Archive for Tobe Hooper

Dismember the Alamo

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2015 by dcairns

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I had been warned by Paul Duane, who knows Texas, that TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 was pretty fucked up. He wasn’t wrong.

The first film managed to mingle a kind of very unpleasant black comedy with a grotesque charnel-house realism, avoiding extreme gore but lingering on extreme emotional distress. For the sequel, original director Tobe Hooper and screenwriter L.M. Kir Carson, who was coming off of Jim McBride’s BREATHLESS and Wim Wenders’ PARIS, TEXAS (on which he has an odd crediting for “adapting” Sam Shepherd’s original screenplay) evidently decided to abandon any taste of realism and pump up everything else until it burst. As a kind of Rabelaisian revulsion response to the concept of horror movies, meat, the human body and the state of Texas and the country of America, it’s pretty strong stuff.

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Hooper’s enthusiasm for cruelty and violence and terror and the gross seems to come at the expense of any interest in the non-mayhem scenes, which is a shame — final girl Caroline Williams and the recently career-resurrected Dennis Hopper are good company, but many of the straight acting scenes seem like rehearsals. Once some suspense kicks in — a long, creepy intimidation scene in a tiny radio station — Hooper’s skills with the camera and with pacing come to the rescue, and though there are continual flaws of logic and basic credibility, the pace never flags from then on.

Cannon Films evidently showered largesse — and offal — on the production, allowing it to employ Tom Savini for grue and mummification effects, and to build a spectacular, impossible set, Texas Battle Land, a decaying theme park partially converted into an abattoir by the Sawney Bean-inspired Sawyer family. Among the bizarre murals and sculptures is a huge hand with fringed sleeve, clutching a bowie-knife, apparently breaking through the floor. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s kind of wonderful.

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The active Sawyers this time are Bubba, AKA Leatherface, now played by Bill Johnson, who proves himself a nimble physical comedian, contrasting his physical bulk with small, apologetic gestures; Chop-Top, played with gusto by Bill Mosely, a Viet Nam vet with a steel plate in his skull, which he continually picks at with a heated coat hanger, eating the shreds of himself he tears away; and the paterfamilias, Jim Siedow, back from the first film. He can’t exactly act, though he is certainly a striking performer. This movie tends to showcase his weaknesses more than the first film, giving him more dialogue, more emotions, and more screen-time. He isn’t nuanced, but he IS enthusiastic. His forced maniacal laugh, which he throws in even when his character is supposed to be angry, adds to the sense of nervous strain on the whole enterprise, so it’s in its clumsy way pretty effective.

More bad stuff: Hooper co-composed the score, and he’s no John Carpenter. Fragments of Bernard Herrmann served up with synths — genuinely horrible, and not in a good way.

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But the film has a demented vigour, a go-for-broke aggression born either of Hooper’s sheer ignorance about what is acceptable behaviour in a mainstream horror movie (chainsaw masturbation? Really?) or his suicidal urge to career-immolate as penance for LIFEFORCE and INVADERS FROM MARS (which are still ridiculously enjoyable movies). The addition of hot-pink disco lighting doesn’t lessen the impact, it makes everything feel sicker. It’s like eating a barbecue under coloured lighting while death metal plays. It’s a film so full of bad-taste energy that it can casually throw out the suggestion of a Viet Nam War theme park and not bother to elaborate.

“Was it wrong of me to enjoy that?” asked Fiona. It’s wrong of all of us!

Dead Mann Running

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2015 by dcairns

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I was all set to see something called KAFKA’S THE BURROW, but first I saw BRAND NEW-U, a new science fiction arthouse thriller thing, which rather exhausted my will to live — not bad, exactly, but devoid of tension, which made it tiring. I wasn’t sure I could face Kafka after that, so I did a ticket swap and opted for THE JERICHO MILE, an early Michael Mann TV movie released in UK cinemas in 1979 and screened at Edinburgh as part of the retrospective of vintage TV movies. I figured that even though I usually don’t like Michael Mann, this would at least by basically engaging.

