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DISSECTING THE DIRECTOR: Tobe Hooper

01.24.2012by: Marcey Papandrea

"TOBE HOOPER"

I am sure you know his name. Heís been an influential name in horror since the mid-70ís with his classic THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Since that time, heís had a fairly steady career behind the camera, having made quite a few films and things made for TV. Heís also faced his fair share of controversy, but whatever the case or however you may feel about the man, you cannot deny the impact that heís had on horror. I have been a fan of his for many years, and Iím always willing to give something with his name attached to it a go. Finally, heís an interesting person to boot, and I could honestly just sit for hours and listen to him talk. I present to you, Mr Tobe Hooper!

BEST WORK


Get Salem's Lot on DVD here

Before I get started, I want to express that I havenít actually included POLTERGEIST in this article. The reason being is that I honestly donít think itís much of a Hooper film. It really feels and plays out like something Steven Spielberg directed. Being as familiar as I am with both men and their work, itís rather obvious that Hooper did not have much influence as a director on POLTERGEIST. And because of that, Iím not considering it one of his works when looking at it, and have therefore not included it.

With that out of the way, there are two films that I consider to be the top of the pile when it comes to Hooperís works. I think they are both fantastic achievements, extremely well-made and quite entertaining. Iím not sure if he has ever matched either of these, although heís tried many times. Iím talking of course of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and SALEMíS LOT. Both films are quite different, yet they have that distinct Hooper feel to them.

SALEMíS LOT is a 3-hour mini-series, and one of the earlier adaptations of Stephen Kingís work. This is one of the better ones, and one filled with fantastic atmosphere, vampires and dread. I remember watching this one on VHS as a kid, and watching it again now has brought back some great memories. FRIGHT NIGHT and THE LOST BOYS certainly owe a bit to this one, thanks to the filmís influence. The script is solid, successfully building its characters and stories, while the actors are great and Hooper ties everything together. This film may take a while to really take off, but itís worth the wait, and the payoff is fantastic. The filmís visuals are also stunning, with certain scenes bound to stay with you. Overall, this is a great effort, and easily one of the most grounded of King mini-series.

To be perfectly honest, the first time that I watched THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was some 12 years ago. And I hated it. I really did not like this one, and thought it was an over-hyped mess of a film. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to question my initial thoughts, and I started to feel as though I hadnít been fair to the film. I watched it again, and this time I actually really liked it. I began to appreciate certain things, and this slowly became a tradition each time that I kept re-watching it. I really began to love the film, and I am now convinced it is one of the best horror films ever made. Much like with SALEMíS LOT, it follows the same formula. It has a slow build up, and gives us a taste of where we are and who weíre with. It then drops us into a terrifying situation with one of cinemaís most memorable bogeymen in Leatherface. Again, the film has beautifully structured shots, with humor running throughout combined with a raw and grimy feel that has never really been matched.

WORST WORK

Hooper has had quite a few stinkers. Somewhere along the line the manís lost his way. But none of them left me as angry and annoyed as NIGHT TERRORS. This is an absolute mess of a film, in every which way. Itís difficult to watch and is such a waste of 90 minutes. Not even the amazing Robert Englund could save this atrocious piece of garbage.

How do I even begin to describe this rubbish? The film is about the Marquis de Sade (played by Robert Englund) and a cult out in Alexandria thatís dedicated to him. A young woman gets caught up in the mess, and it really does not make sense soon after. If there is one role Englund shouldnít have touched, it was this one. At least, with the filmís final script. He doesnít suit de Sade whatsoever, resulting in one of his strangest and craziest performances. Was everyone on those fabled TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE pot brownies when they made this? Were the writers even awake when they wrote it? Who the heck greenlit this awfulness in the first place?

Nothing about this film is good. From start to finish, this is a real chore to get through. Even Hooperís beautiful visual style seems to be lost in this mess, as the film looks ugly and very poorly shot. As mentioned, the acting is a special kind of terrible, and the script actually makes something like THE ROOM look genius in comparison. Donít bother with this one, even if you want to subject someone you hate to it. Itís just too cruel.

