Date of Birth: 2 August 1939, Cleveland, Ohio, US
Birth Name: Wesley Earl Craven
Nicknames: Wes Craven
Wes Craven, the film director, who made his living out of scaring the wits out of people in such films as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), earning the nickname “Sultan of Slash”; later, as audiences became cynical about the franchise-driven genre, he served up horror with an ironic tongue in cheek.
Craven’s work left the critics divided. Some reviewers denounced him as a purveyor of gore with a dazzling technique and nothing to say; others compared him to Ingmar Bergman.
Craven himself recalled, during his early career, that guests would leave dinner parties upon realising who he was. But he always had fans among younger directors who appreciated the intelligence and psychological insight he brought to low-budget film making.
He created some of the most memorable bogeymen in film, culminating, in A Nightmare on Elm Street, in the blade-taloned Freddy Krueger, a murdered child molester in a moth-eaten sweater and filthy fedora who is brought back to life via the dreams of the teenage descendants of his killers.
Made at a time when Aids was coming to public attention and the prospect of environmental Armageddon had become a topic in classrooms, the film seemed to tap into deep-seated fears.
Craven, who had a master’s degree in philosophy, became a prominent defender of the horror genre which, he argued, gives people the mental equipment to deal with a frightening world. “You’re talking about the beasts in the forest that come after you during the daytime or during the night but in a way that’s under control. So in a sense, you can own the beast,” he explained.
His films were often inspired by true stories. Nightmare was inspired by reports in the Los Angeles Times about a group of refugees who had fled the Khmer Rouge, healthy young men in their twenties, who, after fleeing to the United States, were suffering disturbing nightmares, after which they refused to sleep. “They would try to stay awake, and they would describe the nightmares to their families,” Craven recalled. “Finally there would be a scream and the guy would be dead. Death by nightmare.”
The resulting film established Craven as a leading director . His producers established a franchise and went on to make several more Freddy Krueger films of varying quality, without Craven’s input, until 1995 when he released Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
By this time, as he recalled, “horror had reached one of its sort of classical, cyclical stages of ennui on the part of the audience”. So Craven decided to poke fun at the genre. New Nightmare had the actors, studio head and Craven himself being stalked by Freddy Krueger as they worked on a new instalment of the series.
Craven subverted the horror genre again with Scream (1996), the tale of a high-school student who becomes the target of a mysterious killer known as Ghostface. Full of ironic self-reference (“This is like something out of a Wes Carpenter film,” one character observes), the film was a box office hit, taking $173 million worldwide, spawning a lucrative franchise and inspiring the “Scary Movie” parodies.
Wesley Earl Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 2 1939 to strict Baptist parents. Even though he was forbidden from going to the cinema, he claimed that his religious upbringing had shaped his talent as a film maker, encouraging him to “ask big questions about life and death”.
The character of Freddy Krueger, however, drew on an event in his own childhood when, one night, he heard a shuffling sound outside his bedroom window: “I crept over there and looked down. It was a man wearing a fedora.
“He stopped and looked up directly into my face. I backed into the shadows, listening and waiting for him to go away. But I didn’t hear anything. I went back to the window. He looked up at me again and then turned away. He walked into the door of our apartment building. I’ve never, ever been that scared in my life. I was terrified.”
Craven studied English and Psychology at Wheaton College, Illinois . He later earned a master’s in Philosophy and Writing from Johns Hopkins University, but it was while he was working as a humanities professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York state, that he first went to the cinema and fell in love. In 1971 he left his teaching job to work as a film editor at a post-production house in Manhattan.
After writing and directing pornographic films under pseudonyms, Craven made his debut under his own name in 1972 with the ultra-low-budget ($90,000) shocker The Last House on the Left, about a gang of psychotic killers who rape, torture and murder two teenage girls, only to meet a more horrific fate at the hands of the girls’ parents.
Marketed under the slogan, “To avoid fainting, keep repeating: It’s only a movie . . . only a movie . . .” the film was a grisly remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning Virgin Spring (1959) featuring sickeningly real scenes of sadism and violence. Released mostly on drive-in screens in America, the film was banned by the censors in Britain, though it has come to be seen as a classic .
