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Total O'Bannon Recall

On the occasion of the DVD release of writer-director Dan O'Bannon's classic zombie flick RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, the filmmaker looks back at his other contributions to the genre

By SCOTT COLLURA     August 30, 2002

Dan O'Bannon made an indelible mark on sci-fi and horror cinema with his script for the original Alien in 1979, and in the years since he has churned out several other notable genre screenplays and directorial efforts. Now that his RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD has finally made it to DVD, the writer-director sat down to talk with CINESCAPE about his work. For his thoughts on that classic '80s zombie comedywhich he helmed as well as co-wroteyou'll have to pick up our print issue on a newsstand near you. But for his unexpurgated thoughts on his other screenplaysnamely the ones directed by other filmmakersand related projects, you merely need to continue reading here...

Return of the Living Dead Part II [IMG3R](1988 sequel to his writing-directing debut, though he had no involvement in the project): "A sequel to the return of the rip-off. [The producers] asked me if I would do the sequel and I had hated working for them so bad that I said, 'Sure, for a million dollars.' And they got somebody else to do it, and I saw it and... the director was working hard. You could see the sincerity and the talent, but it was just like, when you're given this unpromising material, what do you do?"

Dark Star [IMG4L](1974 student film expanded by O'Bannon and John Carpenter to feature length): "That picture usually isn't on most of [Carpenter's] resumes. I think he's just abandoned that because he finally realized he couldn't scrape my name off of it. Rather than share credit he's decided it just didn't happen at all. Particularly, the thought [that] he would have to come down and be in the same room as me when something was being done [for a DVD]... it's that bad from John, and has been for many, many, many years."

Lifeforce [IMG5R](1985 space vampires/zombie/end of the world flick): "The performances too could have been computer generated, it probably would have been a great improvement. We had the one and only Tobe Hooper at the helm which is approximately like having Bozo the Clown at the helm."

Alien (1979 seminal sci-fi horror): "The one that was certainly best directed, far and away above the rest, was Alien. Ridley Scott's directorial thing there was absolutely wonderful. I haven't had another director equal it."

The Alien Sequels [IMG6L](1986, 1992 and 1997 follow-ups to Alien of which O'Bannon had no involvement): "There was no practical reason for me to [really see them] because I wasn't involved with them and other than that I was wary about having my sensibilities upturned too many times. I saw the Cameron one and pieces of the other two. I mean, Alien was my picture and the other things, they've been grinding them out patently. The only reason they're doing it is for the money. This is the classic franchise strategy that they now love so much which is just to keep beating a dead horse until it won't get up anymore. The Cameron one, he just about pulled it off. It was a separate movie in its own right. It was alright. It was O.K. [It's] a good answer to the problem which is how to sequelize this. Plus, he was very wise not to try to handle it as a fear-evoking horror suspense tale like the first one, because he's not good at that. And what he did was he'd do it all maybe a half hour at the beginning of the picture to try to create some of that atmosphere, and then he switched over to the gung-ho proactive mode in which Cameron can work very effectively. And so he was able to turn it to something he could work with to advantage. And you know, it was pretty good. I guess it was as good as sequels tend to be, better than most. It's hard for me to look at these things with objectivity of course."

Total Recall


(1990 unlikely confluence of Schwarzenegger and Philip K. Dick): "Verhoeven has moments. He's talented and he does have some grand sci-fi visual things to see from time to time, but he's a very flawed director and Total Recall had a lot of pitfalls for him and he fell in most of them. In particular, whenever he started to flounder and didn't know what to do, he would start throwing in violence. He'd say bring in all the rubber body parts and the blood hoses and everything and we'll start ripping people to shreds and squirt blood everywhere. And he'd keep shooting that until he overcame his nerves and got his feet on the ground and would start directing in some reasonable way again. So you'd end up with these intermittent scenes of absurdly excessive maimings at sort of intervals, and usually what he was substituting for were scenes that involved humor in the original [script]. And I realized, 'Oh, he's not good at humor. He doesn't know how to tell a joke onscreen.' Too bad, because some of the important stuff he did very well on Total Recall. It had grand moments."

For more of our exclusive interview with Dan O'Bannon, pick up a copy of our latest print issue on a newsstand near you.

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