Sunday, September 10, 2017

R.I.P.: Tobe Hooper, Part I: 1964–1982

Tobe Hooper

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.

The Heisters 
(1964, dir. Tobe Hooper) 
When you see the image above, do you think of Top Secret (1984 / trailer) or Hammer Films' Curse of Frankenstein (1957 / trailer) and/or Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974 / trailer)? Chosen as our Short Film of the Month for August 2017, please go there to read about the film and/or to watch it.

(1969, dir & write Tobe Hooper)
While Chainsaw may be Hooper's "first general release feature film", this once-thought-lost hippie art film is his actual feature-film debut; it just never really got released anywhere much outside of Austin, where it was made. Shot on a budget of 40 thousand bucks.
Screen Jabber has the "plot" — or lack of one: "There isn't a whole lot to the plot as, quite frankly, there isn't much of one. For reasons unknown, a kind of transparent bulb, presumably from space, appears in the basement of a house and begins harvesting an incomprehensible power that affects the rowdy, dope-smoking residents. The bulb emits an incredible light show that alters their minds and changes the way they think. Whether or not mundane conversations in bathtubs about communism are down to the influence of the mysterious bulb is up to you, but driving for miles, veering onto a field, setting the car on fire, taking your clothes off and running away before it explodes is definitely, definitely down to the bulb."
Trivia: Future Chainsaw co-scribe Kim Henkel plays a writer in Eggshells. He and Hooper seem to be the only ones involved that continued to work in film.
The Austin Chronicles gushes, "Eggshells is a true 1968 film, psychedelic and political; it seems clear that Hooper had watched more than a film or two by Jean-Luc Godard. The film celebrates alternative lifestyles and politics and people and an odd, kinky semi-mysticism that is grounded more in humor than the supernatural. It captures what Austin looked like in the Sixties as well as the political sensibility shared by so many at the time. [...] As a period piece and/or as a psychedelic film and/or as a first effort by a gifted director, the film is well worth watching. But there is something more going on. Throughout Eggshells are the kinds of telltale camera movements, manipulations of POV, casually intricate cutting, and scenes that are mystifying and haunted, elements that all come to fruition in Chainsaw, where they harmoniously work together to create that horror film masterpiece."

Peter, Paul, & Mary: Song is Love
The image above is not from the documentary, but of the album from which the song originates that eventually became the title of the documentary.
At YouTube, where the clip below is found, which is from the documentary, they write: "Peter, Paul & Mary — The Great Mandala — written by Peter Yarrow. Fred W. Miller, media producer, convinced Peter, Paul & Mary to allow him to make a documentary of their music and activism. That documentary, called The Song is Love, was among the first films made on Peter, Paul and Mary. The film, shot and directed by Tobe Hooper, aired on PBS for ten years starting in Easter 1970. The Song is Love was a major fund-raising event for PBS during the seventies."
PP&M Singing, from
the Documentary:

Over at The Austin Chronicle, Anne S. Lewis, a former "associate minister at First Baptist Church in charge of youth and media", writes: "This is a film — shot in cinéma vérité style, with lots of concert performances — that'll take you back. There's Peter, wire-rimmed and mustachioed, full of himself and his role as troubadour of social change; Paul, balding, fu-manchu-ed, and oh-so-earnest about the importance of being 'real'; and the still-mesmerizing Mary, her fabulous face framed by those famous blond bangs and, like her voice, full of the Sixties. [...] The film was directed by Tobe Hooper and mainly shot by Tobe and Ron Perryman. Their heroes were D.A. Pennebaker and the Maysles brothers. I had never heard of any of these folks."
Peter, Paul & Mary sing
The Song Is Love:

The Windsplitter
(1971, writ. & dir. Julius D. Feigelson)
Tobe Hooper makes a rare appearance as an actor in this regional flick by J.D. Feigelson, who is still active as a producer and writer. Among other things, he wrote Larry N. Stouffer's disasterpiece Horror High (1973 / trailer), the abysmal Wes Craven TV flick Chiller  (1985), the fun Nightmare on the 13th Floor (1990 / full film), and the oddly popular Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981 / trailer).
A Scene from 
The Windsplitter: 

It's amazing how much trouble "long" hair used to get you into; it was almost as troublesome as being Black. TV Guide has the plot: "Bobby Joe (James McMullan) is a respectable small town kid who heads to Hollywood, makes it big as an actor, and returns home to Houston to crown the homecoming queen. The townspeople are repulsed when they find him to be a long-haired motorcyclist and a threat to their old-fashioned ways, and they use vigilante-type tactics to make him leave."
Hooper is seen somewhere in this film no one has ever seen playing some guy named "Joby".

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(1974, writ. & dir. Tobe Hooper)
Based on a true story... sort of. It just didn't happen in Texas, nor was a chainsaw involved. Three years later,  Wes Craven would look to the legendary Sawney Bean clan of Scotland for his tale of backlands cannibalism, The Hills Have Eyes (1977 / trailer), Tobe Hooper stuck a bit closer to home for the inspiration for Leatherface: Ed Gein (27 Aug 1906 — 26 Jul 1984) of Wisconsin, who also inspired Psycho (1960 / trailer) and Silence of the Lambs (1991 / trailer), among other flicks, not mention a number movie about he himself alone, such as Deranged (1974 / trailer), In the Light of the Moon aka Ed Gein (2000 / trailer), and Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield (2007 / trailer).
Original Trailer to
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974):
Although Hooper generally gets all the limelight, some credit should be given to the generally overlooked Kim Henkel, who cowrote the screenplay with Hooper. (He also acted for Hooper in his earlier Eggshells [1969] and co-wrote his later Eaten Alive [1976].) Films of note Henkel later wrote include The Butcher Boys (2012 / trailer) and, supposedly and uncredited, The Unseen (1980 / trailer).
The cast and crew were all unknown and local, with only Gunnar Hanson (4 March 1947 — 7 Nov 2015), as Leatherface, and Marilyn Burns (7 May 1949 — 5 Aug 2014) as Sally, the Final Girl, ever achieving any subsequent success. (Actually, other than for Hooper, the narrator, John Larroquette, had the most post-Chainsaw success of them all, but does he really count as part of the movie?)
For all its legendary violence and gore, little onscreen blood is seen: it is more the sustained mood of crazed terror that makes the movie so effective and affective. And while for the most part panned for its "pornographic violence" when it was released, and despite being banned left and right, it became a financial hit, eventually grossing over $30 million in North America. "Who got all the money" is a question many involved have long asked themselves. The answer? The same folks who got all the money from that classic film starring Linda Lovelace & Harry Reems, Deep Throat (1972): the Colombo crime family.
The plot, as supplied by the ever-reliable Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review: "Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her paraplegic brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain [22 Nov 1946 — 28 Jan 2005]), along with Sally's boyfriend and another couple, Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri McMinn), travel across Texas to visit their childhood home. They pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) who proves crazed and tries to set fire to the van and slashes his own and Franklin's wrists before jumping out. They continue on to the homestead. Kirk and Pam go searching for a waterhole and inadvertently cross onto another property where a huge man in a leather mask (Gunnar Hanson) smashes Kirk over the head with a hammer and then impales Pam on a meathook to watch while he cuts Kirk's body up with a chainsaw. The others receive a similar fate from the leather-faced man and his bizarre family, culminating in the prolonged torture and pursuit of Sally."
Outtakes from
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:

Eaten Alive
(1976, dir. Tobe Hooper)

"Name's Buck… and I'm rarin' to fuck."
(Buck / Robert Englund) 

