For the first three weeks of last year’s Six Weeks of Halloween marathon, I had an Obscure Horror Auteurs theme covering the likes of Mario Bava, Larry Cohen, and Frank Henenlotter. Obviously the notion of “obscure” is a subjective one that has some of you wondering why I’d think of someone like Mario Bava as obscure (if you’re really into horror, he’s probably not that obscure to you), but one of the folks I was considering for that series last year was Tobe Hooper. Having directed the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist (rumors abound, I know, but still), he’s almost certainly not obscure, but he has a sizable filmography of more obscure stuff, which I figured I should check out sometime, so here we go:
- The Toolbox Murders (1978) (trailer)
- Salem’s Lot (1979) (trailer)
- The Netherbeast of Berm-Tech Industries, Inc. (Short)
- Toolbox Murders (2004) – We’ve been awash in remakes over the past couple decades, and one of the interesting things about this trend is the choice of movies to be remade. For obvious reasons, the “brand recognition” wonks always go for the classics, but that’s often overambitious and doomed to failure because they beg for comparison to the original (which in most cases are dramatically superior). For instance, Rob Zombie’s Halloween could have been a completely unrelated and thus passable neo-slasher, but instead it forced you to compare it to one of the perfect horror movies of all time.
More interesting are the folks who remake obscure, flawed choices. Movies that have an interesting idea or premise but were never completely fulfilled. The original Toolbox Murders was a sleazy, brutal exploitation film that had a neat killer costume and concept, but faltered after a shocking and gross first act (with a slight uptick in the third act, but it never really recovers that initial energy). In other words, it was ripe for a remake, and when someone of Tobe Hooper’s talents comes onboard, that’s a good sign. It’s more artistic, consistent, and even slightly less misogynistic! Go team Hooper!
A couple moves into a historic Hollywood hotel that is currently being renovated. Naturally, a series of disappearances leads our heroine, Nell, to investigate the building’s history and odd architecture. Lots of spooky, grungy atmosphere (a Hooper specialty), solid visuals, good sound design, and a much needed addition of history and even a maybe supernatural element make this an overall improvement over the original. It’s still a little slow at times, and our heroine could have used some beefing up as a character, but it’s otherwise a well executed thriller with a neat supernatural element. Made in 2004, this movie marked a return to form for the beleaguered Hooper, who had been languishing throughout the 90s on mostly unsuccessful movies and had been relegated to TV directing. Alas, a full blown reflowering was not in the cards, though he did make some other movies in the intervening decade or so (that did not seem to meet with much success). Altogether, this was a worthy effort and the sort of remake that is welcome, which is not something that can be said very often. ***
- Poltergeist (1982) (trailer)
- Critters (trailer)
- Invaders From Mars (1986) (trailer)
- Lifeforce – In Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, we learn a bit of backstory for this film, which is basically a reckless distribution of funds to a basically bonkers concept. The result looks, well, expensive (for a mid 80s movie, mind you). They clearly went all out on this story of space vampires infiltrating London and harvesting souls with their giant spaceship that had been hiding in Haley’s comet.
Along the way, we get quasi-zombies, quasi-possession, and plenty of boobs. The plotting, for the most part, makes no sense. The acting, especially from the lead, played by Steve Railsback, is hammy and histrionic. Other performances are somewhat more restrained, and it’s always nice to see Patrick Stewart in cheesy movies like this. While they spared no expense, the whole thing still feels campy in the extreme. And yet, there is a certain energy here that is hard to deny. It’s an interesting project that probably never should have been so lavishly funded. Flawed, but fun. **1/2
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Murder (short)
- The Funhouse (trailer)
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) (trailer)
- Eaten Alive – Grungy tale of a redneck who owns a crappy hotel in rural Texas and has a nasty habit of murdering his clientele (before they’ve paid for their rooms, mind you) and feeding the bodies to his monstrous pet crocodile. That’s basically it. The hotel gets a surprising amount of traffic during this one night, and he basically kills them all and feeds them to his crocodile. This was Hooper’s follow up to Texas Chainsaw and he stays true to that film’s grimy squalor. On the other hand, much of what made Texas Chainsaw work is not really present here. It’s decidedly darker and more gritty, and not in a good way. It’s also a bit repetitive and almost silly, though it does remain grounded enough to not be completely ridiculous.
Honestly, the movie is probably most famous for its opening line (“My name is buck, and I rearing to fuck.”), which was appropriated by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Also notable is the presence of a young Robert Englund, who plays the aforementioned Buck, a town scumbag. Neville Brand plays our villainous hotel owner and is mildly compelling, if a bit opaque. Marilyn Burns, an alum from Texas Chainsaw, does her best in a limited role as a quasi-final-girl. Mel Ferrer and Stuart Whitman also turn in pretty good performances, and there’s Kyle Richards, who would go on to Halloween as Lindsay Wallace (and, eventually, secure her most terrifying role as a “Real Housewife of Beverly Hills”). Ultimately, this is only a movie for horror historians and completists, but there’s enough there to keep those folks sated. I wasn’t a big fan, but could appreciate it’s place in Hooper’s filmography as well as it’s place in horror cinema. Incidentally, this might make for an interesting remake. I mean, no name recognition, but there’s lots of meat on this bone that’s ripe for the taking. *1/2
So there you have it. I’m entirely unsure what’s up next for 6WH, so I guess we’ll see (right now, I’m thinking perhaps a “No Discernable Theme” week)…