Photo credit: Daily Disney - Great Movie Ride Alien by Joe Penniston (flickr)
Inflammatory bowel disease is not a well-represented condition in film and movie industry. However, one of the most horrifying scenes known to the science fiction film community is a scene from the movie Alien. It's called the "chestburster" scene, during which an alien punches itself out of John Hurt's chest, causing a bloodbath scene during dinner. Though subtle, this scene is actually a representation of how one patient experiences his Crohn's disease.
Alien was a hit blockbuster film from the late 70s that was written by acclaimed science fiction/horror screenwriter Dan O'Bannon. Though planned to be a low-budget film, the movie itself did not cut corners in terms of quality and audience experience. O'Bannon was actually best known because of this famous film. The talented and creative film-writer also wrote The Return of the Living Dead, a zombie-fest with a rock and roll theme. He was also involved in the writing of other well-known titles such as Blue Thunder and Total Recall.
His career started when he made the low-budget, science fiction film called Dark Star. This dark comedy began as a student project at the University of Southern California, co-written by O'Bannon in partnership with John Carpenter, who ended up directing the film. The two met at film school at USC.
Alien came quickly after his low-budget student film
After Dark Star, O'Bannon followed through with a new script, this time for Alien, which quickly became a huge hit. This science fiction classic is about a spaceship that was terrorized by a horrific alien. The alien in the film has a behavior that resembles that of parasites in real life. Dan said in an interview that he draws inspiration from the disgusting, real-life examples that exist in the world today.
Did you know that this talented film writer is a sufferer of inflammatory bowel disease? Dan O'Bannon had been battling Crohn's disease for a long time.
In 2009, O'Bannon passed away at age of 63. Just before passing, he had been working on a film based on his experience battling lifelong Crohn's disease. It's called "The Pain Clinic", and his wife shares that it's a science fiction and horror film about what can happen to someone helpless from terrible pain.
Alien was made during some of O'Bannon’s darkest times
Crohn's disease struck O'Bannon in the 70s. He spent much of 1977 with the condition undiagnosed, so he was in the hospital all the time with an unknown stomach pain. The symptoms were intense and the pain was terrible. It was during this time that he received a call from Gordon Carrol telling him that they were going to make his film, Alien, a reality.
It wasn't until O'Bannon's death that it was shared that he suffered from this chronic condition
For most of his life, O'Bannon kept his chronic condition in the dark. Finally, in 1986, he shared with others that he had an intestinal condition that required a large portion of his bowels to be surgically removed. Though he didn't share details about what he had, he did share that he inherited it from his parents. It wasn't until his death that it was revealed that he actually had Crohn's.
The most famous scene from the huge success that was Alien actually came from the pain and suffering O'Bannon felt because of his Crohn's.
It turns out the famous chestburster scene from Alien was actually inspired by his Crohn's disease. When O'Bannon wrote this scene, he didn't think it was going to be such a famous and pivotal shock for the audience. It ended up being one of the most memorable and shocking scenes from the entire film.
O'Bannon went over the top with his "chestburster" scene
O'Bannon wanted this scene to be something extreme and excessive, yet still very early on in the film. It had to be something so terrible that it shouldn't be done, and it would only be done once. After that, he used the initial gruesome shock to play on the audience as he riddled the rest of the motion film with dark shadows and looming corridors. These heart-grippingly terrifying suspense tactics have the audience's teeth shattering as they dread the next unpredictable, unacceptable moment.
An inside look at the pain that O'Bannon felt living with Crohn's
How does this famously gruesome alien scene relate to a person suffering from Crohn's disease?
For O'Bannon, having Crohn's sometimes felt like there was a process inside his digestive system that was just bubbling up inside of him, struggling to burst out. He represents this sensation by creating an alien creature that hatches out of a man's stomach.
The angrier he was, the better he wrote
O'Bannon had always believed that his creative writing process was a healthy way to process anger and other emotions. He once said in an interview: "The angrier I am, the better I write." He actually wrote Alien, his best his film of his career, when he was living on a friend's couch and broke, living with a terrible stomach pain that was undiagnosed as Crohn's at the time. It was the physical and mental pain that drove O'Bannon into a creative frenzy, creating this sci-fi horror masterpiece.
The design of the hideous creature in Alien was created by an artist hand-picked by O'Bannon himself
O'Bannon also handpicked H.R. Giger to create the design of alien growth stages. He had always admired Giger's work and thought they were terrifying yet incredibly beautiful and original. O'Bannon also allegedly instructed his director to look at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to get "inspired" for what he was to accomplish.
His IBD helped create a masterpiece
It's not often that suffering from a chronic, debilitating condition such as Crohn's can actually be the selling point of your fame and success. For O'Bannon, part of his suffering did exactly that. The physical and mental torment that came from undiagnosed Crohn's disease led to the most famous scene of his creation that will permanently be remembered in science fiction horror history. His experience living with Crohn's inspired an immensely creative piece of work that quickly became a classic, and a work that people will remember O'Bannon by.