H.R. Giger, 'Designer' of the Chupacabra, Dies

Swiss artist H.R. Giger has died. Among his many strange accomplishments was designing a monster that wold inspire the vampire 'el chupacabra.' Continue reading →

Influential Swiss artist H.R. Giger has died at 74, injured in a fall at his home in Zurich. A Reuters news piece offered the following typical overview of his career:

"Famous for creating the otherworldly creature in Ridley Scott's 1979 horror film ‘Alien', Giger was awarded an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects in 1980. The son of a chemist, he studied architecture and industrial design in Zurich, and first experimented with ink drawing and polyester works before moving onto large freehand airbrush works showcasing nightmarish dreamscapes. His work explored the relationship between the human body and the machine, and he created surrealist images of humans fused with industrial parts, a style he described as ‘biomechanical'."

Giger (pronounced "GEEG-ur") was influenced by surrealist artists, including Salvador Dali, and is best known for imagery that is often sexual and grotesque, organic yet alien and mechanical. His work has been exhibited throughout the world, and last year he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

PHOTOS: Chupacabra Legend Inspired by Horror Film Beast

But Giger was also influential in a bizarre and little-known way: He unknowingly helped create the Hispanic vampire beast el chupacabra, one of the world's best-known monsters which has been reported throughout Latin America attacking and sucking the blood out of animals - typically goats and chickens. Though many people mistakenly believe that the chupacabra has been reported for many decades, it was first sighted in Puerto Rico in 1995.

A woman named Madelyne Tolentino claimed she saw the creature near her house in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, during the second week of August 1995. She said the creature (later named "chupacabra") had large eyes that went up the temples and spread around the sides. It was about 3 or four 4 high, walked on two legs, and had thin arms and legs. It had no ears or nose, but a row of distinctive spikes on the creature's spine. This original eyewitness description became the basis for many early images of the creature.

For many years this chupacabra report - the first and by far the most influential - remained a mystery. What, if anything, did Tolentino see? No known animal matched her detailed description. It does, however, look almost exactly like a creature seen by hundreds of thousands of other people right around the same time, in the 1995 science-fiction film "Species," a monster named Sil.

Creating the Chupacabra The Sil creature and the chupacabra creature that Tolentino described are remarkably similar. Giger's book about designing Sil, "Species Design," contains dozens of his sketches and designs showing what would later become the chupacabra - from the creature's distinctive feather-textured spine spikes to the bipedal stance to the earless, oblong head, oval wraparound eyes and long, thin fingers and limbs. Despite some differences in details, overall the resemblance is clear.

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As I discuss in my book "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore," both Sil and the chupacabra also have the same origin stories. The two best-known explanations for the chupacabra are that it is either an alien life form or the result of secret U.S. government genetics experiments gone wrong - a sort of Frankenstein scenario.

These are also the origin explanations for the creature in "Species." Sil is both an extraterrestrial alien and the result of secret U.S. government genetics experiments gone wrong. The similarities between Sil and the chupacabra - both physically and in the stories told about them - are unmistakable.

Thus the original and most influential chupacabra eyewitness in history described a monster she'd seen in a movie as a mysterious beast she encountered in real life. Over time the chupacabra has changed form, and most modern reports are not of the original chupacabra that Giger designed (and Tolentino described) but instead resemble mangy dogs, coyotes and even raccoons.

It's unlikely that Tolentino intentionally created a hoax that spawned a famous monster. Instead she simply confused a real-life memory with something she experienced in a film. This is a common - and harmless - phenomenon known in psychology as confabulation. We all do it, usually unknowingly, but most of us don't spawn monster mysteries.

In a case of truth being stranger than fiction, Giger helped create what is among the world's best-known monster mysteries, right up there with Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

Photo: Film poster from the movie Species. Credit: Courtesy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

March 22, 2011 --

Chupacabra, the Hispanic vampire beast that supposedly terrorized victims both north and south of the border, turns out to have originated with one woman’s viewing of the 1995 science-fiction thriller Species, according to a new book authored by a leading scientific paranormal investigator. In Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore (University of New Mexico Press), Benjamin Radford concludes that the entire myth traces back to an August 1995 "chupacabra sighting" by moviegoer Madelyne Tolentino in Canovanas, Puerto Rico.

Tolentino described a four- to five-foot-tall beast with alien-like eyes, long claws, spikes down its back and more -- a dead ringer for "Sil," the monster star of the horror film Species (pictured here), Radford told Discovery News. "She gave an incredibly detailed description that included everything from the monster’s number of fingers to its genitalia," he said. "A sketch based on this went on the Internet, where the story went viral."

Radford, who has a degree in psychology, spent years investigating the chupacabra, even traveling to Puerto Rico and the jungles of Nicaragua in search of information about the creature. After the lengthy investigations, he doesn’t think Tolentino intentionally made up the sighting. "There’s a phenomenon known as confabulation, where people confuse things seen in dreams or movies as happening in real life," he explained. "It's a natural, normal thing, and there was a fertile social ground for her story." He said that vampire tales tend to emerge out of periods of tremendous political and economic uncertainty and tension. Different versions of the vampire story have been spun all around the world. "In early 1990s Puerto Rico, there was a preexisting belief that something weird was attacking animals and draining them of their blood," he said. In this photo, Radford consults with a tracker in the jungles of Nicaragua, searching for a population of chupacabras.

In March of 1996, Tolentino's account was shared on The Cristina Show, which Radford describes as "the Spanish language version of Oprah." In the years since, chupacabra sightings have been reported in several Texas cities, Nicaragua, and other places. An alleged chupacabra track taken from a sighting in Florida, widely considered to be a hoax, appears here.

As time passed, the word "chupacabra," which means "goat sucker" in Spanish, was tied to any unusual looking animal, usually lacking hair and flashing big teeth. DNA studies on some of these animals reveal they were primarily dogs and coyotes suffering from the skin disease sarcoptic mange. "The disease causes their skin to tighten up and makes their teeth look more fearsome," Radford said. As for the supposedly blood-sucked victims -- usually chickens, goats and livestock -- he explained that dogs and coyotes often attack multiple animals in a group by biting them on the neck. Not all of these animals die outright and are consumed. Some die of internal bleeding and suffocation, with their dead bodies "giving the illusion of vampirism."

Jan Harold Brunvand, professor emeritus of folklore at the University of Utah, believes the chupacabra as any kind of credible animal has finally bitten the dust. "Radford drives a metaphorical stake into the heart of the beast. ... His conclusions -- clearly and even humorously reported -- provide the definitive word on this 21st century beast," Brunvand said. Todd Disotell, a professor of anthropology at New York University, sequenced DNA of three purported chupacabras. Disotell also agrees with Radford’s findings, saying he is "impressed at the depth" to which the author delved into the backstory behind the beast. Kenneth Feder, a professor of archaeology at Central Connecticut University, provided these last words on the subject: "As a result of Radford’s riveting work on the chupacabra, the sad critter is now relegated to wandering the halls of cryptozoological fantasy worlds, occasionally encountering Nessie, Champ, Bigfoot and other mythical beasts that go bump in the imaginary night."

Benjamin Radford contributes to Discovery News.