USC's secret archive of horror films features work by John Carpenter, Dan O'Bannon
USC's Dino Everett tracked down the student films of horror legends John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon and compiled them into a feature-length program.
If you’re a fan of classic horror films, this will likely trigger fond memories.
The theme song to John Carpenter’s classic 1978 slasher film, "Halloween," is now one of the most recognizable themes in horror and was composed by the filmmaker himself.
But long before Carpenter was scaring movie audiences, he was freaking out fellow students at USC’s Cinema School. For decades his amateur movies have been collecting dust in USC’s film archive.
Until Dino Everett came along. As the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive Archivist at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, it's Everett's job to restore and preserve all the student films. (Hefner helps fund the archive, but that’s about the extent of his involvement.)
When Everett took over the archive in 2009, he immediately set out to find if any now-famous filmmakers left behind hidden horrors.
“I'm a genre guy, my first job in the '70s was working at a drive-in movie theater," Everett said. "So I grew up on schlocky horror and sci-fi and things like that, so I knew John Carpenter had gone to USC.”
Everett’s instincts were on point. After months of searching, he stumbled upon some of Carpenter’s first films.
"I found an old lab receipt that said 'Captain Voyeur — Carpenter.' So I pulled the reels out and rolled through it and in the middle there was what I was hoping for — a handwritten title that said written and directed by John Carpenter. That was the first find and that kind of fueled me to go out and find more."
The archive is housed in the basement of the Eileen Norris Theatre on USC’s campus. A long hallway leads into a cavernous room filled with hundreds of old film cameras and dusty 16mm and 35mm film reels.
Everett said the room includes "a virtual history of cinema going back to the original cameras, like a Lumiere cinematograph, cameras from the turn of the century. Virtually anything that was used over the last 125 years making motion pictures.”
While Everett was thrilled to find Carpenter’s old films, it was the early work of filmmaker Dan O’Bannon — Carpenter’s USC classmate and collaborator — that he was really after.
“I would say Dan O'Bannon is probably one of the most important and most overlooked individuals, especially in horror, but in movies in general," said Everett.
O’Bannon would go on from USC to pen the screenplay for "Total Recall," and he would contribute computer effects to the first "Star Wars" film. But perhaps his best-known work is the screenplay and monster concepts for the sci-fi film "Alien."
It was O’Bannon who pulled in Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger to help with the designs of the "Alien" monsters. In fact, we have O’Bannon to thank in part for one of the most iconic scenes in the history of sci-fi.
"It's the chest-burster scene — that's what we call it," said Diane O’Bannon, Dan’s widow. “That was his concept. Basically from an insect that he read about that laid its eggs in other creatures and burst out, so that's where the inspiration came for that one, and it sure was horrifying.”
Sadly, O’Bannon suffered from Crohn’s disease and died in 2009. Diane has worked to preserve his legacy ever since. She even handed over some of her late husband’s student films to the USC archive for restoration and preservation, including a film called "Blood Bath" — the one that sparked future collaborations between O’Bannon and Carpenter.
“I actually knew the title 'Blood Bath,' because in a really really old '70s magazine — I think it was called Cinema Fantastique — John Carpenter mentioned 'Blood Bath,'" O'Bannon recalled. "He said, 'Dan O'Bannon's student film affected the other students so much. ... I want to work with that guy.'"
Now you can see the films for yourself. Everett has compiled these previously unseen USC student works into a feature-length program called "Shock Value," inspired by New York Times writer Jason Zinoman’s book of the same name. For Everett, however, there is still one missing element needed to make "Shock Value" complete.
“I will say the saddest thing about it is what's not in it. This is a movie called 'Lady Madonna,' which was John Carpenter's thesis film at USC. ... It's got a very iconic Carpenter piano score. It is so John Carpenter”
All Everett has is this audio track, because, he says, Carpenter declined to hand over the film.
“He politely said no," Everett said. "I asked him multiple times after that, and he politely said no. I had other people ask him who he politely said no to. I don't know if I'll ever give up asking for it.”
Carpenter also politely declined to be interviewed for this story.
Films you can see in "Shock Value" include:
- Blood Bath (Dir/Scr. Dan O’Bannon, 1969, 7 min.)
- The Demon (Dir/Scr. Charles Adair, 1970, 19 min.)
- Good Morning Dan (Dir/Scr. Dan O’Bannon, camera by John Carpenter, 1968, 19 min.)
- Captain Voyeur (Dir/Scr. John Carpenter, 1969, 7 min.)
- Blood Bath (Dir/Scr. Dan O’Bannon, 1976 redux, 8 min.)
- Foster’s Release (Dir. Terence Winkless, Scr. Alec Lorimore, 1971, 15 min.)
Shock Value trailer:
Dan O'Bannon on HR Giger: