Friday, December 18, 2009

Dan O'Bannon, 1946-2009

Everyone has a movie like this, especially genre fans. It's a movie that you press to your heart with a love that defies logic or common sense, a love that, among those of more refined tastes, dares not speak its name. Maybe it's a movie that you encountered in a deserted cinema, a movie that found you, sitting all by yourself, and whispered in your ear. It sidled up next to you, enveloped you in one overpowering arm, drew you into itself...and then proceeded to have its cheap and tawdry way with you. Oh sure, by the time the final credits rolled, you knew that you had been used and degraded - but there was just something about the way that this movie, oh, I was different. It knew that you were different. And like Everett Sloane's girl with the parasol and the white dress, it would remain with you for the rest of your life.

My movie was - and is - Lifeforce. Yep. Lifeforce. While the rest of America was watching Marty McFly travel Back...In...Time, I was thrilling to the UK's ravishment by space vampires in a big budget epic that wedded themes from the vaunted Quatermass series to bombastic special effects and laser light shows. Let the rest of the world add money to the coffers of Universal Pictures - I had thrown my lot in with director Tobe Hooper and a man who spent a career unnamed but seldom unrecognized. He would go through life hyped as "the creator of Alien," and indeed, he gave life to Ripley and Ash and Dallas and Kane and the Nostromo and those biomechanical marvels from Monsieur Giger with the cranial carapaces and the acidy spit. He also gave us screenplays for Dead and Buried, Blue Thunder, Invaders from Mars (1986), Screamers, Total Recall and The Return of the Living Dead (which he also directed). I am confident that others will give those films the attention they are due. But he also adapted Colin Wilson's The Space Vampires into the screenplay for the hot mess that is Lifeforce. He may not be very happy with the film that is heading up this tribute from the Jar - he all but disowned the finished product - but it has gone on to cult status, testimony to the other genre junkies who felt similarly defiled and delighted, and for that, this little fanboy owes Dan O'Bannon so very, very much.

Dan O'Bannon died on December 16 after
what is described in obits as a brief illness. He is survived by his wife and son.

My first encounter with O'Bannon was not only as a screenwriter, but also as an actor, as the put-upon Pinback in John Carpenter's entry into the world of moviemaking, Dark Star, which I saw in 1975 as the second half of a double feature with The Land That Time Forgot at Wausau WI's legendary Grand Theater. This sequence is often cited by film historians as a low-cost first whack at what was later to become Alien -- that is, if Ripley and company were forced to do battle with an inflated beach ball with Gill Man claws.

Thanks again, Dan. I hope you're home in time for cornflakes.


Unknown said...

Lifeforce was awesome. I watched it when I was a child and it impressed the hell out of me. Something that has a script, a nice atmosphere and a solid sci-fi background. It wasn't much in the way of production values, but its spirit was strong. Now that you reminded me of it, I must find it to own.

Anonymous said...

Hell yes. Lifeforce is so far superior than it's reputation suggests. A great throwback to Quatermass and X The Unknown. And what a performance in Dark Star! He will be missed.

I Like Horror Movies said...

This really is another great tragedy in Horror, 2009 is ending on a sad note with the recent losses, but O'Bannon left behind a true legacy in film

Jeff Allard said...

Sad, sad news. O'Bannon was responsible for so many genre touchstones. Horror and sci-fi fans are in debt to him. R.I.P. Sgt. Pinback.

Jay Watson said...

Everything you say about O'Bannon is much appreciated (and agreed with).. but I have a question: The Grand Theater in Wausua???? Oh my! That was my home-away-from-home from the late Summer of 1967 to the fall of 1971 (I lived in Wausau during my Jr. High years and first 5 quarters of Sr. High). I loved the Grand. Ohh, the memories.
Merry Christmas to you and yours my friend,