Guillermo Del Toro & Lovecraft's influence on Alien

Leading from 

a) John Campbell inspired by "At the Mountains of Madness" ?
Guillermo Del Tor had been planning to make a film version of At The Mountains of Madness and was someone who had read Lovecraft's work. He noticed its influence on Joseph Campbell's story "Who goes there?" which had been filmed as Howard Hawk's The Thing from another World and later John Carpenter's The Thing, and Howard Hawk's movie had inspired Alien and he believed that John Campbell admitted to having been inspired by At The Mountain of Madness although this actual admittance is not known to have been documented anywhere.

b) "At the Mountains of Madness" influence on Alien?
He saw that it was normal for people to say that Alien was influenced by "It! The Terror From Beyond Space", or Mario Bava's "Planet of the Vampires", and even though while Dan O'Bannon was someone who would be able to himself point out in what way he was inspired by these two movie.

Guillermo Del Toro wanted to assure the public that there's the influence of "At The Mountains of Madness" for sure to the point of Alien being a space version of the story. Dan O'Bannon was able to note that he deliberately tried to write Alien in a way that was heavily inspired by Lovecraft, one can see some deliberate Lovecraft references.

drawing of one of "Lovecraft's Elder Things" drawn by Guillermo del Toro in his
Blue Notebook, p151 (
Guillermo Del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities,, p262)"

c) Alien in the vein of Lovecraft?
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, had the opinion was that it didn't catch Lovecraft's storyline but caught something of the atmosphere  

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 less Old One.

d) Guillermo del Toro merges Alien scenario with At The Mountains of Madness
Guillermo described the scenario of Alien, the idea of an exploration ship that essentially lands on a planet and in the original draft of the script by Dan O'Bannon, they discover an alien city and in the film instead they find a derelict space ship that was city sized, so he refers to it as a city / space ship, with the remains of dead denizens with broken chests in the place who were the masters slain by the shape shifting creatures that was the alien, kept in the cargo hold below. 

Still in the ship there was something that was very much alive and waiting, and takes over the humans.  They discover the life cycle of the creature which is sort of shape shifting, and Del Toro had decided that in the way that the elder things were masters of the Shoggoths from that story, the Space Jockey and its species were the master of the creature that we know of as the alien.

In the original Alien script, the explorers even discover a mural that describes how its life cycle works which Del Toro thought was very much like what Lovecraft's story which showed pictures on the wall telling the story of the demise of the Elder Things as a race.

HP Lovecraft's character Cthulhu by drawn Guillermo del Toro from p22a from Notebook 3,
( Guillermo Del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities, p73)

e) Breaking his main perceptions down further
One can list the things from Alien that he has transformed in his mind:
  • Guillermo del Toro mentally transforms the discovery of a lone pyramid from O'Bannon's original script into the discovery of a city. 
  • The large derelict space ship in the film that's a few hundred feet wide becomes city sized and perhaps even part space ship and part city. 
  • He perceives multiple dead denizens with broken chests instead of simply one which we've come to know of as the Space Jockey with an exploded hole in his chest. 
  • With that, while the alien for O'Bannon was a thing encountered on the planetoid by the alien pilot for the first time and it was just eventually decided by Ridley Scott that it would be part of the space jockey's cargo hold and therefor its war weapon, Del Toro has turned the thing into a slave race like the Shoggoths that has turned against its masters.
I suppose that del Toro has melted the stories of the Mountains of Madness and Alien together in his mind and has to talk about the derelict ship with the pyramid as if they are parts of the vast city in the Lovecraft story, while the remains of the space Jockey as if there are the multiple remains of the Old ones. Perhaps it's a cultural thing to replace single entities with multitudes in parts of Mexico, and it could reveal a spooky element to their way of thinking

f) Guillermo del Toro's concerns about Prometheus
When Ridley Scott started filming the movie "Prometheus", Guillermo thought that this would be even more like "At the Mountains of Madness" than Alien could ever have been.

He was certain that the use of the name Prometheus was being used as a Greek metaphor alluding to the creation aspects of the H P Lovecraft books and was actually going to cause either a long pause or the complete demise of his on "At the Mountains of Madness" project.

But afterwards although there were things in common, he decided to go ahead anyway because in terms of any similar imagery, Lovecraft got there first.

However Guillermo got to point when he found that it was less and less likely that the his Lovecraft film could ever go ahead before deciding that the original Alien would be as close there would be to a film of the story.

