“Alien” chestburster was inspired by writer’s Crohn’s disease

Xenomorph gargoyle
Dan O'Bannon
Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon in 2008 (Photo by JaSunni / Picasaweb / CC-BY-SA-30)

American science-fiction screenwriter, director, and visual effects specialist Dan O’Bannon was employed to supervise special effects in 1975 film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune by Alejandro Jodorowsky. The movie signed up Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson and Mick Jagger to star, Pink Floyd to make music, and artist H. R. Giger for set and character design.

The movie was cancelled in 1976 when $2 million of planned $9.5 million budget was already spent on pre-production, and the phonebook sized script would result in a 14-hour film.

Dan O’Bannon’s painful experiences

After Dune’s failure, Dan O’Bannon was left broke, homeless, and stayed with his friends, while trying to get back on his feet. He stayed on Ronald Shusett’s couch, and the two decided to work on Dan’s project Star Beast, later renamed Alien. Helped by film producer Gary Kurtz, Dan got money to rent his own apartment. He worked with miniature and optical effects unit in Star Wars post production. Kurtz earlier wanted to employ O’Bannon for a bigger special effects position in Star Wars, but Dan had committed himself to ill-fated Dune.

Dan O’Bannon’s stomach problems began around 1977. He spent most of the year in hospitals with undiagnosed excruciating stomach pain. When miserable Dan got a phone call to urging him to go England to make Alien, he became invigorated, he became invigorated by working on the film that he had conceived. Dan O’Bannon: “In the process of working, I made what appears to be a complete recovery. It was the first time I’d felt normal in better than a year.”

Facehugger movie prop
Facehugger film prop (Photo by Urko Dorronsoro / Flickr / CC-BY-SA-20)

His debilitating stomach pain remained undiagnosed until 1980, when it turned out that Dan suffered from Crohn’s disease. It’s a hereditary incurable chronic condition, type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) causing abdominal pain, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), fever, tiredness, weight loss, and sometimes even more unpleasant symptoms.

Science fiction legend

O’Bannon revealed on multiple occasions, that his experiences with Crohn’s disease inspired the chest bursting alien creature, that incubated inside victim’s stomach, and then violently ripped through the internal organs, and came out of victim’s chest. He was reported to describe: “The digestion process felt like something bubbling inside of me struggling to get out.”

Alien movie chestburster scene
Alien movie chestburster scene screenshot (Photo copyright: 20th Century Fox / Fair Use)

Jason Zinnorman described OBannon’s hardship in his 2011 book Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror: “The simple act of eating terrified him, and a trip to the bathroom meant potentially hours of arduous and humiliating pain.”

He passed away in 2009 from complications related to Crohn’s disease. Only after his death, it was revealed that Dan suffered from this terrible condition. His suffering made an impact. He created a scene which made whole generations of sci-fi fans terrified.

Read more about Crohn’s disease on Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation non-profit’s website.

Top photo: Paisley Abbey in Scotland architecture Easter egg: gargoyle replaced with xenomorph alien (Photo by Mark Harkin / Flickr / CC-BY-20)

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  1. Honestly gives some perspective on the disease


  2. Accurate. Before I stumbled upon this inspiration, I told others that when its active it feels like there’s a small animal captive in my gut that’s struggling to get out.


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