Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us H is for Hooper! Between 1968 and 1974, the landscape of American horror cinema shifted violently from safe chills and thrills to bleakly apocalyptic, amoral representations of everything that was and could go wrong with the world. George Romero led that charge (however unintentionally) with Night of the Living Dead; Wes Craven carried the torch with the brutal intensity of Last House on the Left; then, in 1974, Texas filmmaker Tobe Hooper drew inspiration from America’s pre-eminent serial killer (to that point), Ed Gein, and gave birth to a new American Nightmare, Leatherface, in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Upon its release, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre garnered mixed reviews, was banned in several countries, and was practically blacklisted from some theaters after complaints about its violence. Despite all this, the film went on to rake in over $30 million dollars on a budget of under $300,000. And the best part of all this is that the film rarely shows any actual violence. When it does, it is brutal, but there’s so little actual on-screen violence that Hooper initially hoped for a PG-rating from the MPAA. Unfortunately, the elderly guardians of film morality had vivid imaginations and the film came back rated “X”. After making some cuts, Hooper was able to get an R-rating and the film was let loose on the world. For those who haven’t experienced it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows a group of young friends driving out to visit the grave of Sally (Marilyn Burns) and Franklin Hardesty’s (Paul A. Partain) grandfather after reports of vandalism and grave robbing. Afterward, they end up staying at the Hardesty family homestead. Once there, they fall prey to a family of cannibals. The low budget and the lack of sentimentality helped to reinforce the feeling that the Texas landscape was a nihilistic apocalypse, blasted and wasted, lifeless except for these monstrosities feeding on passersby. It was a film that was both emotionally and politically charged, claiming to be based on a true story (a response to the lies coming out of Washington over the Watergate scandal), and to this day can unnerve with the best the them. If you’re a student of contemporary American horror film, there’s no excuse not to have gone over this film with a fine-tooth comb. After directing the mostly forgettable Eaten Alive (1977), Hooper ended up winning the directing job on the first Stephen King adaptation after Brian De Palma‘s hugely successful Carrie: Salem’s Lot (1979). The catch was, it wasn’t going to be a theatrical release (in the U.S.). Instead it was going to be a two-part Television mini-series that aired on November 17 and 24, 1979 in two-hour segments. Without the extra credits necessary for a two-night airing, and a “previously on” introduction to part two, the total runtime ended up being 183 minutes. And it was 183 minutes of sophisticated, almost gothic, horror. And it needs the full runtime. There’s a 112-minute edit that is unwatchable. Seriously. Don’t do it. Commit to the full experience and you will be well-rewarded. Salem’s Lot stars David Soul as writer Ben Mears, who returns to his home town just in time to intervene in a vampire infestation, thanks to the mechanizations of the creepy Richard Straker (played to perfection by James Mason). If you’ve been watching The Strain, then you have an idea of what’s going on here, although on a smaller scale and much, much scarier. In a complete reversal to his approach with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Salem’s Lot is more polished, establishing a solid norm of small town life (with all its behind closed doors secrets and scandals) before subverting it with the vampire infestation and the appearance of The Master, Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder). There’s a classical feel to the film, right down to the Nosferatu-inspired design of the Master. I can still remember watching this when it originally aired. I was eleven years old and the scenes of the Glick boys floating outside windows, scratching and asking to be let in were the most horrifying things I had ever seen. Even now, at forty-six, Salem’s Lot is the pinnacle of television vampire fiction for me and is the bar by which everything else is judged. Hooper followed Salem’s Lot with The Funhouse (1981), one of the best slasher films of the era, packing in equal parts sleazy exploitation and traditional scares. There’s nothing I could say about this film that hasn’t already been said better by our very own Adam Barraclaugh in his review of the recent Blu-ray release of The Funhouse by Shout! Factory. And while you’re checking that out, be sure to also read his review of another Tobe Hooper classic — sci-fi this time — Lifeforce (1985); the tale of space vampires that is essentially a Hammer/Quatermass-inspired masterpiece of schlock. But back to the horror! In 1982, again based on the strength of his work with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper was hired to direct the Steven Spielberg written and produced classic, Poltergeist. Spielberg was directing E.T. at the same time, on the same street, and was heavily involved in the making of this film — so much so, that many credit him as being the real director of the movie. Apparently both he and Hooper were on set every day of shooting, with Hooper deferring to Spielberg regarding pretty much every decision. Still, it’s credited as a Tobe Hooper film and became one of the biggest films of 1982 and is widely considered to be one of the greatest haunted house films ever made. Poltergeist stars Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams as Steve and Diane Freeling, a California couple who find that their home — hell, their whole neighborhood, really — is built on an old cemetery, and a demon called The Beast is trying to steal their daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke). Oh yeah, there are two other kids, but Carol Anne is the one everybody remembers thanks partially to her now iconic declaration of “They’re heeeere!” and her untimely death in real life at the age of 12 — which contributed to the “Poltergeist Curse” urban legend. It’s a very effective film with a ton of scares that pick up in intensity as the film progresses. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the two sequels that were spawned and helmed by Brian Gibson (Poltergeist II: The Other Side) and Gary Sherman (Poltergeist III). There was also a Canadian horror television series called Poltergeist: The Legacy that really had nothing to do with the film, but somehow still used the name. After the 1986 sci-fi remake Invaders from Mars, Hooper returned to horror again, and his own roots, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), but not everyone was thrilled. I, on the other hand, loved it. Stylistically, it has almost nothing to do with the original, but damn if it isn’t just batshit crazy! The emphasis here is on black comedy and gore, with Dennis Hopper playing Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright; a former Texas Ranger and uncle to the Hardesty siblings who were the original victims of Leatherface and his cannibal family. This is a movie I encourage everyone to see, and all I’m going to say about it is “Dennis Hopper vs. Leatherface Chainsaw Battle.” If that doesn’t do it for you, then there’s nothing more I can do to reach you. Hooper continues to make movies to this day, but after Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, there’s not a lot of life in his work; although I hear that Body Bags, his 1993 horror anthology collaboration with John Carpenter is worth a look. As is his remake of Toolbox Murders (2004). His latest, Djinn (2013) actually looks interesting, but I haven’t watched any of these to verify, so check them out at your own risk. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.