“Yeah. Tell him he’s about to copulate with a creature from outer space.”
A year ago, after watching and researching Tetsuo: The Iron Man, I learned how the film’s message focused on and depicted the fear of the machine and man’s place in the steadily industrialized cityscape of the modern world, told through the morbid experience of a Japanese salaryman.
It’s a fear I saw again in Cronenberg’s (a Canadian) Videodrome, where the erotism of the screen and the digital world intrudes on the self, obliterating identity, replacing it with servitude.
Even the most casual survey of eighties horror films’ (Chopping Mall anyone) had this overwhelming fear of the machine and the digital world acting as agents of humanity’s destruction. Eighties horror flicks were certainly part of a long tradition of films delving in the fear of the robotic and the mechanical (Metropolis –1927). And while this theme didn’t end in the eighties there seemed to be a shift that emerged in the nineties whereby robots and technology were slowly losing the stigma of ‘the Other’.
We were after all, universally beginning to bring machines, formerly relegated to the work world, into our homes and though we may have feared them, we were finally coming to grips with the reality that we had to learn to live with them. In fact, the nineties seemed to be all about acquiescing to the fact that machines and man were going to have to live together, regardless of whether we wanted to or not.
One needs only look at two of the most iconic films (horror and mainstream) from the two decades that dealt with this fear of the machine – Terminator and its sequel. In the first Terminator, the cyborgs are unequivocally bad, but by the second, well- we learn that in fact, we can teach them to feel compassion and empathy. Maybe there’s hope after all.
The nineties saw this morphing of machines as pure agents of our extinction into a decidedly fundamental part of our future, for good or for ill. Even non-horror movies like the Matrix, where the machines controlled mankind, showcased that yes, they may be our destroyers, but we are going to fuse with them either way, and our only defense might be to master these systems if we hope to survive.
What does this have to do with the 1995 science-fiction horror movie Species? Well, the film touches on a fear of the Other in the form of its principal antagonist – an alien known as Sil. Played by the stunning Natasha Henstridge, Sil is an alien built through combining human DNA with extraterrestrial DNA courtesy of a distant space transmission. So while the film’s focus wasn’t exactly one of man and machine, it did, like many horror films of the past, showcase the hidden nature of our science, blended with technology and how it could strike at anywhere and in our most intimate of moments, with or without our consent.
While I could discuss the movie Species in greater detail in this write-up, to be honest, the film wasn’t the greatest in terms of plot or spectacle (the special effects were, let’s say problematic) and the idea of a fatal alien hottie has been tackled before (The Astounding She-Monster – 1957) and since (Under the Skin – 2013). So instead, I want to talk for a bit about H R Giger.
If you are unfamiliar with him, Giger was the artist who designed the Sil hybrid form of the monster from the Species movie. When he began work on the film he had to that point, a long body of work that focused on the exploration of biomechanical themes. Giger, for those who don’t know, was the same artist who designed the creature for the Alien franchise.
As a teen I was pretty obsessed with Giger’s work. It was dark and moody and above all, highly erotic. He knew and trafficked in all the obscure fandoms that I loved (H. P. Lovecraft, Science Fiction and Horror) and influenced my own art stylings of the day.
But when I look back now, Giger seemed to pose a question regarding the overwhelming fear of the machine. Unlike Videodrome’s organic gun hand or Tetsuo’s power-drill penis, Giger’s biomechanical synthesis of the human form (especially the genitals) and the machine, offers a sensual blend of humanity and its creations in a way that isn’t couched in a decidedly fearful mindset, but one that fetishizes this dependency and explores the true origins of that fear.
Yes, the machines are changing us, and yes his work can certainly be described as nightmarish, but I don’t think most would characterize his pieces solely as such, nor this fusion as without a sense of beauty. But rather, I would argue his work questions what is the true foundation of our fear, especially since his art seems to blend this fear with a sense of erotism.
For Giger, instead of some future, the artist presents us with the fact that this fusion between the organic and inorganic may already be present in our lives. We are already connected to machines and the machines are already a part of us. Whereas the fear of machine’s destroying us was rampant in eighties horror, Giger’s work speaks to the fact that we are in fact already being destroyed, constantly, from our insides and from the moment we are born and not by machines, but by nature. If anything, our machines might in some way immortalize the parts of us that are the most primitive: our sexuality.
The beauty of the figures in Giger’s art, including Alien and Sil, is obvious. Sil’s very nature, that of a seductive she-alien whose only goal is to mate and kill, is entirely explicit and the creature’s design is equally so. Yet it is not the mechanical in Giger’s design of her form that is inherently threatening, but the penetrative organic-seeming parts that appear menacing – both Alien and Sil have phallic weapons, oral and appendage-wise, that are the murderous means of dispatching their victims. Contrast this with the guns used against them in the films and with the guns, bombs and drills used in Videodrome and Tetsuo.
The incorporation of the machine merely emphasizes the rote nature of the acts and these experiences of death and desire, twisting the organic with the inorganic into an inseparable blend that eliminates the boundary of man and machine. In this mixture, it is the man-parts that are still the most dangerous and the machine parts are little more than a canvas for these organics. It’s not technology we fear per say, but how we use that technology given our own base natures. What we fear in machines is, according to Giger, already within us. We fear death, we fear sex, we even fear birth. This amalgamation of the technological and the primitive is in many ways therefore, redundant.
The eventual conclusion of this synthesis, if mankind gets that far, is a fusion that produces man-machines capable of procreation, forcefully or compassionately thus extending our biology into our technology. As humans we die, have sex and give birth. Why would our creations do anything but accentuate these primal functions? The fusion in Giger’s work questions that which is the truly harmful influence, the organic, or the inorganic? Judging by the films his designs have all been incorporated into, it’s clear which is the greater threat.
But for our purposes – let’s get to creating a brutally effective, hormonal alien monster for our D&D table!
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Like music? Me too and I couldn’t help myself this week – just trying to have some fun folks! Daryl Hall & John Oates Maneater sure seems like a good fit for this particular femme fatale.