Not to be confused with Umberto Lenzi's cannibal epos Eaten Alive! (1980 / trailer). Aka Death Trap, Legend of the Bayou, Horror Hotel, and Starlight Slaughter — and sometimes even Crocodile, though we are not sure the groovy, handpainted poster from Ghana above is really from this movie. The line of dialogue above, by the way, might sound familiar: the hospital attendant paraphrases it in Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. I (2003 / trailer). The great comedy Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010) makes a visual reference to this movie (compare the scythes).
Unlike TCM, Eaten Alive is as bloody as hell and intensely artificial looking — art-house horror, you might say. Not everyone's cup of tea, needless to say, and it was less than well received when it came out. Today, as with a few other of his maligned movies, Eaten Alive is gaining reappraisal and approval: the common consensus is that of a flawed by intriguing Southern Gothic imbued in art house artificiality.
Like TCM, Eaten Alive was inspired by a true story, only this time around it wasn't used as a selling point. Here, the less known story of Joe Ball  (5 Jan 1896 — 24 Sept 1938) was lightly mined. Ball (aka the "Alligator Man", the "Butcher of Elmendorf", and the "Bluebeard of South Texas"), a former bootlegger who opened a bar called Sociable Inn in Elmendorf, Texas, after the end of the Prohibition, he is known to have killed two women, but believed to have killed as many as 20, feeding their bodies to the six alligators he had in his own self-built pond.
Screen adaptation by Kim Henkel, written by Alvin L. Fast (who also helped pen Black Shampoo [1976 / trailer & Satan's Cheerleaders [1977 / trailer], among others) and Mohammed Rustam (associate producer of The Female Bunch [1971 / trailer] & Dracula vs Frankenstein [1971] and director of Evils of the Night [1985 / trailer], among other craptastic films).
Tobe Hooper's first Hollywood film was still an independent feature, but it was nevertheless shot "entirely on the sound-stages of Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, California, which had a large-scale pool that could double as a swamp" with a cast to marvel: a young and unknown Robert Englund, a forgotten Janus Blythe (of The Hills Have Eyes Part I [1977 / trailer] and The Incredible Melting Man [1977 / trailer]), cult heavy Neville Brand (13 Aug 1920 — 16 Apr 1992), a slumming Mel Ferrer (25 Aug 1917 — 2 June 2008), Carolyn "Morticia" Jones (28 April 1930 — 3 Aug 1983), cult tough guy Stuart Maxwell Whitman, exploitation babe Roberta "Matilda the Hun" Collins (17 Nov 1944 — 16 Aug 2008) and, least notable of them all, Kyle Richards as the endangered child.
As Trailers from Hell claims, "Tobe Hooper's undeservedly obscure follow-up to his groundbreaking independent Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an intensely bleak, studio-bound Hollywood B-movie concoction. But it's still bizarre and crazy and Neville Brand is on some other performance planet as the mad killer."
Trailer to
Eaten Alive:
Eaten Alive was also the first Hooper movie to suffer Chinese Whispers. (Oops! Is that a racist term!) As was to become a common occurrence, Hooper had difficulties with the producers and "according to makeup artist Craig Reardon, cinematographer Robert Caramico (10 Dec 1932 — 18 Oct 1997) directed several scenes due to creative differences between Tobe Hooper and the film's producers." Caramico's only other known directorial experience is the 1970 skin-heavy "documentary" The Sex Rituals of the Occult (29.5 minutes).
A love it or hate it flick: no one who's seen Eaten Alive seems to be indifferent about this baby — with the possible exception of The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre, which says the movie is "Of Some Interest" and that "Tobe Hooper's follow-up to Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the closest in plot and mood but somehow loses the grit and realism amidst too much style and bizarreness that is almost surreal. A local seedy hotel is owned by a madman who tends to mumble on and on about nonsense, and who owns an insatiable crocodile to whom he feeds all his guests. This movie visits this location on a very busy night where sometimes the clients are crazier than the hotel owner. Lots of madness, gore and twistedness ensues."
Now that Hooper's short film The Heisters (1964) is easily available, the artificiality of the setting and the luscious colors found in Eaten Alive, both such an antithesis to everything found in TCM, no longer seem so out of place in a Hooper film or alien to Hooper's style.

