Alien: Dan O'Bannon's admiration for Lovecraft

leading from
H P Lovecraft
 and
 
H P Lovecraft
a) Introduction to HP Lovecraft

a.i) Old scifi book with a Lovecraft story
When Dan was 12 years of age, he came upon a moldy old beaten up copy of a book with half the cover torn off  that was the Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Groff Conklin which contained the H P Lovecraft story, "The Colour Out of Space".  

a.ii) Up the whole night
He spent the whole night reading the story and it really excited him and one of the elements of the story was about vegetation growing out of season and when Dan read the book, it was in the mid winter and he was living in the Ozark mountain region at the time.  

a.iii) Mysterious single rose
The next day, when he went out, the whole ground was covered in snow and he went to take a look around and found a single rose growing through the snow, which very much spooked young Dan at the time.

a.iv) Lovecraft hunter
He hunted down more Lovecraft stories, they were hard to find back in the '50s and '60s when he was a child. They were not as widely published then as they would be in later years.

a.v) Point of view about the works
He was fascinated by Lovecraft's profound sense of imagination that was very morbid, and Dan had morbid tastes.

He might also call the writing numinous, meaning that they were invested with a sense of the supernatural, and he found that Lovecraft was able to add a dark and scary quality to these stories in a way that very few others could achieve at all.

a.vi) A Lovecraft fan
Thus Dan O'Bannon would grow up to have a great knowledge and admiration for the works of H. P. Lovecraft who was a writer of science fiction horror novels.


  1. Dan O'Bannon: I first encountered Lovecraft when I was 11 years old. I read a story called "The Colour Out Of Space" and it was riveting to me. I hunted down more Lovecraft stories, they were hard to find back in the '60s, when I was a kid. They weren't as widely published as they are now. I was fascinated by his profound sense of imagination. Of course it was morbid imagination, but that's all right, I have morbid taste. In a dark way, in a kind of scary realm, Lovecraft's writings are what you call numinous - that is invested with a sense of the supernatural. Lovecraft was able to add a dark and scary quality to his stories. Very few others can achieve that. I've always been a terrific admirer of his stuff.  (Fangoria,#239, p38) 
  2. Jason V Brock: When were you first interested in Lovecraft's work?

    Dan O'Bannon: When I was twelve, and I had picked up this used copy of er anthology of science fiction stories, it was Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Groff Conklin , there was this moldy old copy in a box in some store, half the cover torn off, I bought it for a nickel to the dollar, and in it was the story "The Colour Out Of Space"  by H P Lovecraft, I'd never heard of it, but  the title was intriguing, and erm, I think I was very fortunate to encounter this story first, because it's generally recognised that it's his finest work and I stayed up all night reading the thing and it just knocked my socks off, and the story, one of the elements in the story is of course,vegetation growing out of season, and when I read it , it was mid winter and we were living down in the Ozarks. Next day when I got out, the whole ground was covered in snow, and when I went out to look around, I found a single rose growing up through the snow, and it really spooked me "oh my god". After that I sought out the work of Lovecraft, it was very hard to obtain in those days, in the fifties. Not much of those were in publication 
    (2009 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Dan O'Bannon's "Howie" Acceptance Speech)
  3.  Dan O'Bannon: H P Lovecraft scared the crap out of me when I was twelve. I read "The Colour out of Space". It made a definite impression on me. And the few of his works that were available, I read and enjoyed. (Lurker in the Lobby, A guide to the cinema of HP Lovecraft, p262)


b) Attempt to write Alien in the manner of Lovecraft

b.i) Attempt to be Lovecraftian
Dan deliberately attempted to write the Alien script in the mood of Lovecraft, he would even use words such as "squamous" in the script and decades later in at least one interview, he would be found still using such a word as a part of every day discussion. 

Before the film actually went into production, he was able to talk about his Alien script as being very Lovecraftian and even describe the alien as a supernatural menace, perhaps with "The Haunted Space Ship" being a more revealing alternative title. 


b.ii) Lovecraftian tone
While he felt that Alien was strongly influenced tone wise by Lovecraft, one of the things that proved it is that Lovecraft couldn't be effectively adapted without extremely strong visuals.

He felt that a film would have to be very very stylised and very particular.

The problem was that one needed to create a cinematic equivalent of Lovecraft's prose and it was hard to achieve.

It could be adequately adapted for ordinary cinematography at all, and so it was something to be yet achieved during his life


b.iii) Aftermath
Whatever he had tried to do with the script in that way would have been severely damaged by Walter Hill and David Giler's rewrites, they seemed to hate anything that would have been deliberately archaic and inspired by Lovecraft's approach to story telling and use of words. 

But it's seems true to say that those themes managed to drip their way into the final movie and form into something very Lovecraftian with the aid of HR Giger's art and Dan consoled himself with the realisation that the final film possibly retained some of that atmosphere. 