His follow-up, The Hills Have Eyes, about cannibalistic mutants stalking a suburban family who have become stranded in the desert, established his reputation as a cult director, but it was A Nightmare on Elm Street that propelled him into the mainstream.
Craven’s other films included Deadly Friend (1986); The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988); Shocker (1990); The People Under the Stairs (1991); Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) and Red Eye (2005). In 1999 he made a rare foray outside the horror genre with Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep, who was nominated for an Oscar. His last film, in 2011, was the fourth in the Scream franchise. People were sometimes surprised to learn that Craven was not, in his words, “a Mansonite crazoid”, but a charming, humorous man whose hobby was bird-watching. When asked by an interviewer to name the thing that most terrified him, he replied “my ex-wife’s divorce lawyer”.
Date of Birth: 27 May 1922, Belgravia, London, UK
Birth Name: Christopher Frank Carandini Lee
Nicknames: Christopher Lee
Sir Christopher Lee defined the macabre for a generation of horror film enthusiasts with his chilling portrayals of Count Dracula; in a career that spanned more than half a century Lee played the sinister vampire no fewer than nine times in productions including Dracula (1958), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).
With his saturnine glamour and striking physique at a gaunt 6ft 4in he was a dominating physical presence with an aristocratic bearing, dark, penetrating eyes and a distinctive sepulchral voice Lee was an ideal candidate to play the bloodsucking Count. “Dracula is a very attractive character,” he insisted, “he’s so heroic erotic too. Women find him irresistible. We’d all like to be him.”
After almost 20 years of playing Dracula, Lee eventually tired of the role. He moved to the United States where he enjoyed a lucrative career in both films and made-for-television mini-series such as The Far Pavilions and Shaka Zulu. While in America, Lee resisted all offers of parts in soap operas including Dallas and Dynasty.
After decades in the film industry, Lee remained as eager as ever to take on new roles. At one point in his early seventies he appeared in 12 different films within 14 months. “I get restless and frustrated if I don’t work,” he explained. “I like a continual challenge.” In his eighties he gained a new audience, bringing sulphurous intensity to the role of Saruman in Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings films.
Lee’s one regret, he maintained, was his decision not to become an opera singer. “I was born with the gift of a very good voice,” he said, “and I have been asked to sing in various concerts but I’m too old now.” Late in life, however, he was persuaded to lend his rich bass tones as a narrator to various heavy metal records including those of the symphonic power metal group Rhapsody of Fire. In 2010 he released an album of his own, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, followed two years later by Charlemagne: The Omens of Death.
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born on May 27 1922 in Belgravia, London, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Trollope-Lee of the 60th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Lee’s father had fought in both the Boer and Great Wars and had later married an Italian contessa, Estelle Maria Carandini, a descendant of the Borgias whose parents had founded the first Australian opera company. Among Lee’s stories of his early life he claimed that his father was descended from a band of gypsies in Hampshire and that his mother was descended from Charlemagne.
Christopher’s parents were divorced when he was four and his mother remarried. Lee grew up in his stepfather’s house, where he was waited on by a staff of five (a butler, two footmen, a chauffeur and a cook). He attended Wagner’s in Queensgate and Summerfields, and sat for a scholarship to Eton before being sent to the more affordable Wellington College where he distinguished himself as a classical scholar.
Fluent in Italian and French, in later life Lee added Spanish, German, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Greek to his repertoire. When his alcoholic stepfather was bankrupted in 1938 Christopher was forced to leave school at 17 in order to find work. For the next 12 months he worked as a city messenger, licking stamps and making tea for a wage of £1 a week.
When the Second World War broke out, Lee joined the RAF and was promoted to flight lieutenant. He won six campaign medals, was mentioned in despatches and received decorations from Poland, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. He also worked for British Intelligence. “Serving in the Armed Forces was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he insisted. “I did not know how other people lived.”
After the war, Lee served with the Central Registry of War Crimes, work that took him to concentration camps including Dachau, but when he was demobbed at the age of 24, he remained undecided about which career to pursue. He toyed with the idea of becoming a ballet dancer, opera singer and diplomat before his cousin (at that time the Italian ambassador to the Court of St James) suggested he try acting.
