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Giger on Poltergeist II

Hired for marquee value, the Oscar-winning designer of ALIEN wasn't given the same kind of artistic freedom.

By Jan Doense

Swiss artist Hans Rudi Giger, who won an Oscar for his contribution to ALIEN, provied the conceptual art upon which some of the more bizarre scenes in POLTERGEIST II:THE OTHER SIDE are based. Giger talked about his work on the film by phone from his home in Switzerland.

How did you get involved with POLTERGEIST II?

I was called by director Brian Gibson. About five years ago he asked me to collaborate on a film called THE TOURIST, which he was going to direct for Universal. It was to be a horror film about extraterrestrials who are forced to land on earth and can only survive under very special conditions. Universal decided they'd rather make a film for children, called. E. T. That put an end to our project.

Was the opportunity to work again with Gibson what attracted you to POLTERGEIST II?

There were other reasons. I was assured the film would be made. Since ALIEN I'd worked on several film projects, none of which were ever realized. Also, I was told that the people who were going to make POLTERGEIST II were not the same as those who did the first one, which turned out not to be the case. But when I arrived in Los Angeles to discuss the project I felt it was too late to bow out.

Would you if you had known before?

I probably would have considered the original designers more qualified to do the job. I was asked by the producers [Mark Victor and Michael Grais], who also wrote the script, what I would like to do. I told them, but things turned out just the way they had been planned in the screenplay. There was no room for my own fantasies.

What exactly did you contribute to the film?

I only did drawings and paintings, here in Zurich. Duplicates were sent to Los Angeles, where one of my collaborators made small-scale models of them. These were then used as a guide for Richard Edlund and his people to construct the actual models. My job was mainly to design The Great Beast, a creature that evolves from a worm in a bottle of mescal. I also designed several other creatures, but I don't think they made it into the film.

This "evolution" sounds a bit like the one in ALIEN.

Yes, that's correct. It is a bit similar, but it's really not the same. At least I hope it has turned out different.

Your contributsion to POLTERGEIST II seems not nearly as important as ALIEN. Don't you think the main reason you were hired was to sell the film on the strength of your name?

Yes, quite probably. But I don't object to that. There is a big difference between this film and ALIEN. On the latter, I was able to construct the models myself. On this film I didn't construct anything. There was no way to check anything. Often I was phoned by Brian Gibson, who would tell me what they were going to change and I wouldn't understand why...

I was bothered by the fact that the environment couldn't be changed. When I design a creature, I like it to match with its surroundings. All the apparitions in this film occur in perfectly realistic surroundings, which for me was hard to swallow. Perhaps someone else would have had less trouble with it.


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