Hangin’ with Alien writer Dan O’Bannon on the Vancouver set of his 1992 Lovecraft flick

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By Steve Newton

Most of the Vancouver-shot movies I covered during my time as a freelancer for Fangoria magazine actually made it into theatres. One that didn’t was The Resurrected, which was based on the H.P. Lovecraft novella, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

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The movie–aka Shatterbrain–went directly to video, but that’s okay with me. The main reason I wanted to cover it, apart from the Lovecraft angle, was that it was directed by Dan O’Bannon, who horror freaks may recall wrote the screenplay for Ridley Scott’s Alien.

In other words, the guy was hot shit.

Here’s a heavily edited version of my set-visit piece which ran in the September 1991 Fangoria, a special Lovecraft issue.

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You don’t mess with Mother Nature, especially if one of her daughters happens to be British Columbia’s mighty Fraser River. That’s the hard lesson the makers of The Resurrected learned last November while filming a scene from the Lovecraft-based movie on the shore of Western Canada’s seething waterway. Several mutilated body-part props, which were being manipulated in the water with cables and lines, were swept away by the rain-gorged force of the river.The gorily authentic tidbits didn’t get too far, though, because three youngsters snagged them while fishing in the nearby suburb of New Westminster. The light was dim when the kids came across the leg, foot, and three hands which–to quote police–were “very realistic parts.” The cops treated the case as a homicide, and a pathologist and coroner were brought to the scene before it was revealed that the parts were definitely not human. It was just the detailed work of those wacky Hollywood horror guys, the makeup-FX team.

Although three separate news items on the prop find and its resulting clamour were published in Vanouver-area papers, there was no follow-up on whether the unsuspecting kid fishermen were traumatized by the discovery. But one thing is certain: they saw a lot more of The Resurrected‘s FX work than Fangoria did.

Although two of the main men behind the latest Lovecraft feature–producer Ken Raich and director Dan O’Bannon–were happy to talk with Fango, they made it clear from the outset that not one of the film’s monsters or makeups would be revealed to these eyes at the set visit. And makeup-FX head Todd (Nightmare 5) Masters was totally out of bounds for an interview. Those sort of restrictions do not make things easy for a reporter whose primary goal is to get the lowdown on the film’s creatures. They do, however, make his choice of an opening question very easy: “So what’s with all the secrecy?”

“We’re going out with some new and different looks, monster-wise,” explains Raich. “And we really believe that the the exploitation of movies before they’re released has taken away the fun of watching a film. People see so much of ‘The Making of” and the special effects involved in it, that it takes away from the moviegoing experience.”

Although continued prodding doesn’t crumble the producer’s resolve to keep the film’s monsters under wraps, a little snooping around the office’s reception area between interviews uncovers a few FX clues. A stack of the day’s call sheets are left unattended, and Fango takes a peek. “Finger monster grows” reads one part. “.38 hits on monster” another. “Human part created from ashes”–now we’re getting somewhere!

Just as the glorified feeling of having unearthed a fragment of The Resurrected‘s taboo FX starts to fade, Raich himself breaks down a tad, offering to conduct a tightly supervised tour of a couple of the sets that have been constructed at Vancouver’s Dominion Bridge Studio. This is the same facility where, just months before, the TV-star cast from IT did battle with Stephen King’s spider monster.

The first room Raich reveals is a padded cell, bare but for the single steel cot and a wall drenched with enough candy-apple-red blood to make the Red Cross cringe. Fifty yards away, another set has been carefully made up as an 18th-century living room, complete with antique chair and spinning wheel, quilted rug, an array of glowing candles, and a portrait over the mantelpiece of one of the film’s integral characters, John Curwen. The actor portraying Curwen in The Resurrected is none other than Chris Sarandon, who actually does triple duty in the movie playing Charles Dexter Ward and the fiendish Dr. Ash as well. Equally adept at playing good guys (Child’s PlayWhispers) and baddies (Fright NightThe Princess Bride), Sarandon had his hands full this time around.

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“I’m a good guy and a villain,” he explains, taking a breather in the producer’s office. “Charles Ward is basically a well-intentioned, good man who is led astray by a desire to conquer this great scientific problem that his ancestor has posed. It’s kind of a parallel to Frankenstein: a good man who is consumed with something that he shouldn’t be messing with. The big theme here is basically ‘Don’t screw with death.'”

When it comes to screwing with death, Dan O’Bannon proved himself quite adept as director of Return of the Living Dead. And as far as H.P. Lovecraft goes, he’s been a fan ever since he first read the horror master’s stories at age 12.

“That’s how long I’ve wanted to make a Lovecraft movie,” reveals O’Bannon when Fango finally pins down the director during his lunchbreak. With his gray hair and beard, spectacles, tweed coat, and bow tie, the acclaimed SF/horror kingpin looks more lik a quaint university prof than the man whose mind conjured up Alien‘s fearsome beastie. Pacing scholarlike across the floor, O’ Bannon elaborates on just how faithful his adaptation is to the original work of his hero.

“It is very much so,” he claims. “I wouldn’t have it otherwise. But with that said, I should also explain that it’s impossible to take Lovecraft to the screen without making some changes. For example, Lovecraft doesn’t write dramas in the normal sense of the word, and that’s what theatrical films are about–they’re dramas. So when you translate Lovecraft to film, youv’e got to grapple with that particular problem.

“The way that Lovecraft approached The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is very curious,” O’Bannon adds. “The main character is Charles Ward, but Charles Ward in the whole story is handled from a very remote distance–you never come too close to him. It’s called a case report, and it is written like a case report, although you never know who’s writing it. So when you try to turn it into a screenplay, you’ve got to ask yourself: Do I rewrite Charles and move him into the foreground so that he becomes the hero of the piece? That’s the obvious solution, but I rejected it, ’cause it seemed to me that by shifting that emphasis you would destroy the entire feeling of Lovecraft.

“So the solution that I finally settled upon was to leave his story at exactly the same distance that it is in the book, but create a whole new set of characters for a foreground story, who I could make into more conventional movie characters, and create a frame, as it were, for the Lovecraft story.”

Concerning the rigid veil of secrecy over The Resurrected‘s FX, O’Bannon is a little more straightforward than the film’s producers. “I wouldn’t say that we have anything all that revolutionary to show the public,” he admits, “but I would at least like them to see it for the first time when they see the movie. I’m really getting tired of the type of pre-exploitation that was done on Total Recall, in which long before you ever go the theater or rent the cassette, you’ve been told everything about the story and know what everything looks like. So I’m trying to counteract that.”

Whoa! Check out that suggested list price of $89.98 for the VHS tape at the end!

 

 

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2 responses to “Hangin’ with Alien writer Dan O’Bannon on the Vancouver set of his 1992 Lovecraft flick

  1. great obannon great movie,he always gona be the father and creator of alien 1979.i love resurrected and i love return of living dead

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