Dan O'Bannon passed away yesterday. Who? You may be asking, like the ignorant hipsters you are. O'Bannon got his start writing the screenplay and designing the F/X for Dark Star, one of John Carpenter's first movies. Doesn't ring a bell? He also worked on the computer effects for a little art-house film called Star Wars.
But that isn't all. He also wrote the screenplay for another movie you may have heard of called Alien. He wrote the short story that became "B-17," the best segment of the original Heavy Metal movie. O'Bannon also wrote and directed two of my favorite zombie flicks, Dead & Buried and Return of the Living Dead, the latter introducing the world to the desperate need for "Braaaaains." Then there was Total Recall, Invaders from Mars, Screamers, and Blue Thunder. If you were a geek growing up in the 1980s, like I was, O'Bannon was your bodhisattva, showing the way to nerd enlightenment.
Rest in peace, Dan.
Dark Star (1974)
I thought about including a clip of the Grateful Dead song, but it's the holiday season and you people are probably stressed out enough. so here's a philosophical conversation with Bomb #20. Also, note how Carpenter and O'Bannon seem to assume future astronauts will be allowed to smoke in the cockpit.
Taking inspiration from the works of H.R. Giger, Moebius, Forbidden Planet, and EC Comics, O'Bannon crafted one of the most enduring horror movies of all time, and one which my dad still can't watch all the way through.
"B-17" from Heavy Metal (1981)
Heavy Metal is a pretty mixed bag, much like the magazine upon which it's based. Watching it now, I'm sure younger folks wonder what we were smoking back in the late 1970s/early 1980s to come up with shit like "Taarna" (the answer: delicious opium). But when the movie fires on all cylinders, as with "Den," "Captain Sternn," or this -- the only pure horror segment in the movie -- it still stands up.
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
In my past incarnation as a pure movie writer, I dedicated thousands of words to this, perhaps my all-time favorite zombie movie (you'll have to take my word for it, the site I wrote it for is currently down). In addition to the inspirational rallying cry "Braaains!", which I still use in everyday conversation, we have O'Bannon to thank for "Send more paramedics" and "You mean the movie lied?" Also, possibly the best ending of any movie about punk zombies ever.
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Blue Thunder (1983)
If you haven't seen this early-`80s helicopter epic, you really need to check it out. Sure, the technology hasn't aged well, and O'Bannon wasn't happy that the political content was watered down, and I've personally wanted Daniel Stern's characters to die in every movie he's ever made, but the performances are all top notch. Malcolm McDowell is the perfect prick, Roy Scheider is excellent as always, and the great Warren Oates (in his final film) gets some good lines in as well.