Filmmaker Dan O'Bannon, best known as the screenwriter of Alien, died yesteday after a short illness. O'Bannon, who wrote scripts for genre heavyweights John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper, as well as co-writing the script for the sci-fi hit Total Recall, is b screenplay for Alien gave cinema a kick-ass female action star in Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, but I'll remember him best for his more low-brow contributions to the movies. In 1985, O'Bannon made his directorial debut with a low budget zombie flick called Return of the Living Dead; which quickly became a sleazy cult classic. The film, which borrowed from and built upon the canon of the George Romero zombie series was the first horror film I ever saw that winked at the audience and the movie wasn't afraid to be scary and funny at the same time. The original story came from Night of the Living Dead co-writer John A. Russo, who retained the rights to the 'Living Dead' name and wanted to expand the series. After Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper dropped out of project, O'Bannon came on board to make his directorial debut and did an extensive re-write of the script to fuse it with more comedy, nudity (seeing scream queen Linnea Quigley strip completely naked and grind on a tombstone just about melted my 13-year old brain) and a punk rock sensibility.
The result was a very fun, very 80's "splatstick" comedy horror flick. Sam Raimi often gets credited with being the first guy to fuse horror, over the top gore and comedy with his excellent 1987 effort Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, but O'Bannon did it first. It also became the first horror film where the music on the soundtrack played such an important role in the style of the movie. In 1985, on the heels of Footloose and The Breakfast Club, suddenly movie soundtracks became an important aspect of moviemaking. The Return of the Living Dead boasted a soundtrack with bands like The Cramps, The Damned and other punk bands. The films poster even included a "featuring music by..." something that was unheard of at the time. Surprisingly, despite the films success, O'Bannon would only direct one other feature, 1992's Resurrected, which is a shame because his debut showed a lot of promise and he seemed to be a very interesting, unique voice in horror and sci-fi. (It should be noted that O'Bannon wasn't involved with any of the Return of the Living Dead sequels, which are increasingly awful and should be avoided at all costs.)
O'Bannon was working on a prequel to his most famous work, Alien, at the time of his death. It's not known how far along he was and how much of his work will end up in Ridley Scott's film. Dan O'Bannon was 63 years old.