Greatly against his mother’s wishes (“Just think of all the appalling people you’ll meet!” she warned him) Lee met the Italian head of Two Cities Films, part of the J Arthur Rank Organisation, signed a seven-year contract, and joined the Rank Company of Youth (otherwise known as the Rank Charm School) in 1946. He made his film debut with a bit part in Corridor of Mirrors (1948).
A succession of “walk-on” parts ensued until, in 1951, he appeared in a speaking part as a swarthy Spanish sea captain in Captain Horatio Hornblower RN. It was one of Lee’s last films for Two Cities and when his contract ran out neither he nor the Rank Organisation were eager to renew it. Instead Lee accepted roles in a television series made in Britain but shown first in America Douglas Fairbanks Presents, appearing in some 40 half-hour productions.
After a series of military film roles in the mid-1950s, including a lieutenant in Innocents in Paris (1953), a submarine commander in The Cockleshell Heroes and a captain in That Lady (both 1955), Lee landed his first horror role for Hammer Films. He played the Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), a part which required him to be coated in artificial gangrene and which left him looking, in his opinion, “like a road accident”.
Described as “the first gothic horror film made by Hammer”, The Curse of Frankenstein was graphic in its depiction of large quantities of gore. The film was extremely popular and Lee, playing opposite the studio’s resident star Peter Cushing, was enormously successful as the monster. Realising that a film about Bram Stoker’s vampiric Transylvanian nobleman might prove equally successful, a Hammer executive, James Carreras, offered Lee the role of the Count in their next production, Dracula.
The film proved to be one of the seminal horror movies of the 1950s. Lee looked the part (tall and thin, as in Stoker’s novel) and imbued the character with a dynamic, feral quality that had been lacking in earlier portrayals. With his bloody fangs and bright red eyes ablaze, Lee made a frighteningly believable vampire. In contrast with Bela Lugosi’s eerie, somnambulistic count of the 1930s, Lee spoke his lines with crisp assurance and tried to portray what he described as “the essence of nobility, ferocity and sadness”.
With Cushing cast this time as the vampire hunter, Dracula (retitled Horror of Dracula in America) was a box-office success for Hammer and horror aficionados at the time labelled it “the greatest horror movie ever made”. Lee also regarded it as the best of the series of Dracula films which he made with Hammer. “It’s the only one I’ve done that’s any good,” he recalled. “It’s the only one that remotely resembles the book.”
With the success of his portrayal of the Count, Lee treated himself to a grey, second-hand Mercedes and became established as a horror star for the first time. He was swamped with offers of film roles and took leading parts in several films throughout the late 1950s.
In productions such as The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Mummy (all 1959), Lee played characters ranging from Sir Henry Baskerville to a 2,000-year-old corpse. He later claimed that the make-up for The Mummy was so uncomfortable that he swore never to submit to special effects again. The exceptions were the essential red contact lenses for his appearances as Dracula. Lee found the lenses excruciatingly painful but, as he had worn them in the first film, continuity demanded that he wear them in all subsequent productions.
Lee continued to be in demand throughout the 1950s and 1960s, starring in more than 20 films in only six years. Although he accepted some unlikely projects (including The Terror of the Tongs and The Devil’s Daffodil, both in 1961), he was also able to make films in which he had a personal interest. He had long wanted to play the Chinese arch-villain Fu Manchu and in 1965 he was offered the title role in The Face of Fu Manchu. The film was so popular that a series of four more were filmed, including Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1968). After roles in horror films such as Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors and The Skull (both 1965), Lee returned to his earlier incarnation in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).
He was less happy with this second film. He had become too expensive a star for the Hammer studios, and in a cost-cutting measure his scenes were kept to a minimum and remained devoid of dialogue. Lee was reduced to making a soft hissing noise which drew laughter from audiences when the film was screened. He enjoyed more success with the lead in Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966). Although the film was badly flawed, Lee was convincing in the title role.
