Copyright 2018 by Gary L. Pullman
Horror movie monsters often have offensive capabilities modeled upon those with which nature has equipped terrestrial animals. Sil, Species's female alien-human hybrid created through a synthesis of alien and human deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), is a case in point. An extended description of her appearance and her abilities shows that, despite her human characteristics, she is, at heart, much more alien than human:
Her human form is, in truth, merely a disguise and her true alien form is an exotic, sensual, alien mockery of the human form. Her form is chitinous and reptilian, somewhat reminiscent of the creatures from the film Alien, but still humanoid in appearance. Her “hair” is a mass of prehensile tentacles which are slicked back behind her head. She possesses two sets of teeth with the internal set being razor sharp. Her breasts, rather than storing fat or mammary glands, instead store long, slimy tentacles which emerge from her “nipples.” She can use her breast-tentacles as weapons but they are also used in her amorous mating ritual (as shown in the second film). Sil has long sharp spines up her back that she can retract and extend at will. These seem to be utilized as a weapon in Species 2 by Eve. Last but not least, Sil's infamous tongue. Her long tongue is tipped with sharp spines and is her primary defense mechanism (or weapon). When threatened, she can simple impale her aggressor with her tongue. This "kiss of death" is shown in each of the franchise's films at least once. Sil’s alien form is also capable of holding its breath underwater for an extended period (“Sil's Appearance”).
A conglomeration of insect, reptile, mollusk, feline or bird, and human, Sil possesses anatomical weapons that resemble those of the shark (her “two sets of teeth”), the octopus (her “prehensile tentacles”), spiny lizards (the sharp spines on her back), and cats or birds (her barbed tongue). In biological terms, she is more than simply a hybrid, or cross-bred organism; she is, in fact, a chimera, “an organism or tissue that contains at least two different sets of DNA.”
The surrealist artist H. R. Giger, who helped to develop the designs for Sil, the original of which, for her tongue, was festooned with shark's teeth, said, “My original idea was for a death kiss in which Sil forces her lethal tongue down her lover's throat, and pulls it out tearing his insides out with it. It was not to smash through the skull as in the final film.” From the beginning, Giger envisioned Sil's tongue as an anatomical weapon: “My original idea was for a death kiss in which Sil forces her lethal tongue down her lover's throat, and pulls it out tearing his insides out with it. It was not to smash through the skull as in the final film, exactly as it was done in Alien and Alien3.”
Giger also designed the spines that project from Sil's back, “hair with flaming tips,” breast tentacles, and “claw[-]like nails.” Oh, yes—she would be fire-resistant as well. Although he wasn't satisfied by the way his designs were incorporated, sometimes in an altered fashion, in the film, without his creative ideas, the movie would have been as original and as, well, surreal.
Before his work on Species, Giger also designed the Alien alien that has come to be known, unofficially, as the xenomorph. The creature's five-stage “life cycle” (Ovomorph, Facehugger, Chestburster, adult, and Queen) is elaborate and reminiscent, to some extent, of that of “wasps of the Chalcidoidea and Ichneumonoidea families, which lay their eggs on live prey that are then consumed by the hatching larvae.”
A mobile ovary with finger-like appendages and a phallic proboscis, the Facehugger attaches itself to its host's face after emerging from an egg laid by the Queen. After incapacitating its host with “a cynose-based paralytic chemical,” the Facehugger uses its proboscis to implant the creature's egg (formed during the first stage of the alien's life cycle) in its victim's chest. It then detaches itself, “crawls away and dies.” (While it's still attached, its “acidic blood prevents” its removal.)
The attachment of the Facehugger to its victim's face and its subsequent death are somewhat reminiscent of the fate of the male anglerfish, except that it attaches itself to the larger female, withering away until it becomes nothing more than a pair of testicles.
This stage of the xenomorph's “life cycle,” some contend, is a parody of the human reproductive process, substituting rape by means of something akin to oral sex for penile-vaginal intercourse performed in a context of mutual love and respect. (Alien is not recommended by feminists.)
The implanted egg is not only parasitic, but also tumorous in its growth, and it's like a virus, commandeering the host's body to use the host's DNA and other “biological material” to develop its own body, which includes assuming some of the host's own “physical traits [e. g., bipedalism] via a process known as the DNA Reflex.” Once the egg develops into a Chestbuster, it bursts through the abdomen of its host and flees, rapidly increasing in size until, within mere hours, it reaches its adult dimensions.