Source Quotes
  1. Guillermo De Toro: The perfect adaption of At The Mountains of Madness, in a way, was the first twenty minutes of Alien. When they first arrive at the ship, and they discover the murdered masters, and the chest is all broken, and they say these were killed by creatures in the cargo bay. And then, of course, the alien is no shoggoth, but in a way even - in the original screenplay - he was supposed to be a shapeshifter. He was supposed to, basically, take on the form of the host. (Lurker in the Lobby: A guide to the cinema of H P Lovecraft, 2006, p210) 
  2. Guillermo De Toro: I think there is a huge Lovecraftian influence, and a huge At the Mountains of Madness influence on the first Ridley Scott Alien. The idea of a ship, that . essentially lands on a planet, and they find a derelict, city-sized ship, dead denizens in it, and something that is very much alive and waiting and then takes over the humans. That’s essentially, you could say very much, At The Mountains of Madness. It has influenced the story that the thing was based on which was a direct rip off of At The Mountains of Madness, and so on, I think it's, it's it's repercussions are very cinematic (Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, a 2008 documentary, 11:11:45)
  3. Guillermo Del Toro: I have been interviewed about this lately and wanted to post my two cents about this: Prometheus started filming a while ago- right at the time we were in pre-production on PACIFIC RIM. The title itself gave me pause- knowing that ALIEN was heavily influenced by Lovecraft and his novella. This time, decades later with the budget and place Ridley Scott occupied, I assumed the greek metaphor alluded at the creation aspects of the HPL book. I believe I am right and if so, as a fan, I am delighted to see a new RS science fiction film, but this will probably mark a long pause -if not the demise- of ATMOM. The sad part is- I have been pursuing ATMOM for over a decade now- and, well, after Hellboy II two projects I dearly loved were not brought to fruition for me.  The good part is: One project did... And I am loving it and grateful for the blessings I have received. (Guillermo De Toro's message borad. See:, 5/6/2012
  4. Den Of Geek: I’ve got a pet theory about Lovecraft, that he’s one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He influenced Stephen King, Alien, and maybe even Quatermass And The Pit, which you mentioned earlier. Is that something you’d agree with?
    Guillero Del Toro: I would agree wholeheartedly, and I’d say he’s not only influential, but one of the great unacknowledged writers. And not only his cosmic horror – there are the smaller tales too. When people think about Lovecraft, they often think about the big gothic monsters, but he had stuff like The Dreams In The Witch House, and The Thing On The Doorstep, which were very influential.
    DenOfGreek: There are a lot of Lovecraftian monsters in your films, too, aren’t there?
    Guillero Del Toro: Oh yeah. Mike Mignola’s Hellboy was influenced by Lovecraft big time. He wanted to make his monsters Lovecraftian. But I think many other films have been influenced by Lovecraft – like Alien, which is almost an outer-space version of At The Mountains Of Madness.
    DenOfGreek: Giger’s original painting, which ultimately became the alien, was called Necronom IV.
    Guillero Del Toro: Exactly. And when you read the original draft of Alien they discover an ancient alien city – or in this case a city slash space ship. They discover the life cycle of the creature, which is sort of shape-shifting, and they even discover a mural that describes how that life cycle works, which is very much like Lovecraft’s story.
    DenOfGreek: And as you say, his influence is rarely acknowledged.
    Guillero Del Toro: People normally say Alien was influenced by It! The Terror From Beyond Space, or Mario Bava’s Planet Of The Vampires, but I assure you there’s the influence of At The Mountains Of Madness, for sure.
    DenOfGreek: The Thing is another film that’s obviously inspired by it.
    Guillero Del Toro: John W Campbell, who wrote the original story, Who Goes There?, admitted publicly that it was a riff on At The Mountains Of Madness. This isn’t supposition, you know? It is an absolutely admitted fact by John W Campbell, that he was inspired by it. (Source:, October 12, 2011, interview conducted by Ryan Lambie)
  5. Guillermo Del Toro: When I’m brave enough to go and see 'Prometheus,' I’ll know. But for now, I don’t know, We are all nothing but human beings. I go to the theatre, I buy my ticket for Prometheus and I go and see something else, because I’m afraid. I’m not a mental entity, I am also emotional, because the ideas are similar, from what I’ve heard and I’ll see it next week, I promise! ( 17th July 2012)
  6. The filmmaker did say earlier this year that he was worried that Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" could have too much overlap with story and tone, the film dealt with a lot of the same issue that 'Mountains Of Madness' does. But that was before he saw the film. Del Toro caught up with it and is no longer concerned. "Not really, I saw it finally and.. yes, there are things in common, but, you know, screw it. Lovecraft was there first," he laughed. ( January 7th 2013
  7. Guillermo Del Toro: Puis, j'ai lu Les Montagnes hallucinées, et j'adoré sa pseudoscience. Lovecraft y est très rigoureux dans ses descriptions géographiques, géologiques, il est très précis vis-à-vis de l'équipement utilisé, le véhicules... C'est Alien de Ridley Scott. C'est prosaïque, crédible, et puis le fantastique arrive. J'ai essayé de l'adapter, mais je suis presque sûr que le film ne fera jamais (Translattion: Then I read The Mountains of Madness, and I loved its pseudoscience. Lovecraft is very strict in his descriptions geographical, geological, it is very specific to the equipment used, the vehicle... It is Alien by Ridley Scott. It is prosaic, credible, and then the fantastic arrives. I tried to adapt it, but I'm pretty sure that the film will never be)(Mad Movies Hors-Serie 27, p24)
  8.  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) 
  9. Guillermo Del Toro: Alien est en quelque sorte une version spatiale des "Montagnes hallucinées " Lovecraft a influencé une quantité d'auteurs et de realisateurs" (L'ecran Fantastique no.394, p108) (Translation: Alien is somehow a space version of "Mountains of Madness" Lovecraft has influenced a number of writers and directors ")
  10. Guillermo Del Toro: The closest we ever have got is the opening of Alien, Ridley Scott's Alien, that was entirely Mountains of Madness related to me, because it's an exploration ship, docks in a place, finds this city, in this case a spaceship city and encounters an organism, a mutation, a mutable organism that has killed, has killed its masters and overtakes the humans, so that synopsis would fit Mountains of Madness or Alien. (Del Toro Interview on "At The Mountains of Madness" by Lexgeryon Published on 3 Jan 2011

1 comment:

  1. This article Guillermo Del Toro & Lovecraft's influence on Alien was initially published April 10th 2014, and has been slightly edited since. Always looking out for a few more strange things to be said about Alien by Guillermo Del Toro, perhaps to reveal the truth about his own strangeness.