'Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World': Film Review

Courtesy of Icarus Films
The film is an intimate introduction to a gentler-than-expected man.

And you thought the stuff in 'Alien' was creepy.

What was it like to hang out with the late H.R. Giger, whose nightmarish art was immortalized in the Alien series? Pretty congenial, according to Belinda Sallin's Dark Star, which hangs out around the painter's home in the last months of his life and finds a gentle man much beloved by friends and family. (He's even a cat owner!) Digging around in the crannies of his highly unusual home but never becoming intrusive, the doc feels like it was made by a friend, in a good way. It should find a modest audience at art houses on its way to a respectable video afterlife.

Heavy and slow-moving in his later years, with a pained way of speaking through his downturned mouth, Giger is a subdued but not unfriendly host. The Zurich house he has called home for many years is dark, stuffed with his artwork and so many books that stacks of them long ago overtook the bathtub. Outside is the kind of pint-sized train one finds in amusement parks, though this one tours through grotesque oversized sculptures conjuring, as a psychologist describes it, the "perinatal experience ... the trauma of birth, which we have never consciously processed."

That shrink is a buddy of Giger's, and we don't need his help to make sense of things after hearing stories from the artist's childhood, like the time his big sister took him to a museum and he was so terrified of an Egyptian mummy that he came back every Sunday, forcing himself to spend time with it. Or when his father was given a real human skull, and Giger, too repulsed to hold it, tied a string to it and dragged it around the neighborhood with him.

The point is that the visions in Giger's monochromatic paintings — the devourings, conjoinings, penetrations and cybertransformations too baroque to describe here — are not things that appeal to him so much as visions that must be neutralized by pushing them out of his head and onto canvas. Studio assistant Thomas Gabriel Fischer, who once fronted the extreme metal band Celtic Frost, echoes this art-as-exorcism theme while describing the painter as enormously generous to young artists.

Sallin lets Giger's younger wife do most of the talking about the art in their compound (his mother-in-law also works in Giger's home office), while digging up good vintage documentary footage of the artist in his prime. We close with a trip to the H.R. Giger Museum and its movie set-like bar, where the artist is greeted for a book signing by fans of all ages, some of whom weep while thanking him for the disturbing art he made.

Production company: T&C Film
Director-Screenwriter: Belinda Sallin
Producer: Marcel Hoehn
Director of photography: Eric Stitzel
Editor: Birgit Munsch
Music: Peter Scherer
No rating, 95 minutes