Salem's Lot
(1979, dir. Tobe Hooper)
Dunno, everyone says it was a good film, but when we caught the original airing on CBS on November 17 and 24 of 1979 (at the tender age of 17), we found it a snoozer. But then, we had a rinky-dinky B&W TV, never did like David Soul as an actor, and we were by then already regular weekend denizens of the now long-gone grindhouses that once populated downtown San Diego. (Back then, they were about the only thing we liked about that conservative armpit of a city.) Or maybe it was just the commercial breaks that killed the movie for us...
It was followed in 1987 by Larry Cohen's black comedy A Return to Salem's Lot (trailer), which we didn't like much, either.
Hooper filmed many scenes in two versions, the softer for TV and the "harder" one for the eventual European edit, which was released as a stand-alone feature film instead of a two part television horror drama.
Trailer to
Salem's Lot:
Needless to say, the TV two-parter & subsequent film were based on Stephen King's best seller, one of his early and better books. The screenplay was written by Paul Monasch (14 June 1917 — 14 Jan 2003), who supposedly did un-credited work on the far superior King adaptation of Carrie (1976 / trailer).
Mondo Digital has the plot of the re-edited 4-hour version, which got released as a DVD (re-edited in that the harder; European scenes replaced the wimpy TV ones): "Ben Mears (David Soul), one of King's usual tortured novelists, returns to his home of Salem's Lot [...]. While striking up a romance with the lovely Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia), he begins to suspect that something may be amiss in the town. Residents are turning up dead, drained of blood, while others are listless and stay indoors all day. A young monster movie fan, Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), even spies one of his dead friends floating outside his bedroom window and scratching on the glass (a great image). Ben deduces that this macabre transformation may have something to do with the arrival of Mr. Barlow, a mysterious antique dealer living in the spooky old Marsden house? And what about Straker (James Mason), his suave but menacing right hand man? Ben, Mark, and a handful of the others decide to infiltrate the old house, only to uncover a very nasty surprise."
Today, we wouldn't mind seeing the movie again if only to see the great Marie Windsor (11 Dec 1919 10 Dec 2000), whom we've since become a fan of. The mysterious Reggie Nalder (4 Sept 1907 — 19 Nov 1991), admittedly effective, affective and memorable as the vampire Barlow, can also be found in a number of better films than Salem's Lot, including The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 / trailer), Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970 / trailer) the German exploitation classic Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält / Mark of the Devil (1970 / trailer) and its sequel Hexen geschändet und zu Tode gequält / Mark of the Devil Part II (1973 / trailer), and Fellini's Casanova (1976 / trailer), and funner but worse films like Dracula's Dog / Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (1977 / trailer), Phillip Marshak's hardcore Dracula Sucks (1978 / edited trailer below), and Andy Sidaris' Seven (1979 / trailer) — any of which we would prefer to watch before movie.
Strangely enough, though Salem's Lot was well received and proved Hooper capable of delivering Hollywood product (even if only for TV), people still whispered dark things about him, rumors that increased with his next project...
Not by Tobe Hooper —
edited trailer to

Dracula Sucks:

The Dark 
(1979, dir. John Cardos)
(Aka The Mutilator.) Or should we say Tobe Hooper's first non-project? Tobe Hooper took the helm when production of this turkey, only to be subsequently replaced by the "versatile and underrated B-movie Renaissance man" — translate: trash film multi-semi-talent — John "Bud" Carlos. We remember him fondly as the psycho Native American biker with a Mohawk in the great sleaze-fest, Satan's Sadists (1969 / trailer), but hís most lasting success is undoubtedly the "classic" nature-gone-wild flick starring William Shatner, Kingdom of the Spiders (1977 / trailer), while his great and trashy Wiings Hauser D-flick, Mutant aka Night Shadows (1982 / trailer), remains tragically underappreciated.
TV Guide has the plot: "Science-fiction/horror film has an alien that looks like a werewolf in blue jeans running around Los Angeles murdering people, either ripping the heads off its victims or burning them to a crisp with its laser vision. Thrown into this nightmare is a good cast headed by an author (William Devane), television newscaster (Cathy Lee Crosby), and frustrated policeman (Richard Jaeckel [10 Oct 1926 — 14 June 1997]). The three are all trying to solve the mystery of the murders. The answer, which tells us what, but not how or why, comes when Devane and Crosby are trapped by the creature in a deserted house. The cops ineffectually shoot at it with their conventional weapons, until suddenly the alien self-destructs into thin air, leaving the film open for a sequel."
The plot description totally fails to mention the psychic (Jacquelyn Hyde [19 Mar 1931 — 23 Feb 1992] of House of Terror [1973]) that tells them where to find the alien cause, well, psychics know stuff like that.
Trailer to
The Dark:
According to imdb (Date: 08.29.2017), "In the screenplay stage and all the way through to production The Dark's antagonist was an abused, autistic child who had been locked in an attic for his entire life. His house was to burn down, allowing to him to escape and take his vengeance upon the unfamiliar outside world."
In general, however, the consensus is that the original version of the movie echoes the novelization, in which "the Mutilator" is a Confederate zombie decapitating people with an axe. But then Alien (1979 / trailer) came out, and aliens were suddenly hip — so scenes were shot, redubbed, and re-edited and the dead guy's face freezes and cheap rays shoot from his/its eyes. Cheesy to the max.
Unknown Movies says, "The movie was made by FVI (like Manson Pictures, they were a poor man's Crown International Pictures during the 70s) […]. The Dark is so earnest and so serious, it becomes boring. Didn't anyone — the director, the screenwriter, or even the actors — see any amusement in the plot premise, being about a serial killing alien who decapitates people with laser beams from his eyes? I guess not […]. It's amazing that almost nothing ever happens in this movie."
By the way: "In 1984, Film Ventures International was on the verge of collapse due to financial issues including the release failure of Great White (1982 / trailer), the poor box office performance of Montoro's final film Mutant [directed by Carlos!] and his pending divorce settlement. Montoro eventually embezzled over one million dollars from the FVI bank accounts and vanished, never to be seen again. Film Ventures International officially closed its doors in 1985. To this day, Montoro's whereabouts remain unknown, though it is believed he fled to Mexico in early 1987 under a false name. It is not even known if he is still alive. (Wikipedia)"
For whatever reason Hooper left the movie, there were now rumors upon old rumors…

The Thing
(1982, dir. John Carpenter)
For a while, John Carpenter's career sort of emulated that of Hooper: after taking the genre film world by storm with the original Assault on Precinct 13 (1976 / trailer) and Halloween (1978 / trailer), and the subsequent success of The Fog (1980 / trailer) and Escape from New York (1981 / trailer), with The Thing he suddenly became a director about whom the everyone loved to slag off. But then, he also made some real crap after The Thing, especially in the 1990s (e.g., Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992 / trailer), Village of the Damned (1995) and Escape from L.A. (1996 / trailer).
The Thing, rather critical and financial disappointment in its day, eventually enjoyed reevaluation and an improved reputation, if not total cult film status — something that has occurred to a limited extent with some of his other past "misfires", including Big Trouble in Little China (1986 / trailer), They Live (1988 / trailer) and In the Mouth of Madness (1995 / trailer).
The Thing, of course, is a remake of the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World (trailer), itself a loose adaptation of John W. Campbell, Jr.'s novella Who Goes There? A little known — unknown? — fact is that before John Carpenter was given The Thing, Tobe Hooper was in the running to make the movie. Indeed, he and Kim Henkel, the man with whom he wrote Chainsaw, got as far as writing and submitting their own script.
There's a blogsite out there called The Original Fan, "A Producer's Guide to the Evolution and Production of John Carpenter's The Thing", from Stuart Cohen, a co-producer of the movie who, basically, was the instigator and driving force behind getting The Thing made. According to him, "Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel had recently arrived at the Universal lot courtesy of the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and of director William Friedkin […]. They were looking for a project and the studio suggested The Thing, which seemed like a good idea to all involved. Their initial enthusiasm dimmed upon reading the novella, however. […] Rejecting the short story's central premise, they chose instead to try to fashion something original that, in their words, would 'address the larger picture'... Written quickly in order to avoid an impending writers strike, what I remember of the script was an attempt at a man-versus-monster epic set at the bottom of the world, a sort of Antarctica Moby Dick with an Ahab-like character […] battling a large, but decidedly non-shape-shifting creature. Seemingly written as a tone poem with a stab at a Southern, Davis Grubb-like feel, the script was dense, humorless, almost impenetrable (the word John used for it when he later came on board was 'incomprehensible'). Judged by all at the time to be something akin to a disaster, we agreed to part company...."
So, there you have it. Another movie almost, but not, directed by Tobe Hooper. 
Trailer to
The Thing:

(1982, dir. Piers Haggard)
For some odd reason, Tobe Hooper was originally attached to this English thriller starring two renowned thespian nutcases with outsized egos and substance-abuse problems, Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed. Whether due to "creative differences" or the machinations of the cast and crew (as Kinski once supposedly claimed), Hooper left the set after nine days to be replaced by Piers Haggard, great-great-nephew of H. Rider Haggard, perhaps known by some as the director of The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971 / trailer).
Based on the novel of the same name by Alan Scholefield first published in 1977, the final screenplay used was from Robert Carrington, the scriptwriter of Wait until Dark (1967 / trailer) and Fear Is the Key (1972 / soundtrack). The cast was rounded out with Susan George, Nicol Williamson (of Spawn [1997]), Sarah Miles, Sterling Hayden and Michael Gough.
Trailer to
The plot, as given at Horrorpedia: "An international criminal, Jacmel (Kinski), enlists Ruth Hopkins' maid, Louise (Susan George), and chauffeur, Dave (Reed), in a scheme to kidnap her asthmatic ten-year-old son Philip (Lance Holcomb) for ransom. Meanwhile, Philip has just brought home a snake from a local importer, unaware that his new pet has been accidentally switched with a deadly Black Mamba destined for a toxicology lab. The lab reports the mix-up, and a police officer is dispatched to the Hopkins residence, only to be shot by the panicking chauffeur. The London townhouse is surrounded by police, trapping the criminals, the child, and his grandfather inside with the mamba, which is now loose in the ventilation system…"
Venom appears to be yet another love it or hate movie, as it left few reviewers indifferent. British Horror is a naysayer, complaining, among many things, that "[…] Venom really does have to be seen to be believed. The entire plot hinges on the spectacularly unfeasible idea that the London Institute of Toxicology could take delivery of an extremely dangerous black mamba through a back-street pet shop. Said shop is so ramshackle and disorganised that they think nothing of mixing up their orders and sending a 10-year-old home with what is apparently one of the most dangerous creatures on the planet."
And You Call Yourself A Scientist is more forgiving, saying: "Venom is not, by any cinematic standard, a great film, but it is better — and a lot more fun — than its reputation would lead you to believe. […] The problem is, and always has been, mis-marketing. Right from the beginning, this film has been sold to the wrong audience. […] Venom is not really a killer snake film; the mamba is just one complication amongst many. Nor is it a horror movie, which (given that it was produced at the height of the early eighties slasher boom) probably led to a lot of disappointed cinema-goers at the time. It's a suspense film, a thriller, which, if for nothing else, deserves to be seen for its fabulous cast, each member of which puts in a strong performance (probably better than the film deserves) — and for the sight of this group of hard-core professionals keeping their faces completely straight as the plot in which they are enmeshed grows ever more improbable.
Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot, on the other hand, gushes, "Venom is the greatest killer-snake movie of all time […]. Much of its value comes from its cast, which includes some of the acting profession's most notorious troublemakers. You'd have to be nuts to cast Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed, Sterling Hayden, and Nicol Williamson in the same movie. When original director Tobe Hooper was fired a few days into production, it may have saved his sanity."
Perhaps… but rumors upon rumors upon rumors continued to grow.

