If you don’t know who Dan O’Bannon is, you don’t know sci-fi/horror. O’Bannon cut his teeth in film school working with the legendary John Carpenter on their student film Dark Star, which was expanded into a feature in 1974. He was involved with the development of the ill-fated Alejandro Jodorowsky production of Frank Herbert’s Dune – an involvement that left him broke and homeless. Then, while living with his friend Ronald Shusett, the two of them came up with the story that would set him up for life. He then wrote the screenplay and supervised the visuals for Ridley Scott’s iconic Alien (1979). The similarities between Dark Star and Alien are intentional and hilarious, making the two films a perfect double-feature. But O’Bannon has acknowledged a number of other influences that would also be amazing festival-fare: The Thing from Another World (1951), Forbidden Planet (1956), and Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965), all of which feature elements that O’Bannon lifted and repurposed for Alien (originally called Star Beast until O’Bannon decided to rename the screenplay). O’Bannon had originally believed that he would be directing Alien, but the studio had other ideas, and after Walter Hill passed on the job and the production team pushed for a director who would take the material seriously, Ridley Scott was approached (thanks to the strength of his first feature, The Duelists). It was O’Bannon who introduced Scott to the art and design of H.R. Giger after his own introduction to it during his time in Paris developing Dune, and he was also responsible for bringing in artists Ron cobb and Chris Foss to do design work for the ship and the space suits (although it was the brilliant artist Moebius who’s space suit design was finally used). The 1980s were really where O’Bannon shined as a writer. He followed Alien with the screenplay for the criminally underrated Dead & Buried (which we reviewed here) and the segments “Soft Landing” and “B-17” in Heavy Metal, both in 1981. O’Bannon didn’t really do a lot on Dead & Buried, as the script was essentially the work of his old friend Ronald Shusett, but O’Bannon loaned his name to the project to help give the film some of his Alien-inspired press attention. He wrote the original script for police helicopter action film Blue Thunder with Don Jakoby, but it was so reworked – losing some of O’Bannon’s political content – that he was extremely dissatisfied with the final product. But on the plus side, he continued to work with Jakoby for two more extremely underrated sci-fi/horror films – some might say classics – LIfeforce (1985) and Invaders from Mars (1986), both of which were directed by genre legend Tobe Hooper. As our very own Adam Barraclough said in his review, “I’ve always considered Lifeforce to be a genre-fan’s slam dunk.” He couldn’t more spot on. Not only does the film adapt Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires, it’s pretty much the best Hammer Horror Quatermass film that isn’t made by Hammer and doesn’t feature Bernard Quatermass. It wasn’t well-received at the time of its release, but genius always takes time to find its audience. Invaders from Mars isn’t nearly as amazing as Lifeforce, but it does feature fantastic creature effects by Stan Winston and John Dykstra, an increasingly dark and disturbing storyline – right up to its horrifying ending – and stars Karen Black as the school nurse, Linda Magnusson, trying to save the world from an alien invasion with the help of a small child (played by Hunter Carson – Black’s real-life son). If that’s not enough to make Psycho Drive-In readers sit up and take notice, I don’t know what will. 1985 was also the year that O’Bannon made his directorial debut with the zombie/comedy masterpiece Return of the Living Dead. Yes, O’Bannon is the one who created fast zombies and the craving for brains. Take that, Romero! Taking what was originally intended to be a serious semi-sequel to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead by the original’s co-writer John A. Russo, with Tobe Hooper attached to direct, O’Bannon came into the picture and turned it into the chaotic punk rock masterpiece that it is. O’Bannon’s last major script was for 1990’s Total Recall, the Philip K. Dick adaptation by Paul Verhoeven that featured Arnold Schwarzenegger and a mutant prostitute with three boobs. Despite being beloved by fans (as are most of O’Bannon’s films), O’Bannon was perhaps the harshest critic of his own works, although it was usually the directors and producers who he felt botched things in the long run. Given what he came up with directing Return of the Living Dead, I’d have to agree. He wasn’t happy with the end result of Total Recall, a script he and Shusett had been working on since Alien. His only other directing work was with the 1991 Lovecraft adaptation, The Resurrected, and while there’s a firm directorial hand on the tiller and the performances are all very nice, the film fails to really be all that entertaining despite being one of the most faithful Lovecraft films of the era. However, according to O’Bannon, the producers took the film away from him during post-production and, to his mind, ruined it. The last scripts he had produced, another Phil Dick adaptation, Screamers (1995) and another Lovecraft adaptation, Bleeders (1997), aren’t really films that broke a lot of new ground, but both were solidly entertaining, mostly due to the performances of Peter Weller (in Screamers) and Rutger Hauer (in Bleeders). They’re both worth seeking out if you’ve got nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon. Sadly, Dan O’Bannon passed away due to complications from Crohn’s disease in Los Angeles on December 17, 2009. In the time between Bleeders and his death, he was constantly at work trying to get films made on the indie/low-budget circuit, but unfortunately, none of them came to be. But right up to the end, he was cantankerous and brutally honest, taking no prisoners with his commentary and criticism of the film industry. He was one-of-a-kind and is greatly missed. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses Dignan October 23, 2016 Nice write-up. I can’t imagine living in the alternate universe in which Alien was called Star Beast. Log in to Reply Shawn EH November 7, 2016 Lifeforce is so great, totally in They Live territory for me! Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.