(My Michael Mann history: walked out of THIEF at school film society, aged 17 — been meaning to give it another try. I think THE KEEP tricked me into staying for the whole thing but then I felt cheated. Like quite a bit of MANHUNTER but it goes utterly wrong in the last third. THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS screws up its story and makes the wrong call on every single photographic decision. HEAT is extremely silly, the more so for being so serious. THE INSIDER has an appalling soundtrack assembled apparently at random. ALI is quite watchable but doesn’t quite add up. Skipped a couple, and then PUBLIC ENEMIES is a snooze.)

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Answering his critics.

But THE JERICHO MILE is now my favourite Michael Mann film. I could be all backhanded about it and argue that the stylistic constraints of the television format kept Mann from making erratic stylistic choices of the kind he loves, but actually by filming in Folsom with real inmates as supporting cast, he’s pushing the boat out about as far as any network would allow. His big stylistic idea this time is to interweave documentary footage into the melodrama, and it works like a charm. The movie looks and feels like a proper product of 70s New Hollywood, except the inmates don’t swear. And this doesn’t seem to matter — although the proceedings do get corny in places, quite a few places in fact, the story is compelling and the performances are mostly very fine — we get Brian Dennehy and Geoffrey Lewis and Ed Lauter and in the lead, Peter Strauss is excellent.

Strauss plays a man doing life for shooting his father (multiple times — but with extreme provocation). It turns out he can run a four-minute mile, and the prison authorities bend over backwards to get him to the Olympics. I hate films about sporting activity. Sporting activity is the worst kind of activity there is. But like all good sport films, this isn’t really about sport. The possibility of an inmate succeeding in something energizes and ultimately unites the prison populace, and then the straight world steps in to shut this down. The movie can’t allow itself to be quite as depressing as that sounds, but it still makes its point. And I like films with grim messages that don’t actually depress.

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Geoffrey Lewis turned up again after I’d seen part of MAGGIE (Arnold Schwartzenegger has a zombie daughter) — the 11pm film was SALEM’S LOT, in the chopped-down theatrical release version, which doesn’t entirely make sense but goes like a train. Lewis is magnificently creepy, as is everyone who gets vampirized. Found myself intrigued by David Soul’s acting — very much School of Shatner, which is both good and bad, I dug how SCARED Soul looks at the climax. Reggie Nalder, of course, is a brilliant living special effect, wearing more makeup than he actually needed. James Mason is delightful, especially sharing a scene with Kenneth McMillan. When Humbert met Harkonnen.

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This must be the gayest Stephen King adaptation ever. Most movies exist in order to partner up the hero and heroine — this one disposes of the heroine (a lovely, if bony, Bonnie Bedelia) offscreen (in this cut) so David Soul can drive off with a teenage boy. A teenage boy escapologst who keeps urging his dad to tie him up. And the whole plot is kickstarted by the arrival in a small town of two antiques dealers, Mason and his “partner” Nalder, who cause a plague of unusualness to strike down the citizenry. Mason flaunting his Very Queer Gentleman status in front of a baffled McMillan is a treat. There are no Chris Lee type scenes of vampiric male-female seduction, but lots of man-on-man and boy-on-boy action.

There was plenty of evidence that straight-up traditional vampires in a modern setting can’t be made to work — David Soul making a crucifix out of tongue depressors streteches the concept as far as it can safely go. But there was also surprising evidence that vampires are hardier creatures than you might think, despite their vulnerability to light, running water, wood, cruciform structures, garlic and rational analysis — a set of allergies that ought to land them all in oxygen tents.

Every scare came with its own bad laugh, but Tobe Hooper clearly knew how to SOME stuff really well, so that there were more alarming moments and stylish scenes that were ever the case in other US shows. A man jumping out to surprise David Soul in his bedroom made Fiona squeak in terror. She reports that when this screened in the UK in 1980, kids at her school were so freaked they took to wearing crosses round their necks.

