Wednesday, November 15, 2017

El Topo (Mexico, 1970)



"You are seven years old. You are a man. Bury your first toy and your mother's picture." 
(The first line uttered in the movie, from El Topo to his son.)


My, they did make strange movies once upon a time, didn't they? And this is undoubtedly one of the strangest — or, at least, the least decipherable. Of course, much of what can be deciphered is both platitudinous and sometimes even rather, well, out-dated if not sexist, supercilious ad condescending, so it is actually to the movie's advantage not to think too much and, instead, to simply enjoy this freaky film for what it is, or at least comes across as: an indulgent, acid-induced and visual spaghetti western art film with overt intellectual pretensions and delusions of grandeur.
But then, it is grand poetry; but at slightly over two hours in length, it is also sometimes bad poetry. It would be true to say that among other things El Topo reveals is that when done right, or with the proper magic, bad poetry can be as incredibly mesmerizing as good poetry. Much like Ginsberg's Howl, El Topo is far from perfect, but has the power and position and influence that come with being the first of its kind: the underground hippie art movie that thumbs its nose at the mundanity of movie product and wholly concerns itself with the artistic expression and intention of the movie's maker. Its repercussions can still be felt today: from David Lynch to Tim Burton to Gore Verbinski to Darren Aronofsky, its influence can be found everywhere, if often, by now, as but the influence of its influence. (Incomprehensible art films have been around much longer than El Topo, or course — see: Last Year at Marienbad [1961 / trailer], for example — but El Topo has hippiedom written all over it.)
Rest assured, the movie has a message. Indeed, El Topo probably has a good dozen messages, and nary a scene goes by in which the viewer cannot help but think, "Hmm, that probably means something." The symbology presented is so diverse and taken from so many places and cultures and sources that is almost comes across as if the filmmaker sat down with a copy of some book, possibly entitled "Dictionary of Symbols" or "The Symbology of Dreams", and then proceeded to work as  many as possible into a script for a western.
And while that might sound like the resulting movie cannot be much fun, or at least not very enjoyable, the opposite is true. El Topo is indeed a piece of art, and it can be enjoyed as such; but like truly good art, one need not know what makes or made it great for it to be enjoyed now. (One need not know how van Gogh's art affected art, for example, for one to enjoy his art.)
At the same time, a new level of enjoyment has also begun to slip in at the sides: El Topo, perhaps the first of the "Midnight Movies" and a true cult film classic, has developed some big wrinkles and a lot of grey hair. Visually, it still works, but damn if director / scriptwriter / lead actor Alejandro Jodorowsky doesn't often come across like a cankerous and homophobic and misogynist and egoistical old fart. (Jesus! Did we just describe the perennial golf-player living in the White House?) Thus, now one might well find oneself giggling at things that were once extremely serious. Or about which the filmmaker was at least extremely serious. But then again, perhaps he wasn't — perhaps the seriousness which seems to run throughout the movie is in itself an intellectual joke, one missed at the time.
Still, it can only be a decision of the director that no matter what he does, the main Man in Black, "El Topo", always seems to make the wrong decision. Or, at least, the decisions he makes always seem to lead to negative results. (Jesus! Did we just describe that moranic golf-player again?)
The plot is a free-flowing mishmash of events that almost appear circular by the movie's end: perhaps it is not the same El Topo that rides off in the last scene, but the visual similarity to the El Topo that begins the movie is so obvious that the concept of the circular nature of life is clear enough.
Within the visual structure of the spaghetti western — the movie makes use of the sets of 1968's Day of the Evil Gun (trailer) — El Topo (director Alexandro Jodorowsky) rides through the barren landscape with his naked son (Ah! Innocence! Freedom! Youth!), whom he subsequently dumps for a woman, La Mujer (Mara Lorenzio). Despite the fact that he can make her see fireworks — and make phallic-shaped rocks spurt water — she goads him into killing the four mystical gun masters to prove his love and, when he succeeds, dumps him for the mysterious Woman in Black (Paula Romo). (As we all know, women are fickle, evil creatures and the downfall of all good men.) At which point director Alexandro Jodorowsky pulls out all the stops in regard to his penchant for the kind of people once known as "Freaks" and the movie suddenly metamorphoses into, basically, a second acid western, this time about redemption, though a form of continuity is maintained by El Topo's presence and the eventual appearance of his now grown son (Brontis Jodorowsky).
Visually, the movie kills it. Less successful are some of Jodorowsky's dated and sexist concepts: pretty women, bad; homosexuality, a reflection of moral degeneracy; rape, a viable way to make a woman orgasm. Likewise, Jodorowsky's total disregard of animal life is off-putting: if you see a gutted horse, you know it was gutted for the movie, much like the masses of purty, white wabbits were willfully poisoned so they could function as stage props and symbols. And he's even gone on record that his rape scene is actually a real rape, something that hardly endears either him or the movie. Who knows what he is like today, but he was, in his heyday, obviously one hell of an asshole. (But then, so was Leni Reifenstahl [22 August 1902 – 8 September 2003] probably, and everyone still ohs and ahs at her technical masterpieces Triumph of Will [1935] and Olympia [1938], which arguably supported innumerably more tragic events. And let's not even get started on some of today's suddenly disgraced top film producers...)
Author Steven Schneider includes El Topo is his book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and indeed the movie is so unique, so out there, that it is a movie that anyone who claims to really like film should see. It is, on the whole, a laughable, bizarre, bloody, violent, religious, irreligious, funny, sexist, sexual, unsettling, ridiculous, incoherent, pretentious, egotistical, masturbatory, political incorrect, critical, visual, intellectual, adolescent, allegorical and any-dozens-of-other-adjectives experience. Well worth seeing, in other words, even if you end up hating it.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tobe Hooper, Part III: 1992 – 2003