The Funhouse
(1981, dir. Tobe Hooper)
The plot, at Letterboxed, among other places, of a movie that Film School Rejects says "doesn't seem to get the same kind of love and affection despite deserving it": "Rebellious teen Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) defies her parents by going to a trashy carnival that has pulled into town. In tow are her boyfriend, Buzz (Cooper Huckabee of The Curse [1987] & The Unknown [2005 / trailer]), and their friends Liz (Largo Woodruff) and Richie (Miles Chapin of Howard the Duck [1986 / trailer] & Pandemonium [1982 / trailer]). Thinking it would be fun to spend the night in the campy 'Funhouse' horror ride, the teens witness a murder by a deformed worker wearing a mask. Locked in, Amy and her friends must evade the murderous carnival workers and escape before it leaves town the next day."
Trailer to
The Funouse:
Aka Carnival of Terror. Screenplay by a slumming Lawrence Block — but then Block did a lot of slumming in his day. We have many of his original "John Warren Wells" books: they're a fun read. He didn't write the novelization of the flick, though: the "Owen West" of the first edition was revealed to be the pseudonymous Dean Koontz on all later reprints. It was filmed in Florida, to get by the Californian child labor laws, and is an oddity amongst the dead-teenager films of the day in that the Final Girl, Amy (Elizabeth Berridge, who was also excellent three years later in Amadeus [1984 / trailer]), shows her breasts but nevertheless survives.
Hooper's first widescreen movie was also his first for a major studio, Universal, and because it was Universal he was able to both show a bit of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935 / trailer) and use a mask of the original Universal Frankenstein Monster.
The Funhouse was a relative success when it was release: reviews were mixed, if primarily positive, and it was a respectable success financially. Nevertheless, there were even more rumors — rumors not helped by Kevin Conway's later assertion that Tobe Hooper was a huge "Coke-head" during the production. As the Horror News Network puts it, "Hooper allegedly consumed a minimum of 12 cans of Coca-Cola a day." But drinking cola is not what one thinks of when hearing someone's a cokehead, especially in that day and age of Cocaine excess (John Belushi would soon be dead of a speedball, for example, and there was always gossip that the Big C was somehow involved in The Twilight Zone [1983 / trailer] mishap.)
Despite the movie's success, over the years, as Coming Soon points out, "It's a film in Hooper's canon that is often disregarded […]. Yet, Funhouse swaggers with the same bad behavior we equate to Hooper's early works […]. But it has finesse and there's something roguishly refreshing and charming about the atmosphere and band of characters who decide to stay in a funhouse long after it has been closed for the night. Where Chainsaw heaped filth on top of filth for a nightmarish, oppressive experience where there was no escape, Funhouse finds Hooper gleefully luring you in with the entrancing, glitzy facade of the carnival environment until the walls crumble away and you realized you've been trapped with something."