After The Devil Rides Out (1968), a suspenseful adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley novel with Lee as an aristocrat in pursuit of devil-worshippers, he returned to the role of Dracula in Dracula has Risen from the Grave, on the understanding that he would have well-scripted dialogue. The film made more money than previous Hammer productions and Lee was persuaded to appear in the 1970 project, Scars of Dracula. But he had by this time become disenchanted with the role. He feared he was being typecast and that the quality of scriptwriting had deteriorated to an unacceptable level.
Nevertheless Hammer were eager to continue with Lee as their horror star and persuaded him to make two more Dracula films that year. After rapidly completing Taste the Blood of Dracula and The Magic Christian, Lee devoted himself to non-vampire roles for a period.
Later in 1970 he played Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (“so commandingly good,” reported The Sunday Telegraph, “that this must surely be the end of shabby Draculas for him”) and followed it with a tiny appearance as Artemidorus in Julius Caesar in 1971. After four more Dracula films, including a modern interpretation titled Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula the year after, Lee was increasingly unhappy with the manner in which the character was being portrayed. “It’s ridiculous,” he complained, “you can’t have Dracula in a modern office block, it completely undermines the original idea.”
Taking another break from the Count, Lee appeared in one of his favourite films, The Wicker Man (1973), playing a Scots laird who practises human sacrifice in the 20th century. He then went on to play the evil one-eyed Comte de Rochefort in both The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) before appearing in his first Bond film as the assassin Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (also 1974). Lee was finally persuaded to make one more Dracula-style film in the 1970s, Dracula Père et Fils (1976), before giving up the role for good.
Despite his physical likeness to the Count, Lee’s affinity with his baleful character stopped there. Throughout his career he had a reputation for being a long-winded raconteur whose reminiscences tended to focus on himself. In 1976, when Lee left Britain for the US, the move prompted an acquaintance to joke that “the population of Los Angeles were dusting out their bomb shelters in anticipation of a barrage of anecdotes”. According to another account, on one occasion an actress got off an aircraft looking ashen and exhausted. Questioned about her health by airport staff, she explained that she had been seated next to Lee and that he had not stopped talking about himself during the 10-hour flight.
Through the late 1970s, Lee continued to make films at a prodigious rate, appearing in 10 in two years. He accepted roles as diverse as Captain Rameses in the science fiction film Starship Invasions (1977) and that of the head gypsy in the Second World War drama The Passage (1979).
In the 1980s, Lee combined his film career with a return to television, appearing in mini-series including Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story (1982) and The Far Pavilions (1984). In 1985 he suffered a heart attack, returned to London and underwent heart surgery. Instead of seeing this as a signal to retire, Lee was back at work within a year and had returned to the horror genre for the dreadful The Howling II (1986), subtitled Your Sister is a Werewolf in America.
Although Lee continued to work prolifically throughout his life, he never again enjoyed the same success as when playing Dracula. He made some fatuous comedies in the mid-1980s such as Rosebud Beach Hotel (1985) and Jocks (1986), and continued into the 1990s with a starring role in the spoof horror film Gremlins II The New Batch.
He starred in the title role of Jinnah soon after the 50th anniversary of the founding of Pakistan in 1997, and was Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002). He returned to the same role in Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith in 2005, and was the wizard Saruman in two of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films (2001-2002), in two of his Hobbit series (2012-14) and in various video games.
With Uma Thurman, Lee was due to appear as a retired surgeon in The 11th, a film about the lead-up to the September 11 terrorist attacks, to be shot this autumn.
Reflecting near the end of his life about the role of Dracula, Lee said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding about me in that role. It had never been played properly before that. With me it was all about the power of suggestion to make the unbelievable believable.”
He published two volumes of autobiography Tall, Dark and Gruesome (1977) reissued as Lord of Misrule (1997) and was appointed CBE in 2001. He was knighted in 2009 and made a fellow of Bafta in 2011.
Date of Birth: 11 September 1924, Topolcany, Czechoslovakia
Birth Name: Walter Rosenberg
Nicknames: Rudolf Vrba
Rudolf Vrba escaped from Auschwitz in 1944 and was one of the first people to give first-hand evidence of the gas chambers, mass murder and plans to exterminate a million Jews. So horrific was the testimony from Rudolf Vrba, that the members of the Jewish Council in Hungary couldn't quite believe what they were hearing.
Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, who escaped with him in April 1944, drew up a detailed plan of Auschwtiz and its gas chambers, providing compelling evidence of what had previously been considered embellishment. It has since emerged that reports from inside Auschwitz, compiled by the Polish Underground State and the Polish Government in Exile and written by Jan Karski and Witold Pilecki among others, had in fact reached some Western allies before 1944, but action had not been taken.
Vrba and Wetzler's detailed, first-hand report about how Nazis were systematically killing Jews was compiled into the Wetzler-Vrba report and sent shockwaves around the world when it was circulated and picked up by international media in 1944.
It still took some weeks before the report was accepted and credited after it was written something that Vrba said had contributed to the deaths of an estimated 50,000 Hungarian Jews. Just weeks before their escape, German forces had invaded Hungary, and Jews there were already being shipped to Auschwitz. It wasn't until the report made the headlines in international media that Hungary stopped the deportation in July of 1944.
Rudolf Vrba, survived two years in Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland before escaping to warn the world of Nazi plans to exterminate one million Hungarian Jews in 1944.
But when he and his fellow escaper Alfred Wetzler made contact with the Jewish Council at Zilina in Slovakia, offering one of the first detailed eye-witness accounts of what had previously been unconfirmed rumour, they were treated with caution.
First they were asked to dictate their personal accounts separately and then rigorously cross-examined about their revelations.
The results then formed the 32-page report known as The Auschwitz Protocols.
Although Winston Churchill was to declare that Auschwitz was "probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world", their evidence met a tardy response.
The Hungarian Ministry of Justice, awaiting take-over by the Germans, actively participated in the deportations. The Allies, hard-pressed in the battle of Normandy, refused to divert aircraft to the difficult task of of bombing the railway line from Hungary to Poland.
Sharp criticism was to be levelled against some leaders of Hungary's Jewish community, who failed to warn their people what being "resettled" in Poland meant.
Vrba was disgusted by the excuse that these leaders were negotiating with Adolf Eichmann for the one million Hungarian Jews to be spared in exchange for cash and rail trucks which the Germans could use on the eastern front.
He said that there was no chance of the talks succeeding, and the resulting delay caused some 50,000 Hungarian deaths.
The son of a Jewish sawmill owner, Rudolf Vrba was born Walter Rosenberg on September 11 1924 at Topolcany, Czechoslovakia. He was expelled from school when anti-Jewish laws were enforced, but continued to study at home.
His mother regarded his decision to learn English as eccentric, and was so alarmed when he took up Russian that she took him to a doctor.
At 17 he left home to join the Czechoslovak Army in Britain, tearing the yellow Star of David off his shoulder and entering Hungary. However, he was soon arrested. He escaped and was then recaptured by a policeman on a bicycle who had become suspicious of the young man who was wearing two pairs of socks.
After being introduced to concentration camp life at Maidanek, near Lublin, where he met one of his brothers, whom he was never to see again, Vrba volunteered to do farm work. Passing under the brass sign over the gate, Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Brings Freedom), he entered Auschwitz on June 30 1942.
There he saw how new arrivals were divided between those consigned straight to the gas ovens and others fit for heavy work. His promised agricultural work consisted of helping to dig up the bodies of 107,000 already murdered or allowed to die, for incineration.
Vrba's luck changed when a Viennese prisoner, trusted by the SS, discovered he could speak German and transferred him to a store-room, named Canada, where the clothing and belongings of the dead were sorted.
Since it also contained food for the SS, he found not only enough to eat but plenty of soap and water to ensure there was no risk of disease.
Gradually he recognised the flickers of humanity hidden within some of the guards and trusties, and was inducted into their hierarchy of pilfering.
Although severely beaten after being caught smuggling some goods to friends, Vrba rose to become a camp registrar.
He calculated that some 1,760,000 were killed, a figure now considered probably rather high, and gave succinct descriptions of one of the four ovens at the sub-camp at Birkenau, where the gassings took place: "It holds 2,000 people. When everybody is inside, the heavy doors are closed.