25 Jan 1943 — 26 Aug 2017

Like George Romero (4 Feb 1940 — 16 July 2017), director Hooper was possibly plagued by the fact that his first general release feature-film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), was such a stylistic and influential masterpiece that there was no place for him to go but down. But for all the bad or mediocre movies he made, he still made one more masterpiece than most directors, as well as a small number of early-career horror movies of note. May he rest in peace.

Go here for Part I: 1964-1982
Go here for Part II: 1983-1991


Sleepwalkers
(1992, dir. Mick Garris)

Mick Garris, a director famous, basically, for doing bad Stephen King movie adaptations, did his first Stephen King movie adaptation with this movie, using a script of an unpublished King short story written by King himself. Could it be there was a reason the story never found a publisher? (Uh yes.) Tobe Hooper is seen briefly in the background as a forensic technician is one of a series of background cameos that include Mark Hamill (a policeman), Stephen King (graveyard caretaker), John Landis (lab technician), Joe Dante (lab assistant) and Clive Barker (forensic technician).

In their article Every Stephen King Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best, Vulture rates Sleepwalkers as 36, saying: "It's Mick Garris again [...] hacking away at another King movie, this time with an original script from King. What are 'Sleepwalkers,' you ask? According to the Stephen King Wiki, they're 'an ancient and forgotten nomadic race of vampiric shape-shifting werecats.' In the movie, they're an incestuous mother and son who need to feed on virgin blood, and … well, you can probably guess where it goes from there. Amusingly, the Sleepwalkers cannot survive contact with simple house cats, which leads to all sorts of ridiculous scenes of our bad guy screaming in horror at the sight of Garfield. [...]"

Trailer to
Sleepwalkers:
We reviewed the move way back in 2009 and hated it. Today, given the chance we might be willing to visit the movie again, as we suspect that after 25 odd years, Sleepwalkers might finally be enjoyable as an old, truly fucking terrible movie.


Body Bags
(1993, dir. John Carpenter & Tobe Hooper)

We looked at this movie briefly in R.I.P. career review of the great character actor Charles Napier, where we wrote: "This film is an excellent one to play 'spot the face', as it is heavily populated with cult names, but in the end it is also entirely forgettable: we actually caught this on video years ago — anyone out there remember video cassettes? — but we can't remember anything about it. Final Girl says she likes the film, but then she also says '[...] I never met a horror anthology I didn't like. Plus, it's got Charles Napier, and I fucking love that guy — so much so that I need to swear about it.' Body Bags was originally made as a pilot for a proposed anthology horror TV project, but it never made it past this three-bee outing, which is generally available in a severely cut form (where did the blood go?). Napier, by the way, appears briefly as the baseball team manager in the segment Eye, which stars Luke Skywalker and Twiggy."
Trailer to
Body Bags:
Eye also happens to be the segment directed by Tobe Hooper. Wikipedia has the plot: "Brent Matthews (Mark Hamill) is a baseball player whose life and career take a turn for the worse when he gets into a serious car accident in which his right eye is gouged out. Unwilling to admit that his career is over, he jumps at the chance to undergo an experimental surgical procedure to replace his eye with one from a recently deceased person. But soon after the surgery he begins to see things out of his new eye that others cannot see, and begins having nightmares of killing women and having sex with them. Brent seeks out the doctor who operated on him, and the doctor tells him that the donor of his new eye was a recently executed serial killer and necrophile who killed several young women, and then had sex with their dead bodies. Brent becomes convinced that the spirit of the dead killer is taking over his body so that he can resume killing women. He flees back to his house and tells his skeptical wife, Cathy (Twiggy), about what is happening. Just then the spirit of the killer emerges and attempts to kill Cathy as well. Cathy fights back, subduing him long enough for Brent to re-emerge. Realizing that it is only a matter of time before the killer emerges again, Brent stabs his donated eye with garden scissors, severing his link with the killer, but then bleeds to death."
Tobe also pops up onscreen as "Morgue Worker #2".


