Dancing with Myself: The Top Ten Tales of Terror from Tobe Hooper

  Tobe Hooper

The Top 10 Halloween Highs of Director Tobe Hooper

Willard Tobe Hooper (1943 – 2017) is a legend in cine-massacre history. He was a maverick of the medium and, as some have suggested, the kindest man in Hollywood. I’m not going to disagree because, with every interview read or seen, I feel this Texas-born soft-spoken earnestness. He passed away this year due to natural causes and yet his filmography, full of horror hallmarks and staples, will definitely live on.

His influence on the medium is widespread, igniting the creativity of everyone from Wes Craven to Rob Zombie. Even Ridley Scott gives Hooper props for showing him how to make Alien more effective in its creepy thrills and spills. Hell, most people don’t even realize that Hooper was the director behind Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” video.

Tobe Hooper

When it comes to Hooper, most people only want to argue about who really directed Poltergeist. Personally, I don’t care. Hooper’s name is STILL listed as director and Spielberg STILL wants Hooper to have the credit and that, at least in my mind, is the end of the discussion. Period.

Hooper absolutely provided a way to ignite the horror genre. In fact, his guidance relates directly in how we like our horror films served to us today and he left us with a list of horror film that won’t soon be forgotten. In fact, thanks to the work of some fine distributors in recent years, his body of work is getting a second chance to be fully and uniquely appreciated for its flourishes and technical brilliance.

As it is Halloween time once again, here are the top 10 Tobe Hooper films that every horror fan must see in preparation for an evening of trick or treating.


Body Bags10. Body Bags (1993)

Comprised of three short films – two directed by John Carpenter and one directed by Hooper, Showtime’s anthology of terror, Body Bags, was recently issued on Blu-ray thanks to Scream Factory. It’s a good find for dark nights with little to do. These tales, all connected by Carpenter’s twisted coroner character, are pretty demented but it is Hooper’s third and final story that really twists in the screw. In Hooper’s Eye, Mark Hamill plays a baseball player who, in an unfortunate car accident, loses an eye. He won’t give up his career and becomes desperate to regain full use of his sight. And the lengths he goes to involve a serial killer’s vision of murder most foul.


Spontaneous Combustion9.Spontaneous Combustion (1990)

Very few directors can make b-movies as entertaining as Hooper can. Good or bad, Hooper can certainly salvage a shipwreck with resourceful imagination and sharp intellect. Those talents are certainly on display throughout Spontaneous Combustion, a low-budget thriller that often gets overlooked when folks look at Hooper’s legacy. Starring Brad Dourif as the lone survivor of an Atomic Bomb experiment, this is the tale of a ticking time bomb. Watching Dourif completely spiral out of control as he flexes power over electricity is one enjoyment of the film.


Invaders From Mars8. Invaders from Mars (1986)

When allowed to cut loose, Hooper absolutely delivers a knockout blow and his target with this one is 1950s-era science fiction flicks. Invaders from Mars is a certifiable blast of retrograde science fiction. It is both fierce and funny. Co-written by Alien scribe Dan O’Bannon, the film was the second Cannon Films-produced flop but the film has strong legs. Cannon Films never gave up on the lasting legacy of three films Hooper made for them. The film works better today to deliver the good-natured schlock than it did when it was originally made. And now Cannon Films celebrates it and the other two films Hooper made for them as cult classics.


Lifeforce7. Lifeforce (1985)

With that enticing command of “use my body”, Hooper’s science fiction bonanza, Lifeforce, (s)explodes onto the screen with an interesting premise involving Haley’s comet and a smokin’ hot chick who walks around the ENTIRE movie without any clothes on. With forays into vampire-like erotica and an extended cameo from Patrick Stewart, the film doesn’t succumb to its schlocky science fiction trappings too often.

 


The Funhouse6. The Funhouse (1981)

Being Hooper’s ode to the classic Universal monsters and to late-night carnivals everywhere, The Funhouse is a deliciously odd slice of Americana horror. Released when slashers were all the rage, the film turns its back on the popular movement and reintroduced audiences to the idea of a monster picture. It has a twisted sense to its happenings and, to this day, remains an exploitative look at violence and sexuality as four teenagers decide to stay the night inside a carnival that is home to some seriously demented and sexually depraved freaks and geeks.


Salem's Lot5. Salem’s Lot (1979)

Stephen King’s novels are beasts to adapt for the big screen. Few have pulled it off and even fewer have been successful when the screen is smaller. Every fan of horror acknowledges this and yet Hooper succeeds in his adaptation of Salem’s Lot because he allows King’s characters to be front and center. CBS first aired this two-part film back in 1979 and, honestly, I have to wonder how they got away with it. With a single-minded mission to thrill audiences, Hooper gives us the ultimate high with intense sequences (the window!!) and solid horror storytelling that still rattles the skull. This one is unforgettable.


Eaten Alive4. Eaten Alive (1977)

The surreal atmosphere of the queasy Starlight Motel is a sweaty mass of skin-sation exploits and some nasty-ass pulp fiction. You will either love it or hate it. The fact that it all takes place on a soundstage adds to the overall claustrophobia of the film. Much of Eaten Alive is unsettling. Its murky dream-like qualities and overdramatic acting might not be for everyone but, with strong visuals and a striking set design, Eaten Alive remains a haunting backwoods experience in the Louisiana bayou.

 


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 23. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part Two (1986)

Thirteen years after the original, the Sawyer clan was back in a horror/comedy that continues to divide people. For my part, though, this flick is a certified masterpiece of the genre. The ONLY way you can follow a classic of the horror genre is by making its sequel a straight-up comedy. With results this strong, one can hardly fault them for throwing fans this curve ball. It’s a bloody and brutal affair as America’s favorite family moves into the Dallas suburbs with the secret ingredient to their award-winning chili recipe and their unyielding appetite for carving up humans.


Poltergeist2. Poltergeist (1982)

The television set. The creepy clown. The gnarled tree. And the skeletons. My God, all those skeletons. Poltergeist ruined many childhoods, splitting it right down the middle with the sharp blade of FEAR. I never felt safe in my own home after watching this one as I just knew there was a burial ground below its foundation. How else could you explain the piano playing by itself? The scratches on the door? And the shapes floating about? Now, I know Speilberg was on the set for a large part of the production but there’s quite a bit of Hooper in this haunted tale to convince me that this picture is, ultimately, his film. Poltergeist is still an ultimate haunting.


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

There are few films that compare to the in-the-gut feeling Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre leaves you with. Every imperfection in this low-budget Slasher works in the movie’s favor and adds to the overall grisly experience. The movie is not as violent or as frightening as its legacy of sequels, remakes, one prequel, comic books and video games suggests, yet it leaves you with a very uneasy feeling.


 

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