"Then there is a short pause, presumably to allow the room temperature to rise to a certain level, after which the SS men with gas masks climb on the roof, open the traps and shoe down a preparation in powder form out of tin cans, a cyanide mixture of some sort which turns into gas at a certain temperature.
"After three minutes everyone in the chamber is dead… The chamber is then opened, aired and the 'special squad' (of slave labourers) carts the bodies on flat trucks to the furnace rooms where the burning takes place."
Vrba and Wetzel managed to escape after hiding in a building site under a pile of logs, the gaps between which they stuffed with Russian tobacco, dipped in petrol, to put off sniffer dogs. Some soldiers started to lift up the logs, but they had to halt when an air raid warning went off.
Three days later the pair slipped out at night and headed for Slovakia, giving pursuers the slip and sheltering with Polish peasants.
After crossing the border they reached Zilina, helping a swineherd to bring his pigs to market.
Having made their report, Vrba and Wetzel were taken to safety in the Tatras mountains but after some weeks they learned that Hungarians were already being sent to Auschwitz.
They returned to Bratislava, where they made four more copies of the report, which was hidden behind a statue of the Virgin Mary.
They gave one to a representative of the papal nuncio, who sent it on to the Vatican.
In September 1944, Vrba joined a Czechoslovak partisan unit, with which he fought for the rest of the war, winning the Czechoslovak Medal of Bravery.
On the return of peace, he changed his name officially to Rudolf Vrba, and read Chemistry and Biology at Charles University at Prague; he then produced a thesis on the metabolism of butryic acid.
After being invited to attend an international conference in Israel, he defected. But although he found work with the Weizmann Institute, Vrba felt that many who had let down the Hungarian Jews were in positions of influence in the new state.
He moved on to Britain, where he worked at the Neuropsychiatric Research Unit at Carshalton, Surrey, and then for the Medical Research Council.
It was as Eichmann's trial was about to start in 1960 that he wrote a series of articles for the Daily Herald, which led to his vivid memoir, I Cannot Forgive, written with the Irish journalist Alan Bestic.
It was to be translated into several languages, though not into Hebrew until 1998. Later he gave evidence at the trials of several Auschwitz guards.
In 1967 Vrba moved to the University of British Columbia, where, after a two year sabbatical at Harvard Medical School, he became professor of pharmacology.
He went on to produce 50 research papers on the chemistry of the brain, diabetes and cancer. Over the years Vrba was also asked to lecture on the Holocaust and to take part in several television documentaries.
Date of Birth: February 5 1940, Chur, Swiss Canton, Graubünden, Switzerland
Birth Name: Hans Rudolf Giger
Nicknames: HR Giger
HR Giger, was a painter, sculptor and set designer and the man responsible for the nightmarish, teeth-snapping, acid-dripping creature in the film Alien.
Set in a nearish-future, Alien tells the story of a relentless and apparently unkillable life form that terrorises Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the rest of the crew of the spaceship Nostromo. Vaguely humanoid, with a prominent, armoured skeleton, vicious dual sets of jaws and slashing tail, the hellish creature captivated audiences and helped make Ridley Scott’s picture both a critical and box-office success. As the director himself noted, Giger’s creature was “one of the best all-time monsters”. In its absence, he suggested, “I’ve got a nice, very well-acted, beautifully art-directed movie, but I ain’t got that f------ heart-stopping son of a b----.”
Yet it was not just the alien that Giger designed he fleshed out the creature’s life-cycle (which involved it forcefully implanting itself in host bodies) and developed for it a crepuscular, disturbingly erotic environment that fused elements of the natural and the mechanical. Blending elements of Surrealist and Futurist art, Giger’s world soon became instantly recognisable. It turned out that such representations were deeply rooted in his upbringing.
Hans Rudolf Giger was born on February 5 1940 in Chur in the Swiss Canton of Graubünden. By the time he was 12 he was studying the works of Salvador Dali and Hieronymus Bosch with a sort of fascinated horror. “I was terrified,” he said. “I connected them with World War II atrocities.” He was long gripped by nightmares.