Night Terrors
(1993, dir. Tobe Hooper)


Plot, thanks as so often to the Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Review: "Teenager Eugenie (or Genie) Matteson (Zoe Trilling of Night of the Demons 2 [1994 / trailer] and Dr Giggles [1992 / trailer]) arrives to join her archaeologist father (William Finley [20 Sept 1940 – 14 April 2012], of Phantom of the Paradise [1974 / trailer] and Silent Rage [1982/ trailer]) on a dig in Alexandria. While in the marketplace, three Arab men attack Genie because she is dressed provocatively but a stranger Sabina (Alona Kimhi) saves her. The sophisticated Sabina introduces Genie to the handsome Sheik Mahmoud (Juliano Mer-Khamis [29 May 1958 – 4 April 2011, "assassinated by a masked gunman"]) and Genie allows him to seduce her. She is then introduced to Paul Chevalier (Robert Englund), a weird puppeteer who claims to be a descendant of the Marquis de Sade (Robert Englund). Chevalier draws her into a series of sadomasochistic sexual games. At the same time, those that try to warn Genie about the games, saying that Chevalier and the others are a cult, start turning up murdered."

Aka Tobe Hooper's Living Nightmare. An American-Canadian-Egyptian production, it was filmed in Israel. Written by Rom Globus, of the Globus film family — his only known excursion into the movie biz — and Daniel Matmor, the latter appears in the movie as a priest. Matmor's limited credits include writer/director of the unknown films Homeboyz II: Crack City (1989 / trailer), Urban Jungle Harlem (1994) and Buffalo Heart (1996), films one and all that no one knows anything about.
In his book Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, Jack G. Shaheen, a man with thin skin going by the book, gripes that "Israeli producer Rom Globus fills the screen with anti-Egyptian propaganda." Strangely enough, Charles T. Tatum, Jr is of the opinion, "The film is very anti-Christian, as the archaeologist is a Bible-spouting father, but likes to be tied up by the local prostitute." (Christians, you know, never go to prostitutes... they become Priests and molest little boys. Or do only Catholics do that?)
Trailer to
Night Terrors:
In his study Eaten Alive at a Chainsaw Massacre: The Films of Tobe Hooper, John Kenneth Muir doesn't notice an anti-Egyptian or anti-Christian sentiment, but does say: "[...] Tobe Hooper's Night Terrors is a project that could generate terror in even the most devoted fan of the director's film output: a heavy-handed, turgid muddle of a movie that isn't thrilling or even particularly erotic (though it has been dubbed an 'erotic thriller'). This film is atypical of Hooper as a filmmaker because there's no sign of his infectious sense of humor [...] or even his unflagging energy. Instead, the film is 90 minutes of pure nonsense [...]."
Absolute Horror would agree, it seems: "This movie answers not one of my many, many questions. For instance, what is the significance of the father's religiousness? What is his connection to the mysterious woman? Why are these people here? Why was this movie made? How could Tobe Hooper direct this crap? What is the fastest animal on earth? Why is the sky blue? This movie sucks. It's not fun. It's not entertaining. It's boring. It makes no sense. There's not enough gore. There's not enough action. There's not enough anything. Don't be fooled by the director, the star, the attractive video box. The only fun I had in this movie was pointing out all the unanswered questions and watching the brief sex scene. The production values are shoddy. The acting is horrible, particularly Zoe Trilling's acting...how did she get casted? Actually, even Englund's pretty poor. Man, the only thing which makes the title seem apt is the fact that I watched it at night and the terror of how awful it was."
The question "How did she [Zoe Trilling] get casted?" is easy to answer. Zoe Trilling has big mambos, and she gets naked in the movie.
Speaking of getting naked, the previously mentioned Charles T. Tatum, Jr recommends the movie because "It is weird. There is an extended sex scene. For the ladies, hunky Egyptian rides a horse completely nude."
And hunky and handsome Sheik Mahmoud (Juliano Mer-Khamis) indeed was. May he R.I.P.


Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
(1994, dir. Kim Henkel)

Aka The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We list it here only because of the "characters by" credit. But: Kim Henkel, Hooper's partner in words for the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Eaten Alive (1977), both of which we looked at in Part I; took on the directorial and scriptwriting chores for The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Also from the first film in uncredited cameo appearances: Marilyn Burns (the original Final Girl), Paul A. Partain (Franklin "wheel-chair bound" Hardesty.), and John Dugan (Grandpa Sawyer). The movie is famous today primarily for having early lead roles for both Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey... but then, there are people out there that claim that Columbia's recut release (The Next Generation) also ruined what was originally a good movie.

Music from the Movie —
Debbie Harry & Robert Jacks'

Der Einzinger Weg:
In Bloody Disgusting's ranking of the Chainsaw films, they rate it 6th of seven, saying: "[...] Light on gore and heavy on cartoonish characters, this entry keeps Leatherface (Robert Jacks [9 Aug 1959 – 8 Aug 2001]) mostly relegated to the background while Matthew McConaughey chews the scenery as main villain Vilmer. McConaughey's performance is so exaggerated that it moves past comical into grating territory. The reveal toward the end that an Illuminati-like organization hires the family to show victims the meaning of horror, offering a sort of transcendental experience to the unwitting victims, is a strange twist that doesn't quite work for the series [...]. Why isn't this ranked the worst? Renee Zellweger's final girl Jenny is surprisingly one of the best characters of the entire series. Despite her nerdy appearance, Jenny demonstrates a knack for calling out bullshit from the outset. From calling out a classmate's goofy claim that a lack of sex will cause cancer to standing up to her attackers, Jenny's mental toughness makes her a character worth rooting for."
Trailer to
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation:
AV Films, which points out that "McConaughey's over-the-top turn as a redneck psycho shows that if he continues to hone his craft and choose his scripts wisely, he could have a future as a character actor in low-budget slasher films," has the plot of this "slightly above-average slasher film that's only partially redeemed by small but endearingly loopy shreds of black humor": [...] Four prom-bound teenagers getting lost in the Texas backwoods. After demolishing their car in an accident that leaves one of them dead, the three remaining teens run across a creepy tow-truck driver with an electric leg (Matthew McConaughey) and are gradually introduced to his family of blood-crazed sadistic cannibals. As tends to be the case in this sort of film, the hero is a plucky, resourceful virgin, this time winningly played by a pre-stardom Zellweger."
The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre —
The Documentary:


The Mangler
(1995, dir. Tobe Hooper)

Well, if you're on a downward spiral, why not do a Stephan King movie? Here, a feature film based on a short story originally published in the December 1972 issue of Cavalier, when King was still unknown, and later added to his first collection of short stories, Night Shift (1978).
A little know fact: before he could finish this movie, Tobe Hooper was replaced by one of the producers, namely Anant Singh. The script was co-written by producer Harry Alan Towers (19 Oct 1920 – 31 July 2009), credited as Peter Welbeck, a man who produced and cowrote a lot of fine films and fun trash, including Ten Little Indians (1965 / trailer) and Coast of Skeletons (1964), neither of which is really all that trashy.
Trailer to
The Mangler:
Oddly enough, although The Mangler was/is considered a financial and artistic flop, it later spawned two direct-to-video "sequels", The Mangler 2 (2002 / trailer) and The Mangler Reborn (2005 / trailer). Part 2 has more in common with the abysmal Lawnmower Man (1992 / trailer) than The Mangler, while Reborn had some thinly constructed links.
On August 25, 1995, The Christian Science Monitor wrote, "Tobe Hooper's directing career has been in decline since the popular Poltergeist, but this over-the-top chiller shows he still has a brawny visual imagination. Also present is his propensity for gratuitous gore, putting the picture way off limits for the squeamish." However, in their article Every Stephen King Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best, Vulture rates it 39th of 40 (just in front of Maximum Overdrive [1986]), saying: "Of all the Stephen King adaptations, we must confess that this one has our favorite title. Boy, though, is this thing ridiculous. What, exactly, is 'the Mangler,' you ask? Well, the Mangler is a demonically possessed … laundry press! This setup leads to hilarious scenes of an angry laundry press pressing up and down, like a hungry, hungry hippo. Eventually the Mangler develops legs and starts chasing people. It's all terrible, but, you never know, it might be your thing."
Like all Hooper movies after TCM, The Mangler was shredded and/or avoided by everyone when it came out. Today, some brave souls have begun to look at "Hooper's tribute to German expressionism, combining that style from the '20s with a 1970s Italian lighting scheme and very '90s gore" with more appreciative eyes.
Blumhouse, which sees the movie as "no conventional horror tale, but an ambitious artistic exercise", points out that "The Mangler is very much about class warfare and the exploitation of the working classes. The Mangler itself may be seen to represent any wage slavery job. We know that this machine is hungry and wants to kill us. We know that the economic system is only looking for human meat to feast upon. But we have to keep returning to the beast because, hey, we need that paycheck. The Mangler offers a salient comment on the very nature of wage slavery. That the victims are all women adds an additional layer of commentary. […] So what we have in The Mangler is something that folds together the grit of Zola, the glorious schlock of 1950s pulp, the weird antihero darkness of classic noir, and a salient message of economic hardship for the modern day. All told in a weird, weird, weird monster movie about a killer laundry press. The movie is strange enough to be nightmarish, and nightmarish enough to be actually, fitfully, scary. […] The Mangler is, one must admit, perhaps a little too strange to be regarded as a legitimate horror classic, and many horror fans still can't get around the notion of a stationary monster machine — seriously, just don't go in that room — but it is most certainly more complex, interesting, and intriguing than its reputation may have one believe."


