Alien: Dan O'Bannon's admiration for Lovecraft

leading from
H P Lovecraft
H P Lovecraft
a) Introduction to HP Lovecraft
Dan O'Bannon had a great knowledge and admiration for the works of H. P. Lovecraft who was a writer of science fiction horror novels. When he 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". 

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.  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.

b) Attempt to write Alien in the manner of Lovecraft
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. 

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. 

c) Comparisons between Alien and Lovecraft
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. 

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 and 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. There has been a lot of confusion about whether the book mentioned was actually real or not, and many people have come forth with their versions of the real Necronomicon for the book markets and these would never quite be the book that Lovecraft described. 
See: Conjuring the Demon

e) See "Mystery Derelict Found At Sea" in "Call In The Cthulhu" 

f) See: Guillermo del Toro talks about Lovecraft's influence on Alien

Source quotes 
  1. 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. 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)
  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: 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))
  4. (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 style. 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)
  5. 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)
  6. (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)
  7. 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. 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 less Old one. (Fangoria,#239, p38)
  8. 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)

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