How HR Giger Created The Chupacabra

The famous cryptid is probably actually the monster from SPECIES, come alive. 

Chupacabra: the goatsucker! Few cryptids have names as evocative as that. Goat sucking! It sounds like something the mother of your enemy does.

The weird thing about the chupacabra is that it’s new; there are no chupacabra sightings before 1995. That didn’t stop the monster from quickly hitting the pop culture consciousness, and by 1997 it had even earned itself an X-Files episode. That newness is hard to explain; the chupacabra didn’t pop up in some unexplored section of the African jungle or deep in the unseen ocean - it showed up first in Puerto Rico and then in fairly populated areas near the US/Mexico border. Where did it come from?

Some believe it was never seen before 1995 because that’s the year it arrived from space. There’s a lot of aquatic UFO activity in Puerto Rico, so maybe that’s from where the goatsucker came. Of course that means you have to buy not only a small, humanoid goatsucking creature but also UFOs - Occam’s Razor disapproves.

So does professional skeptic Benjamin Radford. He spent years investigating the chupcabra and kept coming back to the question of the creature’s origins. Why did it pop up in 1995? Why wasn’t there a folkloric tradition of it? He blames HR Giger.

The first person to ever see a chupacabra is a woman named Madelyn Tolentino (there had been chupacabra attacks on animals in Puerto Rico earlier, but no one had seen the creature suspected of the attacks. Early reports said that chupacabra had drained animals dry of their blood, but tests found that simply wasn’t true). It was the second week of August, 1995, and she was at home in Canovanas, Puerto Rico. Radford sums up her sighting:

Tolentino said the chupacabra she saw had dark eyes that went up its temples and spread around the sides; it was about four feet tall, walked like a human on two legs, and had thin arms and legs, with three fingers and toes at the end of each limb. It had no ears or nose, but instead two small airholes. She also noted a row of distinct­ive spikes on the creature’s back. It stood outside a window, then moved into the road and leaped off into tall grass in a neighbouring vacant lot. Her account appears in Scott Corrales’s book Chupacabras and Other Mysteries, and is summarised and paraphrased in dozens of books and websites as a credible and important sighting.

Radford takes some issue with what Tolentino saw because it sounds… well, totally unbelievable:

[A]fter Tolentino claimed to have seen the monster, she didn’t panic but instead joked to her mother about the chupacabra’s apparent lack of an anus. That she could possibly have noticed such a detail from a distance defies credulity…

Wolfman has nards but chupacabra has no butthole!

Tolentino’s sighting is ground zero for chupacabra, and her description created the template for all chupacabra sightings to come. This is what the creature she saw looked like:

This, by the way, is a picture of Sil, from the movie Species:

HR Giger, famous for creating the Xenomorph in Alien, had designed Sil; the alien has his familiar biomechanical elements grafted onto the body of Natasha Henstridge. And it looks a lot like the chupacabra. Says Radford:

So, just how similar is Sil to the Puerto Rican goatsucker? Well, if Giger were God, his art could have been used as a blueprint for creating the chupacabra. Sketches of the chupacabra’s long, thin fingers and claws appear on page 24; its distinctive spine spikes can be seen on the Species creature on pages 25–29 and throughout the book. In the end, I identified over a dozen morphological similarities. The parallels grow even stronger when we consider Tolentino’s account of the chupacabra’s actions: she described it as hissing – something Sil does in the film – and also leaping fantastic distances with superhuman agility; again, something the Species creature also does.

An internal 9 February 1994 memo from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer producers Roger Donaldson and Frank Mancuso Jr to HR Giger about the creature design provides a fascinating inside look at the ideas for Sil’s nature, behaviour, and physical description. It foreshadows the later description of the Puerto Rican chupacabra so well that the famous sketch of the creature could have been produced directly from the MGM studio production notes rather than Madelyne Tolentino’s memory (or imagination). Donaldson and Mancuso wrote: “In the monster form, Sil must be able to move easily and fast; She must have in her biology the means by which to kill without effort… We discussed the possibilities of things like bone spurs, tentacles, and/or a barbed, sharp tongue… she should be able to burrow into the ground… she has extra-sensory ability.” As for the creature’s victims: “When Sil kills she should leave her victims dead in a very identifiable way. For example, if she broke or sucked all the bones [or blood] out of her victim, this would show that the body was killed by some extraordinary circum­stances… Sil should leave behind some evidence that she has been at a location… (i.e. bodily fluid… odour, slime… scratches, suction marks, etc.)”

Indeed, this is a near-verbatim list of characteristics claimed for the chupacabra. The parallels are unmistakable, including the body shape, locomotion, burrowing ability, distinctive method of killing (“sucking” blood or internal organs), telepathic/ESP claims, leaving slime, distinctive odour, and so on.

The kicker, though, is that Species was released in Puerto Rico on July 7, 1995, just a month before Tolentino saw the monster, and right in the beginning of the chupacabra craze. And where is the monster first seen in the movie? If you said Puerto Rico you either saw and remember Species or you know where this is going.

Where this is going is that Tolentino has admitted she saw Species before sighting the chupacabra.

As it happens, Tolentino is on record as saying she did see the film before her chupacabra sighting. She told me this herself in a 2010 interview, and the claim also appears in an interview reprinted as chapter five in Scott Corrales’s book Chupacabras And Other Mysteries. Tolentino states that she saw “a movie called Species. It would be a very good idea if you saw it. The movie begins here in Puerto Rico, at the Arecibo observatory. [The monster] made my hair stand on end. It was a creature that looked like the chupacabra, with spines on its back and all… The resemblance to the chupacabra was really impressive.” Later in the interview Tolentino says, “I watched the movie and wondered, ‘My God! How can they make a movie like that, when these things are happening in Puerto Rico?’” She is then asked, “In other words, does [Species] make you think there might have been an experiment in which a being escaped and is now at large? [in Puerto Rico].” Tolentino responded: “Yes.”

HR Giger’s work on Alien has infected our nightmares forever; his biomechanical monstrosities are now part of our imaginative landscape. It’s impressive. But perhaps more impressive is the fact that his designs for Species managed to skip our pop cultural consciousness and leap directly into the real world. What’s a bigger deal: that the monster he created in Alien still scares us today or that the monster he created in Species somehow “came alive” and has been draining animals of their blood?

Giger picture by Annie Bertram.

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