Perversions of Science — Panic
(1997, dir. Tobe Hooper)
 
This short-lived and completely forgotten anthology series from HBO was a spinoff their classic Tales from the Crypt. Like that show, this one took all its plotlines from the classic EC comics of the 50s, in this case Weird Science, published from 1950-53. Due to the 1985 movie Weird Science (trailer), which was inspired by Al Feldstein's story "Made of the Future" from the fifth issue if the comic book, the series as given the title Perversions of Science.
Despite a relative present publicity campaign and a noteworthy list of directors (including Walter Hill and yes, the William Shatner), the show flopped. It has yet to go into syndication or be released on DVD in English-speaking countries, so all ten episodes have remained in obscurity.
The title song to the movie
Weird Science,
by Oingo Boingo:
Like Crypt, Perversions had a pun-friendly host: a poorly rendered female CGI robot named Chrome, voiced by Maureen Teefy, who milked every sentence she said for as much innuendo as possible. Tobe Hooper's episode, the 7th of the series, was broadcast July 2, 1997, and was based on Al Feldstein's story of the same name found in Weird Science #15, (Nov-Dec 1950). Andrew Kevin Walker, who adapted the story for TV, went on to work on the scripts of such movies as the trashy Hideaway (1985 / trailer), the two classics Se7en (1985 / trailer) and Sleepy Hollow (1999 / trailer), and the abysmal The Wolfman (2010 / trailer).
Hidden Horrors has the plot: "In the 1930s, 'Carson Wells', played by Chris Sarandon, […] is planning a radio play broadcast for Halloween that he says will be very big. If you know your history you will know it is the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast that panicked the nation. Along with Carson Wells planning the broadcast there are two young college friends, played by Jaimie Kennedy and Jason Lee, who are planning a Halloween party for their friends. Halfway through the Halloween party, the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast plays on the radio and makes everyone scared and concerned. Then both Jason Lee and Jaimie Kennedy start murdering all the party goers […]."
At Bloody Disgusting, author Daniel Kurland gushes, "Panic […] is one of my favorite anthology shorts of all time. It might be campy as hell at certain points, but if this were a Tales from the Crypt episode, it would still rank up there with me amongst the best of them, mainly for the incredible twists that this economical piece of television pulls out at you. […] It takes the premise of the War of the Worlds broadcast and subverts it with such a brilliant idea that it just fills me with such glee. Not only is this initial twist one of the smarter premises that I've seen used for an anthology show, but the ultimate twist that wraps up the episode is so in-your-face audacious, you just have to get on board with it. Panic is a bewildering experiment from top to bottom that never stops you from guessing what's going on. This episode is deserving of some sort of elevation above its discarded series' status. Perversions of Science might be a very mixed bag, but Panic is the series at its absolute best and won't disappoint."
The Full Episode —
Panic:


The Apartment Complex
(1999, dir. Tobe Hooper)