In short, Giger's design for the xenomorph's “life cycle” envisions reproduction as a monstrous process involving sodomy, rape, parasitism, infection, disease, and death. In his view, sex is not lovemaking, but rape combined with sexual perversion, which leads to death as well as birth, and may substitute a male host's abdomen for the uterus: the fetal Chestbuster erupts from the chest; it does not emerge from the womb. Sex, as Giger envisions it, isn't merely messy; it is itself a confusing and contradictory mess devoid of love and respect, involving violence, invasion, parasitism, infection, and disease.
Daniel D. Snyder sees the xenomorph as representing “obvious distortions of the standard human physique.” Although I'm not sure what he has in mind by “the standard human physique,” his observations are, otherwise, intriguing. Giger's alien, Snyder says, “is a filthy, primal parasite whose very survival is contingent on it's [sic] continued rape and exploitation of other species.” As such, Snyder believes the xenomorph reflects the Darwinistic struggle to survive not only by adaptation, but also through the reproduction of the species, or as Snyder himself puts it, “the cold, mechanical struggle to survive.”
He sees in Giger's monstrous vision of sex, an experience that can cause “pain” and death, and a fusion, in the xenomorph's phallic form, or “phallus and . . monster” that suggests “that thing between your legs [if one happens to be male] is also an instrument of evil.” The monstrous creature of Alien is not ourselves, exactly, but “a penis come to life [and] running amok.” As such, it is also somehow “our own weapon [turned] against us” to show “the terror of what we do to each other and the creatures we torture and exploit every day as a matter of simple survival.”
While Snyder may go a bit over the top with his xenomorphy-as-exploiting-human “run amok,” his understanding of the xenomorph's phallicism is certainly on target, as I have likewise suggested, and the creature's complex, perverse “life cycle” obviously does parody, if not critique, sexual reproduction in general.
In such monsters as Sil and the xenomorph, both personification and dehumanization are at work simultaneously, as they often are when non-human organisms or objects are given human characteristics or abilities and human beings are regarded as less than human. A mermaid is a woman—in part—but she is also a fish—in part. That's why the mermaid is extraordinary and, it must be admitted, not only eldritch, but also horrible.
By increasing or decreasing the quality of a person, an animal, or a thing, we alter it. We transform it, so that it is no longer itself. Whether, in doing so, we make it more or less than it as before, we have meddled with its identity and its essential character. We have played God, creating Sil, or the xenomorph, or whatever in our own image and likeness. That which we have changed remains changed, as does it nature, its existence, and, if it is sentient or intelligent, its experience. Where “man-made monsters” are concerned, this is the true and lasting horror, the horror of Pygmalion and Prometheus and Frankenstein: the creator becomes more monstrous than his or her creation.
Like the bat, a pit viper (the bushmaster, copperhead, and rattlesnake, among others) is equipped with a heat-seeking organ located between its eyes. This organ helps the snake to “accurately aim its strike at its warm-blooded prey.” (The bat uses its heat-seeking organ to locate blood.) Not only the chameleon and other lizards, but also plenty of other animals, including insects, fish, birds, and mammals, use various forms of camouflage, as do soldiers, to conceal themselves from predators. Insects have green blood. So does Papau New Guinea's green-blooded skink. But blood doesn't exist only in red and green; some species of octopi have blue blood, and the ocellated icefish has clear blood. Although, as far as I know, no animals have luminescent blood, many of them, including lightning bugs, or fireflies, glowworms, Jellyfish, and anglerfish, to name a few, are bioluminescent.
The alien creature in the Predator movie (1987) senses body heat, can camouflage itself (using a cloaking device, rather than natural means), and has luminescent green blood. Its traits and abilities are extraordinary, but they're not unique. Appearing in, or exhibited by, a biped creature of humanoid shape, these traits and abilities do seem novel, however, making the extraterrestrial marauder seem to be truly out of this world. They make the monster seem more nonhuman, even as its bipedalism, use of tools, and thinking ability make it seem not altogether unlike its human prey. Again, the monster is both enhanced by personification and degraded by dehumanization. The combined personification and objectification of the creature makes it seem uncanny and, therefore, all the more horrible and frightening.