TRADEMARKS


Get The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on DVD here
Get The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Blu-ray here

Hooper does have some interesting trademarks, and ones that really make it obvious you are watching a Tobe Hooper film. The most obvious one is that the man makes horror. He rarely steps outside the genre, and has pretty much based his entire career around it. The other really big trademark is Hooperís visual style. His films are really unique with how they look and feel. He knows how to set up a shot, and how to extend that shot to successfully progress the scene. While something like THE FUNHOUSE was an average film, it was wonderfully shot and it looked phenomenal. Aside from a few projects, most of the things Hooper does has those great visuals and memorable scenes because of how they look. Hooper makes great use out of his sets and locations. Be it be Leatherface spinning around with his chainsaw as the sun rises or a body being thrown to the crocodile, Hooper makes the audience sit up and take notice.

Robert Englund is another trademark of Hooperís, as the duo have worked together a number of times. The two men have a clear respect for each other, and work really well together. Sure, sometimes the roles might not be ideal, but even then it feels like these two enjoy their time together and have a good repour going. Hooper also likes the female form, more likely than not you will see some nudity and it he isnít ashamed to give the audience what they want. The films of Hooper are also slow-burners; he takes his time to build up the story and situation, and gives a big impact punch with its third act.

HIDDEN GEM

I actually want to take a look at Hooperís TV work for this one, because these really are his hidden gems, and itís a shame that a lot of people havenít had the opportunity to experience them. I wanted to pay particular attention to two things: One is the pilot episode of FREDDYíS NIGHTMARES entitled ĎNo More Mister Nice Guyí, and the very bizarre ĎThe Mazeí from the short-lived NIGHT VISIONS.

Looking at ĎNo More Mister Nice Guyí, I actually felt inclined to watch this after my first viewing of the ELM STREET doc NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. The documentary had a segment on FREDDYíS NIGHTMARES, and the pilot episode was talked about very fondly by Robert Englund, who noted that Hooper was the director. I eventually tracked down Season 1 of the show, and I immediately put on the pilot episode. I was not disappointed. This was the story that I really wanted to see as a kid: the beginnings of Freddy Krueger. It certainly delivers as it gives you this backstory, and it explains all those things you wanted to know. It doesnít completely focus on Freddy, yet the story is what drives the entire piece. The acting might be lacking, but Englund, the story and direction make this a must see, especially for us ELM STEET fans.

ĎThe Mazeí from NIGHT VISIONS was a real surprise, the episodes of this series were all actually quite entertaining, and for some reason Henry Rollins hosted the show. . Iíd hate to give away plot details, because this is a puzzle to be solved, and is something to be experienced. It stars Thora Birch and Amanda Plummer, both of whom are extremely good. Again, this is a visual showcase for Hooper, stunning and almost elegant with how he handles things. This episode has a great message and something that Hooper subtly places in there and doesnít try to drill it into the audiencesí heads. Itís a real shame that this show didnít make it past the first season, since it could have been a great place for Hooper to work.

NEXT PROJECT

Hooper has been sorely absent from the film scene for quite a few years; infect the last work he did as a director was for MASTERS OF HORROR. However this has now changed as the man is hard at work on DJINN, a new supernatural horror film.

DJINN is set in 2015 and follows the story of Khaled and Salama, a couple who return home from America to discover their apartment in a luxury high-rise, built on the site of the deserted fishing village, is also home to malevolent beings.

The film will star Khalid Laith, Razane Jammal, Saoud Al Kaabi and Paul Luebke. Hopefully we can expect to see the film some time soon!

OVERALL


Get The Funhouse on DVD here
Get The Funhouse on Blu-ray here

At the end of the day, I enjoy Tobe Hooper. He hasnít quite topped the likes of his earlier films, and in his later days itís been his TV stuff thatís been exceptional. Some of his weaker efforts are still entertaining, and he tries to provide for the genre. His influences are still felt today, with filmmakers like Rob Zombie certainly taking cues from him. There is nothing wrong with throwing on a Hooper classic on a rainy day, and I look forward to seeing how his latest project holds up against the rest of his works. Iíd like to just give the man a huge thank you for what heís done, and in a way heís shown me that there is nothing wrong with giving films a second chance.

Extra Tidbit: At one point Tobe Hooper was set up to direct RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Tags: dissecting

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