Hooper pays the rent by directing a TV movie that no one has seen scripted by Karl Schaefer, the co-creator of the great and entertaining TV series, Z Nation (2014–20??). The latter is fare better than the former.
Trailer to
Z Nation:
TCM has a bare-bones plot description: "An impoverished psychology grad student (Chad Lowe) manages the Wonder View Apartment in Hollywood in exchange for a rent-free apartment. When he gets mixed up with the bizarre tenants, he finds himself accused of murder."
Like most people who have seen this obscure TV movie, Flick Filosopher did not like it, saying: "Maybe this kind of stuff is spooky when you're a kid in film school, but I expect better of industry veterans like writer Karl Schaefer, who had a hand in the TV series Eerie, Indiana, and director Tobe Hooper […] Plus, we're bashed over the head with the metaphor of people as rats in a maze — just like the rats Stan is studying! — a few too many times. […] There's an implication early on that perhaps this is all some odd nightmare of Stan's, that none of this is actually happening. If that turned out to be the case, it would be bad enough. But no. The Apartment Complex tries to straddle reality and The Twilight Zone, and the result is neither bizarre enough nor grounded enough in the real world to satisfy either storytelling urge."
The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Review wishes the movie were better, complaining that "The script marshals all the right elements — pythons loose in the apartment, an achingly desirable girl (Fay Masterson) with a disturbed boyfriend (Patrick Warburton of American Strays [1996 / trailer]), a body in the pool, cryptic diaries, two sinister police detectives who suspect the hero of the murder, a physically akilter apartment block with missing room numbers, threatening never-seen tenants, kooky psychics (Amanda Plummer), former CIA agents bugging conversations. […] As to the rest of the film — oh dear. Tobe Hooper has shown a deft hand with black comedy in the underrated Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. With The Apartment Complex, he clearly aims for the same tone as Barton Fink (1991 / trailer) a sense of humor that makes you feel uneasy at the same time you are laughing. However, Hooper misses by a mile and the intended black comedy falls into clumsy farce. […] Where The Apartment Complex should have been a sinisterly paranoid black comedy, it is just loud farce — with an unbelievable, happy sitcom ending."
For that, some guy named Zack Clopton gives the movie a B rating and thinks that "Though easy to overlook, the humble film may actually be the best thing Hooper has been involved with in years."
A Scene from the Sitcom
The Apartment Complex:


Crocodile
(2000, dir. Tobe Hooper Video)


For variety, instead of a TV movie, Tobe Hooper took on a direct-to-video job. The general consensus is that the movie sucks, but to say it damaged his career would be saying too much, as by 2000 Tobe Hooper was no longer seen as a contender in horror. In a sense, he didn't have it that bad: he was still working in his field of choice, and he was generally employed — something many other filmmakers seldom achieve. But even if by now the name "Tobe Hooper" was no longer a mark of quality, Crocodile did well enough to warrant a sequel two years later, Crocodile 2: Death Swamp (2002 / trailer), directed by Gary Jones, a visual effects artist who occasionally directs low budget horror flicks of this kind, e.g., Mosquito (1994 / trailer), Spiders (2000 / trailer), Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (2013 / trailer) and more. (When it comes to his directorial projects, Jones is also no mark of quality — but as he has no classic in his past, no one holds it against him.)
Trailer to
Crocodile:
As Unknown Movies point out, "the premise of this movie is thin", and "any director might have had trouble stretching the little material in the script into an entire movie": "Several college students on their spring break go up to Lake Sobek, a giant lake located somewhere in the southwest [sic]. While cruising on the lake, a crocodile, whose eggs gets disturbed, sets her eyes on chomping those students and anyone else that gets in her way. And aside from the expected screaming, running, and chomping that follows, that's about it."
The location of the "Lake Sobek" in the film, according to 99% of all articles we found, is actually California, but who really cares? Urban rumors of the supposed "California crocodile" — aka "Crocodilus minusculus" — aside, California has no native crocs.
Like most, the critic at Popcorn Pictures hated the movie: "If you've seen one of these 'monster-on-the-loose' flicks, then you'll have already seen Crocodile. Focusing on a bunch of characters stranded in the middle of nowhere with a big, angry and hungry monster after them, they're the sort of film that studios love to make. Safe bets. No risks taken. They're simply recycling a formula which worked for other films in the past and will continue to work for films in the future. […] Every clichéd character in the book is here from the dumb jock, the prankster, the slut, the arguing couple, the snobby one, backwoods hicks and an incompetent sheriff who is there to warn everyone of the dangers of the lake only to find himself standing a little close when the time comes. To be fair, the teenagers look like they're have a good time to start with, but they soon use up their quota of charm quickly and you'll be wishing they'd feed themselves to the croc sooner rather than later. Thankfully most of the people are here to act as croc fodder and the croc doesn't go hungry for one minute. It's just a pity it takes the croc a bit too long to get snacking."
Over at Coming Soon, a writer goes out on the limb in the article 7 Totally Underrated Tobe Hooper Movies and says, "Another Hooper opus that many cite as his worst, Crocodile's only real drawbacks are a pedestrian cast and a CGI reptile monster that looked terrible in 2000 and now looks far worse. But with Crocodile, Hooper feels fully engaged. What starts as a typical young people on vacation romp turns weird once the beast shows up. Not quite as mental as Eaten Alive, of course, [but] there are still so many traces of Hooper's eccentricities here. But you feel like the dozen producers and other folks behind the scenes kept trying to water down that wild mind of his. But Crocodile is most certainly worth another look!" 