(1982, dir. Tobe Hooper)
So, the future great Teflon product-spewer of modern Hollywood, Steven Spielberg, didn't even really have to recover from 1941 (1979 / trailer), his major misstep of the decade and his career. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 / trailer) had already rehabilitated him, and he was in the midst of making a little movie known as E.T. (1982 / trailer), which eventually lost us the moment the dead alien magically came back to life. But his contract at Universal forbade him to officially work on two films at the same time, so he needed a director for a little horror film he had developed, supposedly to the point that even all the storyboarding was done. He turned to Tobe Hooper, and the resulting movie, Poltergeist, was a huge hit but probably did as much damage to Hooper's career as all his subsequent flops.
Why? Rumors, rumors, rumors and more rumors — and denials, like the full-page letter Spielberg put into The Hollywood Reporter claiming, "Regrettably, some of the press has misunderstood the rather unique, creative relationship which you and I shared throughout the making of Poltergeist." (Spielberg could have just as well said, "I made the movie.") Cast members and crew said this or that, but the general picture that arose was that Hooper was a nice pushover kind of guy — you know, the kind ex-girlfriends beat up — who basically agreed to everything Spielberg wanted. 
Hooper's rep wasn't helped any by later statements like those given by Zelda "I'm not a fan of Tobe Hooper" Rubinstein, to Ain't It Cool News that "[Hooper] allowed some unacceptable chemical agents into his work. I felt that immediately. I felt that when I first interviewed for the job." Then, as today, that there even was an argument about who really made Poltergeist only served to harden everyone's opinion that Hooper was a hired name and not much more.
Trailer to
And as everyone knows, the movie was a hit. It even spawned two consecutively worse sequels, Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986 / trailer) and Poltergeist III (1988 / trailer), and was recently remade (2015 / trailer). The image below, by the way, is a Ghanese poster to Poltergeist II, which Hooper really had nothing to do with — but we find it so groovy, we're presenting it anyways.
And the plot? Spielberg mined the scenario of the classic Twilight Zone episode Little Girl Lost (1962) and put it into a tale about a family who discover that their house is built upon a graveyard full of pissed-off ghosts…
The plot, detailed in accordance to Dennis Schwartz at Ozus' World Movie Reviews: "Ambitious realty rep Steve Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) […] recently moved his family […] into a nice pristine new suburban community named Cuesta Verde. They have a dream house, a canary named Tweety and the children, teen-ager Dana (Dominique Dunne), elementary school aged Robbie (Oliver Robins) and the youngest Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke), are weaned on Captain America comics and bad manners at the breakfast table, while the not totally square parents smoke pot and giggle before retiring for the night in their safe suburban world. But there's some strange things happening in dreamland […] The young couple do not take it as seriously as they should until that stormy night when their darling Carol Ann is sucked into the closet and her disembodied voice seems to be coming from the TV and is heard pleading for her mother's help. The family call in from the local college a team of parapsychologists led by Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), who acts to explain everything you ever wanted to know about poltergeists and reassures the family the child is still alive and can possibly be rescued — but not by them. That task falls the next day to midget clairvoyant and professional exorcist Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) […]."
Poltergeist is/was famous for the "Poltergeist curse": Heather O'Rourke and Dominique Dunne both died tragically young, the former of septic shock and the latter at the hands of her ex-boyfriend John Sweeney (now John Maura aka John P Maura aka John Patrick Maura, of 5 Elm Ave #B, Kentfield, CA 94904, pictured below, then and recently, looking kinda like Tobe Hooper) who, after strangling her to death over a four-minute period, in a total miscarriage of justice got off with less than three years served and now works at a retirement community in San Rafael, Smith Ranch Homes, while Dominique Dunne has long rotted away six feet under. (Remember girls: if someone kills you, it's your fault because you're sluts.)
Other deaths of the curse include character actor Lou Perryman, who was eventually killed with an axe by a 26-year-old man named Seth Christopher Tatum in Austin, Texas, on April 1, 2009 (as Lou was a man and not a 22-year-old slut woman, his killer got sentenced to life). Perryman was 67 years old at the time of his death. Julian Beck, who starred as Kane in Poltergeist II: The Other Side, died of stomach cancer at age 60, while Will Sampson, of the same movie, died of malnutrition and postoperative kidney failure at age 53 in June 1987.
The curse seems to still be active today: over the years, many others involved in the various Poltergeist films (e.g., Zelda Rubinstein, Beatrice Straight, Sonny Landham, Clair E. Leucart, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Helen Boll, Richard Fire, Nathan Davis, and others) have died due to health issues or of — GASP! — old age…
Three years later, while he was working at Cannon, Tobe Hooper mentioned, "Things were hard right after Poltergeist, and they shouldn't have been. It was a hit picture and at the very least one would think that, regardless of the controversy — just by association — I should have gotten work."
More to Come…

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