Dan O’Bannon: a Trash Cinema Legend 1946-2009

Dan O'Bannon as Pinback. (Dark Star)

by The Primal Root

I can distinctly remember not being able to move. The volume was way too loud and I was scared out of my mind. Too entranced to close my eyes and my hands pressed firmly over my 7 year old ears. I had just witnessed each and every member of the Nostormo’s crew being ripped to shreds by a hulking, skeletal monstrosity. And now Ripley was all alone. The only crew member left trying to make her way to the evacuation ship before it self-destructs.  Little did I know, this would be my inception into the strange, dark and often funny world of Dan O’ Bannon. A man whose career was as varied as his movies. From deep dark horror, to stoner space comedies, to hilarious punk rock nihilistic zombie flicks. Dan did it all and challenged the rules of cinema as he created many unique and, before then, unimagined worlds that took us places we’d never dreamed as cinema goers.

Of course, the man will go down in history as the writer behind one of the most thoughtful and thrilling sci-fi rape/revenge horror movies ever made, Alien (79). His screenplay was used as the blue print in creating one of Ridley Scott’s all time masterpieces and a landmark in the world of horror cinema that still manages to hold up 30 years later.

But to us at the Trash Cinema Collective we know better than anyone the depths of his cinematic contributions and achievements. He gave us such cult classics as the moody, beach side zombie tale Dead & Buried, the High Action Schwarzenegger slimey space epic Total Recall, Tobe Hoper’s underrated remake of Invaders from Mars as well as Hooper’s naked vampire lady from space film Lifeforce. He worked alongside John Carpenter to create the oddball send up to Kubrick’s 2001 in the form of the cult comedy Dark Star. And don’t forget his segment “Soft Landing” from the original animated adaptation of one of the coolest illustrated magazines ever, Heavy Metal!

Above all others I have a feeling most Trash Collectors will always remember him for what proved to be his trashiest endeavor which he served as both writer and first time director, Return of the Living Dead. The long standing 1985 cult horror/comedy pre-dated Shaun of the Dead’s ZomCom by almost twenty years and truly pioneered the running zombies which the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead claims to have invented. The dark nihilism and pervasive humor in O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead are mercilessly funny and in full force. You’ll laugh your ass off watching it today just as you will fifty years from now.  Just as all Dan’s work has proven over the passing years. They are timeless. They are classic. And they are all so much fun to watch.

I recommend we all spend a little time this weekend revisiting our favorites of Mister O’Bannon’s work in remembrance of one the truly great geek creators of our time. One of the indisputable key creative talents behind our generation’s sci-fi and horror mythos. I truly feel a great sense of loss in his passing. However, I know his legacy will endure and will continue to be passed on from one generation to the next for a long, long time to come.

RIP Dan O'Bannon


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