Night Visions — The Maze & Cargo
(2002, dir. Tobe Hooper)
Night Visions was a short-lived anthology series hosted by Henry Rollins, who was total beefcake when we lived in LA back in the early 80s. Each episode featured two "half-hour" stories — "half-hour" they were with commercials — along the lines, narrative wise, of Twilight Zone (1959-64, 1985-89 & 2002-03), Night Gallery (1969-73) or an dozen other anthology series. A variety of names directed episodes, including Joe Dante, Ernest Dickerson and Hooper, who directed a total of two segments: The Maze, which was supposed to be aired 19 Sept 2002 alongside Paul Shapiro's Harmony; and Cargo, which aired the following week alongside Jefery Levy's Switch.
Over at imdb, where someone says "The gruesome ending is something one would expect in a movie, but not a TV show," they have the plot to Cargo: "Mark Stevens (Jaime Kennedy) is a young courageous and honest man, who works as the new cargo officer on a big cargo ship. One night he notices that someone is hiding in one of the giant shipping containers. He reports this to the ship's shady first officer and the elderly captain (Philip Baker Hall). They ignore his report, so he tries to get to the bottom of things by himself. It turns out that a bunch of Russian immigrants is locked in one of the containers and something deadly and hungry is locked in there with them. Stevens makes contact with a pretty woman inside, who claims that the monster that's in there with them is picking them off one by one. Stevens tries again to warn the captain about the situation, but he tells him not to dig into the matter any further. However, Stevens can't let the people in the container die, even if it kills him, and it just might."
Online, While It Lasts —
Cargo, with Switch:
Also at imdb, ctomvelu-1 has the following to say about Hooper's The Maze: "Thora Birch is a standoff-ish college student who finds herself trapped in a different time after walking through a maze on her college campus. At first, she finds herself completely alone in this world, and the spookiness of her moving through vacant buildings and courtyards is a sobering experience. A fellow student (Luke Edwards) who she blew off back in her own dimension turns up here, and she learns a valuable lesson about friendship from him. Unfortunately, in this parallel world, a comet is about to destroy the planet. So Ms. Birch must renegotiate the maze, with her new friend in tow. Will she make it? The ending may surprise the more cynical among you, and it is quite a break from the grisly endings of many other episodes of this show."
Online, While It Lasts —
The Maze, with Harmony:


Shadow Realm
(2002, dirs. Tobe Hooper, Paul Shapiro, Keith Gordon & Ian Toynton)
As it was, due to a minor societal-earthquake known in the USA as "9/11" some of the episodes of the short-lived anthology series Night Visions got pre-empted and never aired. The Sci-Fi Channel later edited the two hour-long, double-storied episodes together and removed Henry Rollins' blathering to create this TV anthology movie, Shadow Realm, which the Polish website His Name Is Death gives seven out of a possible ten Screaming Janet Leighs.
Zack Clopton didn't catch the flick, but he did catch the individual episodes and he had the following, among other thing, to say about The Maze: "[The Maze] is sauce, not helped by Birch's sleepy performance or Amanda Plummer's broad overacting. Tobe Hooper's television work is unusually fairly indistinct. The Maze is mediocre overall but it does feature some decent camera work. As Birch explores the abandoned college campus, Hooper often employs expressive shots. Scenes of the girl walking up a staircase or wandering through an empty cafeteria are accompanied by Dutch angles or wide lens. While exploring the hedge maze, off-center, askew perspectives are employed. It doesn't amount to a whole lot, but it does show one of the director's trademarks still surviving, even into the doldrums of his career."


Headcheese
(2002, dir. Duane Graves & Justin Meeks)

A short written by co-director Justin Meeks. As a team, Duane Graves & Justin Meeks have since also directed a few independent horrors, namely The Wild Man of the Navidad (2008 / trailer), the Kim Henkel scripted Butcher Boys (2012 / trailer) and Kill or Be Killed (2015 / trailer). Hooper's erstwhile collaborator with words, Kim Henkel, is credited as a producer of this short and, like Tobe Hooper, is given "Special Thanks" in the credits.
As revealed at TexasChainsawMassacre.net, "Headcheese was the original name given to Texas Chainsaw Massacre by Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel before they settled on the final title. But for today and forever, Headcheese is now known as the 22-minute film by Duane Graves and Justin Meeks." (Actually, today and forever headcheese is simply another name for smegma.)
Geek Films says pretty much the same thing as every other website: "Loosely based on a New Testament chapter, Luke 8:29, Headcheese is the gritty account of a deranged man's unholy psyche while on a bizarre pilgrimage to Quick Hill, Texas, to rid his soul of feeble-minded parasites. Filmed on both 8mm and 16mm B&W film stock, this 22-min observation of a schizophrenic serial killer, wandering desolate Texas backwoods and farmland, combines the visual excess of underground classics such as Richard Kern's Submit to Me (1985 / film) and Fingered (1986 / film) and thematically resembles Nico B and Rozz Williams' Pig (1988 / clip) another movie exploring the tortured mind of a serial killer and his spiritual quest for truth."
Unrated points out, "It comes then as no great surprise that Graves and Meeks were students on TCM writer Kim Henkel's screenwriting and film production courses, and that Henkel is the producer."
Movies Made Me says, "From what I can gather, it's not uncommon for Shock-O-Rama to release films with a short film as one of the many bonus features. Such is the case with Headcheese, a short film that is eons better than the movie it's coupled with. Freak (1999 / trailer) was laughable, while Headcheese is creepy, thought-provoking, and a great window into the mind of a psychopath."
Headcheese
Part One:




Michael Bay's Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(2003, dir. Marcus Nispel)


Way back in 1974, Roger Ebert — famous critic and scriptwriter of Russ Meyers fabulously campy Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970 / trailer)— gave the original Chainsaw two star, saying "Now here's a grisly little item. […] I can't imagine why anyone would want to make a movie like this, and yet it's well-made, well-acted, and all too effective." Nineteen years later, he was much less kind to this version, which he gave zero stars and lambasted: "The new version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a contemptible film: Vile, ugly and brutal. There is not a shred of a reason to see it. Those who defend it will have to dance through mental hoops of their own devising, defining its meanness and despair as 'style' or 'vision' or 'a commentary on our world'. It is not a commentary on anything, except the marriage of slick technology with the materials of a geek show."
Well, we here at A Wasted Life always liked geek shows. True, we saw no real reason to remake the movie, other than the usual blatantly capitalist one, but we found the movie much better than we expected, different enough in story and development not to be a flat out copy but true enough to be familiar, and populated with surprisingly sympathetic fodder and effectively nightmarish rednecks. Director Marcus Nispel, a successful music video director, was never again — going by his subsequent movies to date, Pathfinder (2007 / trailer), the abysmal Friday the 13th (2009 / trailer), Conan the Barbarian (2011 / trailer) and Exeter (2015 / trailer) — as successful at translating his music video eye and flashy style into a feature film. (OK, Conan was sort of fun.) But then, he was helped by having a decent screenwriter, Scott Kosar, who later worked on two notable films, The Machinist [2004 / trailer] and The Crazies [2010 / trailer], and one crappy one, The Amityville Horror [2005 / trailer]).
Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel of course get "characters" credit, but while Scott Kosar more or less sort of follows the original plot, he ups the ante in terms of characters (major, minor and in between) and action. And whereas much of the visceral of the original was more implied than gushed in full red glory, this version had a big budget for blood and guts effects.
Foster on Film has the slightly changed plot: "While driving through rural Texas, Erin (Jessica Biel), her boyfriend, Kemper (Eric Balfour), and three others, pick up a girl in shock, who soon after commits suicide. While attempting to report the incident and rid themselves of the body, they find themselves in a nightmare of assorted inbred maniacs including a drunken sheriff (R. Lee Ermey), and Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski, also of the crappy Seven Mummies [2006]), who wears a mask made of human skin and carries a chainsaw." He also points out a major change from the first movie: "[…] Leatherface isn't the most frightening of the tribe of fiends. That honor goes to the sheriff, who won't be on any tourism ads for Texas. Leatherface is a stupid brute, who rarely makes a clever move, even when chasing someone. The sheriff is cruel, vulgar, authoritative, and armed. While hardly brilliant, he at least has a functioning brain, which makes him feel dangerous." (Indeed, he took everything we don't like about American cops and amped by 100 and added a propensity for human flesh.)
Trailer:
Dr Gore points out two ways of viewing the movie, which he saw with his dad: "Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a great horror movie. I loved every second of it. Loved it. My dad saw it with me and he HATED it. He hated it with a passion. In his words, 'That stupid movie was needlessly cruel and vicious.' Yes! Exactly! Couldn't have said it better myself! Except for the movie being stupid, I agree! Texas Chainsaw Massacre is very sick for a mainstream movie. Brutal, nasty and quite demented. Just like all good horror should be. If you're into horror flicks, you've got to check it out."
Still, though we did "like" the movie — but for the pointless baby subplot — and its symbolic presentation of a salt-of-the-earth America that has both degenerated to insanity and is feeding upon itself in and with righteousness, we would tend to say that the original version is, unlike this one, as much of an artistic achievement as it is a reflection of its time and an effective horror film. That's why: If you have yet to see either version, go for Tobe Hooper's 1974 original first.
Tidbit of trivia: the now well-known John Larroquette did the narration, as he did for the 1974 version way back when he was a total unknown.

More to come…
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