The Films of Tobe Hooper
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (October 21/06)
Although Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre undoubtedly ranks as one of the most indelible and flat-out shocking horror flicks of all time, there is unfortunately no denying that certain aspects of the film just don't hold up all that well today. This is despite the effectiveness of the movie's opening forty-five minutes, in which director Tobe Hooper slowly-but-surely ratchets up the level of tension with each passing minute - to the extent that several such sequences are almost unbearably suspenseful (this is particularly true of Leatherface's initial appearance). But there comes a point at which Hooper essentially drops the ominous vibe in favor of something far more visceral; having killed off all the primary characters save Marilyn Burns' Sally, the film transforms into a typical slasher and follows Sally as she attempts to escape the clutches of Leatherface and his murderous clan (this seems to involve a lot of running and screaming). That being said, it's certainly not difficult to see why The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has endured over the years - with Hooper's stylish directorial choices and Daniel Pearl's appropriately gritty cinematography two of the film's stronger attributes - and there's little doubt that the movie remains a must for horror fanatics (if only for the incredible first half).
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Invaders from Mars
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (October 23/06)
It's difficult to imagine what filmmaker Tobe Hooper originally set out to accomplish with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, an inept and uncomfortably broad sequel that has virtually no ties to its predecessor aside from a few off-hand references and the presence of iconic baddie Leatherface. The story follows demented Texas lawman Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) as he enlists the help of a plucky radio DJ (Caroline Williams) in his quest to track down the cannibalistic family from the original, though it's not long before the clan - which includes Cook (Jim Siedow), Chop Top (Bill Moseley), and Grandpa (Ken Evert) - gains the upper hand over the duo. Hooper - working from L.M. Kit Carson's screenplay - has inexplicably chosen to infuse the proceedings with painfully over-the-top instances of comedy, eschewing anything even resembling horror or suspense. As a result, there's really not a whole lot within The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 worth recommending - though one can't help but admire the admittedly impressive set design (some of those caverns seem to go on for miles). And, if nothing else, the entire flick may be worth a look for the absurd moment in which Leatherface breaks loose with a particularly apt example of the ol' shifty eye.
I'm Dangerous Tonight
The Apartment Complex
Crocodile (August 2/01)
Oh, how I wanted to enjoy Crocodile. It's directed by Tobe "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" Hooper and features a bikini-clad water-skier about to be chomped by a gigantic croc on the cover. Alas, that scene never appeared (shouldn't this fall under false advertising?). Crocodile is Hooper's attempt to cash in on the teen horror craze, but proves that he'd better just stick to movies with freaks in them. A bunch of idiotic teens and a puppy are on summer holiday and what better way to spend a week than to take a creaky-looking houseboat out for a spin? But wouldn't you know it, their cavorting and frolicking is soon put to an end by a nasty (and apparently ancient) crocodile, who's taken to eating the kids for sport. The only thing I'm looking for in a movie of this sort is a lot of scenes featuring the killer croc eating people. That's it. Exposition, character development - that stuff is completely superfluous in a movie like this. But, I suppose due to a low budget, Crocodile features hardly any violence and/or gore (even Lake Placid, which was incredibly non-gruesome, was better in this department). What we wind up getting, then, is lots of scenes of 90210-esque squabbling and fights between couples. Who cares? And by the time the croc does decide to get down to business, I'd lost all interest (but even then, they still didn't show anything - it was mostly someone screaming in the distance and a loud chomping noise).
Toolbox Murders (March 10/05)
To call Toolbox Murders an improvement over its 1978 predecessor is about as great an understatement as they come, given how completely and utterly inept that movie was. Then again, such comparisons aren't really warranted since the two films have little in common aside from the title; this isn't a remake as much as it's an entirely new film (albeit one that happens to involve a killer that murders his victims using tools). The film stars Angela Bettis and Brent Roam as Nell and Steven Barrows, a newlywed couple who make the unfortunate decision of moving into a dilapidated old apartment building. Though they're initially irritated by the paper-thin walls and constant construction, it soon becomes clear that they've got much bigger problems. There's a madman on the loose, and when her neighbors begin to drop like flies, Nell begins an investigation into the sordid and mysterious history of the building. Toolbox Murders has been directed by Tobe Hooper, a filmmaker whose output has been extremely mediocre as of late (eg Crocodile, The Mangler, etc). But here, working with a script that's been pared down to the bare essentials, Hooper creates a film that's almost as effective as his first big success - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In fact, Toolbox Murders even echoes that film's ambiance by trapping Nell and Steven within the walls of the apartment building (it seems highly unlikely that the resemblance between that locale and the interior of the Sawyer house in Massacre is a coincidence). Hooper, along with cinematographer Steve Yedlin and production designer Yuda Acco, imbues Toolbox Murders with an ominous, disturbing visual style - something that applies both to the film's sets (the apartment building is full of long hallways and creepy nooks and crannies) and look (Hooper seems to be going for some kind of a record as far as low-angle shots are concerned). That star Bettis makes for a credible slasher movie heroine comes as no surprise, given her short but impressive history with the genre (she's already appeared in films like May and the recent Carrie remake). Though Nell eventually morphs into a fairly conventional horror victim, Bettis generally does a good job of imbuing the character with some decidedly unconventional quirks. And while the film does begin to run out of steam in the third act - which features Nell running her own investigation into the origins of the killer and the building - the style with which the story has been told, along with the Bettis' performance, effectively keeps the viewer engaged throughout.
Mortuary follows a single mother (Denise Crosby's Leslie) as she and her two children (Dan Byrd's Jonathan and Stephanie Patton's Jamie) move into a long-abandoned funeral parlor, with the movie detailing the family's initial efforts at adjusting to their new surroundings and, eventually, coping with the spooky shenanigans that start to ensue. There's little doubt that Mortuary strikes all the wrong notes right from the get-go, as the film, which moves at a disastrously glacial pace, doesn't contain any attributes designed to capture and hold the viewer's attention - with the hands-off atmosphere compounded by a narrative that's almost aggressively familiar. It doesn't help, either, that scripters Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch have suffused the proceedings with pointless subplots designed to pad out the interminable running time, with, for example, the continuing emphasis on the exploits of three local scumbags ranking high on the movie's list of absolutely insufferable elements. Filmmaker Tobe Hooper's curious decision to shy away from overt instances of gore is, to put it mildly, rather misguided, while the horror-centric bent of the movie's third comes off as ill-conceived and kind of campy - with the loud, anticlimactic final stretch, which is rife with over-the-top performances and dodgy special effects, cementing Mortuary's place as a hopelessly incompetent and terminally tedious piece of work.