His father, a chemist, tried to steer Hans away from art towards a more stable profession. Yet his mother, Melli, encouraged him. In 1962 Giger moved to Zurich to study Industrial Design. After graduating he found that his work, and its obsession with sex and death, was not always appreciated. One gallery owner, hosting a Giger exhibition, reported having to begin each day by wiping the spittle of disgusted patrons from his window. Nor did Giger alleviate local suspicion by dressing always in black and working only at night. But it was precisely his fascination with the occult, and in particular the fictional Necronomicon, or “book of the dead”, described in the work of HP Lovecraft, that propelled him into the big time.In 1977 Giger’s first collection of drawings, also titled Necronomicon, was published. It found its way into the hands of Ridley Scott, who seized upon one fantastical sketch, Necronom IV, as the model for his new film’s alien. Fox Studios was not so keen on the phallic, fetishised image, but Giger was eventually hired influencing the entire look and feel of the film. As a result he won, with others, the Oscar for best special effects in 1980.
Yet it was not the beginning of a beautiful relationship with Hollywood. Giger was not asked to work on the film’s sequel, Aliens (1986). And when he did contribute to films, such as Poltergeist II, he hated his designs being modified. But he had a clear brand. When producers were casting around for someone to create a sexy yet lethal humanoid alien, called Sil, in Species (1995) they knew where to turn. “We realised that he [Giger] had been drawing Sil for basically his entire career,” noted the director Roger Donaldson. “Anybody else we hired would probably have just gone to take a look at his books.”
Beyond film, Giger was also famed for his album covers. His artwork for the Dead Kennedys’ album Frankenchrist led to the band’s singer being arrested for obscenity, but Giger’s vision of an impaled Debbie Harry on her 1981 album Koo Koo fared better, making a list of the best 100 album covers of all time.
Generally, however, his work did not win the admiration of mainstream critics. Undaunted, in 1998 he bought a chateau in Gruyeres and set up his own museum. But it proved expensive to run. He himself lived in far more modest circumstances, with every available surface covered by his drawings. Even after the success of the Alien films, he declared that what he most feared were his debts.
Date of Birth: 8 April 1943, London, UK
Birth Name: James Herbert
James Herbert, the author sold more than 50 million horror novels, a tally bettered in the genre only by his friend Stephen King; Herbert wrote 23 books but was always rather to his frustration best known for his first two, The Rats (1974) and The Fog (1975).The Rats, a gory tale about mutant rodents taking over the country, was finished in nine months when Herbert was 28 and working as an art director in the same advertising company as Salman Rushdie. Herbert recalled making “loads of money” at the time but finding the job too easy: “I just decided to write a book, and it all poured out of me.”
The book did not meet with universal approval. Martin Amis, in the guise of “Henry Tilney” in the Observer, was the first to review it. “By page 20,” he wrote, “the rats are slurping the sleeping baby after the brave bow-wow has fought to the death to protect its charge. Enough to make a rodent retch, undeniably and enough to make any human pitch the book aside.”
The Sunday Times’s critic thought differently, calling The Rats “brilliant”; but when Herbert went into his local WH Smith’s and asked if they had the book, they replied no, and nor were they likely to. Such opprobrium inevitably heightened its appeal, and word quickly went around among teenagers that it was gripping stuff. Before long the book had sold more than a million copies.
Despite the commercial success of The Rats and his later novels, Herbert remained dissatisfied with his literary status, feeling that the “literary snobs” should take him more seriously. “I’ve always suffered from being labelled a horror writer just because I didn’t go to university, just because I still talk in my natural voice, just because I’m not as articulate as Martin Amis. We like to kid ourselves that we’re in an equal society, but we’re not.”
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Herbert referred to a men’s style magazine’s recommended reading list of 20th-century novels that one should read by the age of 30: alongside books by Joyce, Salinger and Heller was The Rats, by James Herbert. He also pointed out that his fourth novel, Fluke (1977), had found its way on to the GCSE syllabus, and that a professor at an American university had written to him to say that he was analysing the Herbert oeuvre.
