveted it in place, and then started modifying it. It was such a beautiful human skull, you know, it has been a real person, not like one of those plastic model kits - and he takes out his hack saw and he saws the jawbone off and extends the jawbone, like six inches, puts an extension in it, and creates the distorted jawbone! Then he starts attaching other fixtures to it and building a new extension on the back of it. He's doing this to a real human skull! (Fantastic Films # 10 (US), p14)
  3. Dan O'Bannon:  The face of the thing is a real human skull. He took one of the human skull and jammed it right on the front, riveted it in place and then started modifying it. (Fantastic Films #10, p14)
  4. Dan O'Bannon: It was such a beautiful human skull, you know. It has been a real person, not like one of those plastic model kits, and he takes out his hacksaw and he saws the jawbone off and extends the jawbone like six inches, puts an extension on it, and creates this distorted jawbone! Then he starts attaching other fixtures to it and building a new extension on the back of it. He's doing this to a real human skull. (Fantastic Films #10, p14)
 

Giger works on the Alien, with Peter Voysey standing behind him and Eddie Butler on the right


 
 
c) Adding a long tongue with inner jaws
 
c.i)  Adding long tongue
 
The creature would be given a very long head. 
 
Since H R Giger as an industrial designer had the urge to give everything a function.
 
He felt that if it had a long head, then there was space for a long "tongue" 
 
Thus he gave the tongue teeth since he thought it was a very good filmic device.  
 
c.ii) A second row of teeth
 
However the idea for this second row of teeth came from Ridley Scott.
 
There was a point when he thought that Giger's painting Necronom IV had this double row of teeth
 
Giger would would notice how they came through in his first drawings.

Ridley told him to make it so that they could move, to make it somehow frightening and horrible
 
Giger did his best to do this.

  1. H.R.Giger: I started thinking that that long skull ought to have a function too. I prefer always to have these big long heads for the monster. So if it has a long head, there's space for a long tongue. And I also gave his tongue teeth. I thought it was very good as a filmic device. (Cinescape vo.3 no.9, p22)  
  2. H R Giger: It’s funny, the double teeth came when I did my first drawings. Ridley Scott told me to make it so that it could move. I hadn’t studied any animal. My instructions were that it should be somehow frightening and horrible, and I did my best. (www.nytimes.com, September 11th 2007. If the First Bite Doesn’t Do It, the Second One Will By CARL ZIMMER)
  3. H.R.Giger: Hmm. During the last shot you can see the Alien's "tongue" slowly coming out. And always to have these big long heads for the monster, because I worked as an industrial designer.  Every object needs to have a function. So if it has to be a long head, there's space for a long "tongue". I gave his tongue teeth . I thought it was very good as a filmic device  (Film Monsters # 156, p30, /Warren Present Alien Collectors Edition, p34)

The mouth of Necronom IV with double perhaps double rows of teeth

 
 

http://alienexplorations.blogspot.co.uk/1973/09/small-pazuzu-head-relic-from-exorcist.html
face of the alien and the head of a Pazuzu relic from The Exorcist


3 comments:

  1. It's so fascinating to see the old methods people used for film back in the day (which wasn't even that long ago, really). The amount of passion and work they put into it on such a technical and creative standpoint, with this abundant and very real respect for it... I honestly love being able to read about this kind of stuff.

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  2. I found that I had written "Tobe stated that India stopped the deportation of all skeletons for medical purposes making it ever since then difficult for medical schools to get them." but it was Dan O'Bannon who would have. I find it very peculiar that I could have made the mistake but I find a lot of these strange things around the blog that I can't explain as if something else has altered things

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  3. So I've added something about the skeleton trade in India being shut down which I thought was interesting, but if you go to the National News article linked, it appears as if it hasn't stopped

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