Now we have to watch the full-length version to find out what the hell happened to Bonnie Bedelia.

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I’m pretty sure whatever it was, wasn’t good.

 

Naked Came the Strangler

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2010 by dcairns

I love monster movies where the monster is an attractive naked woman! No, wait, “love” isn’t right, what’s the word I want? Oh yes, despise.

Still, THE DEATHHEAD VIRGIN is a curio, being the last film of Norman Foster, former minor movie star (forever traducing Sylvia Sidney in the thirties) later director of JOURNEY INTO FEAR and the best of the MR. MOTO films (pretty entertaining stuff, depending on what you’re drinking). It was made in the Philippines, which is generally a mark of quality when it comes to horror films. Low quality is still quality, right?

I know, I’ve started off with a dubious assumption, that there’s some kind of sub-genre of monster movie that substitutes nudie cuties for Charles Gemorra/Rick Baker in a monkey suit, or a Carlo Rambaldi animatronic contraption, or a CGI virtual sculpture of a bat with a cow’s legs. Well, that sub-genre consists of (1) LIFEFORCE, a simply remarkable Tobe Hooper oddity which recasts the concerns of the QUATERMASS films and TV series through the concerns of a frantically masturbating sixteen-year-old schoolboy. Favourite moment: the scary shadow of the monster on a wall, consisting of the shapely silhouette of Mathilda May, breasts jutting like zeppelins. Can you feel the stark terror?

And (2) THE FACULTY, directed by Robert “will this do?” Rodriguez, which climaxes with the hero being stalked by a starkers Laura Harris. How will he survive? I mean, she’s all naked and everything! When I worked on a kids’ TV show, the two 14-year-olds were big Josh Hartnett fans, and were appalled that I hadn’t seen this. “It’s, like, one of the great films!”

In fact, it’s like, not, but who would deny youth its illusions?

Old age, by contrast, often comes with wisdom, so I hope Foster cashed his cheque fast on this one. The movie deals with some kind of curse, elaborated at such tedious length that one forgets how it started before the exposition is finished. But the result is a naked girl in a skull mask who goes around killing people, and can apparently breathe underwater, or maybe she doesn’t breath at all. Lots of aquatic action here, which seems to be the main sales pitch: JAWS, with the roles of predatory fish and skinny dipper kind of reversed. But this movie was made in 1974, before JAWS. There’s a lesson there: never make a bizarre variant on a box office smash BEFORE the box office smash has happened.

Moments of interest: the opening titles don’t start until about seven minutes in, and don’t end until fifteen minutes in. And the movie is barely over an hour, that’s over a fifth of the running time eaten up by credits. Foster may be the archetypal “guy who’s forgotten more about filmmaking than we’ll ever know” at this point. I was half expecting more credits to start halfway, or for the film to suddenly end and begin again, or for an entire scene to play out upside down. Once such basic structural sense has been jettisoned, it seems like anything’s possible.

Or nothing.

The other moment of interest is the scene where the two unappealing male leads and the somewhat depressed Filipino bikini girl entertain themselves by drunkenly chucking lit sticks of dynamite about on a beach. This little divertissement is served up so blithely, without any explanation, that I figure it’s something Foster, a much-traveled man-of-the-world, we are told, may have indulged in himself. It is at least marginally less suicidal than John Huston’s favourite pastime in Mexico, a variant on Russian roulette: load a pistol, pull the hammer back, and throw it at the ceiling. You have two chances of getting killed, as does anybody else in the room (or anybody passing by outside): once when the pistol hits the ceiling, and once when it hits the floor.

I explained this gag to David Wingrove, who thought it sounded pretty good fun. “Much better than Russian roulette. Russian roulette always seems so bleak.”

“You’re going to be hearing the word ‘panties’.”