  1. Phobos: Could you tell us a little about the story of Alien?
    O'Bannon: Alien ( a more revealing title would be The Haunted Spaceship), is about a crew of astonauts who encounter a supernatural menace. It's more of a science-fiction terror piece.... very Lovecraftian.
    Phobos: A science fiction gothic story?
    O'Bannon: Yes (Phobos #1 Summer, 1977, p15)
  2. (O8:26) Dan O'Bannon: I do think that Alien managed to capture some of the quality of Lovecraft, obviously the storyline is completely different. In terms of atmosphere, it may have been successful at that, it's very gratifying (2009 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Dan O'Bannon's "Howie" Acceptance Speech)
  3. (07:07) Interviewer: Outside of best adaptations or best films, what films do you think are the best cosmic/ Lovecraft films, you know if you expand the definition beyond Lovecraft
    Dan O'Bannon: Oh my, there's not much you know. It's very very difficult to achieve that tone in film. I'm not sure anyone had. I tried very hard on Alien to do that, to do erm. Alien was strongly influenced tone wise of Lovecraft, and one of the things that proved it is that you can't adapt Lovecraft without an extremely strong visual "stuckout?". It has to be very very stylised and very particular. What you need is a cinematic equivalent of Lovecraft's prose, that's the problem, that's very hard to achieve. Lovecraft can't be adequately adapted for ordinary cinematography at all. So it's still there to be done if anyone wants to stick his neck in it  (2009 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Dan O'Bannon's "Howie" Acceptance Speech)
  4. Dan O'Bannon:As an adult, I think of the challenge to finding a cinematic equivalent. Nobody has made a really strong effort in that direction because it's a truly puzzling challenge.  (Lurker in the Lobby, A guide to the cinema of HP Lovecraft, p262)
     

c) Comparisons between Alien and Lovecraft

c.i) O'Bannon responds to the public

The final Alien movie has been regarded by many as a Lovecraftian movie linking in with the mythos about the Old Ones generally from At The Mountains of Madness and the Yog-Sothoth that first appeared in "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward".  

Dan in his 2003 essay found himself agreeing that this was the thought he had while writing, while of course nothing similar in description to the creatures from Lovecraft's stories were to be found in the movie Alien.  

While the final Alien film reflected themes from "At the Mountains of Madness", Dan O'Bannon responding to a critic's view that Alien went to where the Old Ones lived, to the very world of their origin.
  1. Dan O'Bannon: One especially insightful critic- I wish I remembered who - wrote that Alien evoked the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, but where Lovecraft told of an ancient race of hideous beings menacing the Earth, ALIEN went to where the Old Ones lived, to their very world of origin. He was right, that was my very thought while writing.  (Something Perfectly Disgusting (essay found in the Alien Quadrilogy set))


c.ii)) Relationship to the  Lovecraft mythos

His view was that the very thought he had while writing was that the planetoid was a fragment of the Old One's home world, and the Alien a blood relative of the Yog-Sothoth or even was itself a minor or lesser Old One.


So, while Lovecraft laid out all of his stories on Earth, so that the Old Ones come to us. In Alien, the people are going to the Old Ones

  1. Dan O'Bannon: And Alien was strongly inspired by Lovecraft, except he laid out all his stories here on Earth. The Old Ones come to us, in Alien people go to the old ones. You might say that the alien is a minor or lesser Old one. (Fangoria,#239, p38) 
  2. Dan O'Bannon: One especially insightful critic- I wish I remembered who - wrote that Alien evoked the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, but where Lovecraft told of an ancient race of hideous beings menacing the Earth, ALIEN went to where the Old Ones lived, to their very world of origin. He was right, that was my very thought while writing. That baneful little storm-lashed planetoid planetoid halfway across the galaxy was a fragment of the Old Ones' homeworld, and the Alien a blood relative of the Yog-Sothoth. (Something Perfectly Disgusting (essay found in the Alien Quadrilogy set))
  3. Lurker : When writing Alien, did you have ant direct or subconscious influence from Lovecraft's writings? 
    Dan O'Bannon: Alien was certainly my most successful venture into Lovecraft turf. Some Canadian reviewer said it best when he wrote " Alien is Lovecraft, but where Lovecraft set his stories on Earth, Alien went to the home planet of the Old Ones"(Lurker in the Lobby, A guide to the cinema of HP Lovecraft, p262)


d) The Necronomicon
H. P. Lovecraft, as part of his Cthulhu mythos in his novels wrote about a book of spells for summoning demons called The Necronomicon.

There has been a lot of confusion about whether the book was actually real or not, 

Dan O'Bannon went as far as to write his own version of the book to provide a version of it for the public that was probably near enough to the imagined actual thing. 

Many people have come forth with their versions of the real Necronomicon for the book markets, but these would never quite be the book that Lovecraft described.  

 (See : Alien: Summoner of the Demon)



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