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Party Monster

A town throws a fête for its most famous son, surrealist HR Giger. (Aliens welcome.)

Illustration Graham Roumieu

Gruyères, Switzerland

JUST UP THE HILL from the idyllic train station in this tidy Swiss village is a collection of the most ghastly creatures ever seen. To find them, one walks 1.2 miles through placid green pastures and past aromatic cheese dairies churning out the town’s namesake product. And then there it is, looming over the postcard-perfect burg like a sentinel, the stately Chateau St. Germain, now home to a museum dedicated to a local artist.

While the area might seem better suited to soothing pastoral watercolors, the artwork spread over the stone walls and through the shadowy corridors of the chateau is a mite darker: the world’s biggest collection of paintings, sculptures and set designs by Swiss surrealist HR Giger, the creator of the toothy, slime-dripping star of the Alien trilogy and other terror-inducing beasts.

Not only was it 30 years ago in April that Giger received the Academy Award for his Alien monster (which, having burst out of John Hurt’s chest during dinner, instantly became the global symbol of indigestion), but it also happens that the artist turns 70 this month. So the town of Gruyères decided to celebrate with a yearlong party at the chateau’s HR Giger Bar, around the corner from the museum.

Beneath a low ceiling made from interlinked skeletons, a line of patrons waits by the dark bar. Then, drinks in hand, they sit in bone-themed chairs that Giger built for a never-produced version of Dune and study the Giger ghouls affixed to the walls.

“Sometimes Mr. Giger will visit to pay respects to his people,” a bartender says. Not tonight, alas. Director Oliver Stone is in the house, though. Sipping a club soda, he admires a particularly ghastly demon. “A few decades from now, when they talk about the twentieth century,” he muses, “they will think of Giger.” —SHARON MCDONNELL

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