“I know I’m good,” he said, “and I know I write well.” Of the explicit violence Amis affected to deplore, Herbert explained that “it flowed naturally from the pen. But I also wanted to show what it was really like to have your leg chewed by a mutant creature. I was very much against the Tom and Jerry and John Wayne types of violence where no one is ever really hurt, and Indians are killed without any suggestion that they may be husbands and fathers, and perhaps keep a dog back in the tepee.”
Herbert maintained that his books were moral works about redemption, “packed with metaphor and subtext”. But he did not deem them suitable reading matter for his own daughters until they were 15 (the books were banned from their school, so they couldn’t read them there either). “There are certain key scenes which are graphic,” Herbert admitted, “but I prefer to think of them as spiritual. It’s never wham, bam thank you ma’am unless it’s a subsidiary character.”
James Herbert was born on April 8 1943 in east London, just around the corner from the Krays. “Ours was the only Catholic household in the street,” he recalled. “All the rest were Jewish.” His parents ran a fruit stall in Bethnal Green market. His mother continued doing so into her seventies, and consistently turned down her son’s offers of a comfortable retirement in Sussex. At 75, she sat her GCSE in English. The day she passed, she filed for a divorce from her hard-drinking, gambling husband, but she continued to cook dinner for him once a week; someone would take it round to him on a bus.
At the age of 10, James followed his brother John on a scholarship to St Aloysius, a Roman Catholic grammar school in Highgate. John went on to become a “very, very middle-class” Lloyd’s broker. James progressed to Hornsey College of Art, and from there got a job in a small advertising agency, using the name of a better qualified friend (Denis Barker) for his interview. Before long, “Barker” had progressed to become group head in a larger agency, Charles Barker.
The idea for The Rats, Herbert explained, came from a line in Dracula in which a lunatic says he has seen 1,000 rats with red eyes staring up from the lawns. “I put that image together with my own experience of rats not fear of them, but loathing from growing up in the East End of London.” At the back of his house there had been some stables where the market traders dumped rotting fruit and vegetables. It was alive with rats.
Herbert wrote the book during evenings and weekends. Written in manuscript in purple felt tip pen, with barely a crossing out, he needed only one draft and then asked his wife to type it up a system he stuck to for subsequent novels. He had five rejection slips before he found a publisher, eventually selling it to New English Library for an advance payment of £150 and a royalty of five per cent.
After The Rats, Herbert wrote his books at the rate of roughly one a year until the turn of the century: The Fog (1975); The Survivor (1976); Fluke (1977); The Spear (1978); Lair (1979); The Dark (1980); The Jonah (1981); Shrine (1983); Domain (1984); Moon (1985); The Magic Cottage (1986); Sepulchre (1987); Haunted (1988); Creed (1990); Portent (1992); The City (1993); The Ghosts of Sleath (1993); ’48 (1996); Others (1999); Once (2001); Nobody True (2003); The Secret of Crickley Hall (2006); and Ash (2012).
Four of his novels The Rats, The Survivor, Fluke and Haunted were made into films; The Magic Cottage was dramatised for Radio 4; and The Secret of Crickley Hall was adapted for television by BBC One.
He was appointed OBE in 2010.
In 1979 Herbert was ordered to pay damages to the author Trevor Ravenscroft after Mr Justice Brightman ruled in the High Court that in The Spear an improbable story of neo-Nazi terrorism in England Herbert had copied from Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny. “He did so to give his novel a backbone of truth with the least possible labour to himself,” said the judge, adding: “One must not underestimate the commercial attraction of the rubbish I have attempted to describe.”
For his later novels, Herbert tended towards supernatural plots. “The great advantage of my field is that you can always go way over the top if you’re in danger of getting bored,” he said. He claimed to have torn the horror genre from the grip of the bourgeoisie and “upper-middle-class writers like Dennis Wheatley”: “I made horror accessible by writing about working-class characters.”
Herbert lived in Sussex, with unbroken views of the South Downs. He aimed to be in his study by 10am and write until one, then from 2pm until six. Shrewd and cautious with his money, he was a member of Lloyd’s until 1991, when he withdrew.
“I worry about the many things that could happen to the people I love,” he said. “The books are full of that neurosis and I guess people tune into that. I have a dread of sounding pretentious and try not to talk too much about what I do.”