Five Overlooked Gems From The Late Tobe Hooper

Jacob celebrates a few of the horror maven's less reputable works.

When Tobe Hooper passed this past weekend, a significant figure within horror filmmaking history was lost. Sure, Hooper redefined the face of cinema with the immortal Texas Chain Saw Massacre (’74), but the auteur was also a consummate weird artist, creating macabre visions that solely belonged to him. Hooper combined pulp sensibilities with a legitimate sense of “anything can happen”; chaotic and often grit-coated forays that weren’t afraid of poppy colors.

It’s difficult to locate any filmography where you’re able to describe many of its entries as “singular”, but Hooper’s CV is dotted with just that: movies that are unlike anything else out there. His commitment to oddity was simply incredible, and we should be discussing much more beyond TCM and it’s admittedly audacious sequel. So this writer thought it pertinent to slap together a quick list of Tobe Hooper’s overlooked gems…

Eaten Alive [1976] (w. Alvin L. Fast, Mohammed Rustam & Kim Henkel)

Playing like Hooper’s version of a Tennessee Williams hot house horror drama, this initial follow up to Texas Chain Saw (which is also co-written by Kim Henkel) is bathed in various scorching primary colors, telling the tale of another seedy house in the middle of nowhere, manned by a scythe-wielding hick (Neville Brand) and his oversized pet killer croc. Jam-packed with an assortment of character actors (William Finley, Mel Ferrer, Robert Englund) behaving badly (Englund is especially nasty in a scene with a prostitute), Hooper just can’t let these East Texas rednecks go. Submerging the audience in sweaty filth, there’s no escaping this claustrophobic motel hell, as you can feel the young auteur trying to recapture that same sense of madness he’d bottled with TCM. He doesn’t quite get there due to the ornate stageiness of the production, but that doesn’t mean you feel any less dirty after spending a night in this pit of oblivion. One of the few “Video Nasties” that actually feels like it deserves the label, primarily due to the overwhelming sense of irredeemable despair Eaten Alive leaves you with.

Lifeforce [1985] (w. Dan O’Bannon & Don Jakoby)

Hooper spent much of the late '70s/early '80s getting fired from various projects (mostly due to his debilitating cocaine habit), but once he found a home at Cannon Films, it seemed to be a sleaze factory he slid into quite comfortably. Reportedly pitched to Hooper by Menahem Golan personally, simply by sliding a copy of Colin Wilson’s dime store paperback (“The Space Vampires”) across the table and saying “this is your next movie”, Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby’s script owns one of the strangest structures in cinema history. The film is basically broken up into seven acts, each with a mini-protagonist who has their own encounter with Mathilda May’s soul sucking space vampire. From that blueprint, Hooper built a movie that starts in outer space, and almost ends with the decimation of earth, complete with its own zombie outbreak. While arguably a touch too long (the superior International Cut runs close to two hours), there’s enough wild energy running through the picture to fuel a whole franchise of Hammer knockoffs. Lifeforce is epic sci-fi/horror at its most extravagant, pushing the limits of what we consider a B-Movie due to its ambitious attention to scope.

Invaders From Mars [1986] (w. Dan O’Bannon & Don Jakoby)

Hooper’s second Cannon collaboration with Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby, Invaders From Mars is a reimagining of Bill Menzies’ ’53 drive-in classic, where a young boy believes that aliens are brainwashing his idyllic neighborhood. Only in the hands of Tobe Hooper, it becomes a drugged out, prosthetic laden creature feature that’s fun for the whole family (if your whole family is made up of sticky deviants). Golan and Globus were reportedly furious with the final product, as instead of the standard sci-fi horror/thriller they were expecting, the director went way over budget (to the tune of $12 million) and had no intention of ever crafting a genuinely “scary movie”. The SFX work by Stan Winston (who was working on James Cameron’s Aliens simultaneously) is utterly incredible, turning the titular invaders into these bulbous wackos who are picture perfect for this candy coated slice of crazy. Easily one of the weirdest entries into a particularly freaky filmography.

The Mangler [1995] (w. Tobe Hooper, Stephen David Brooks & Harry Alan Towers)

While The Lawnmower Man will always be the strangest Stephen King adaptation, The Mangler gives it a run for its money, simply on premise alone, as a haunted industrial washing machine develops a taste for human flesh. Hooper had developed quite the rapport with Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, over the years, and The Mangler allows the horror legend to deliver his equivalent of a Vincent Price character in Bill Gartley – the one-eyed owner of this cavernous tomb of cleanliness. Hooper’s loose adaptation of King’s prose is a perfect example of a filmmaker taking one the of the author’s short stories and expanding it into his own take entirely, the synopsis becoming a jumping off point for filmic ridiculousness. For '90s horror fans, The Mangler is a fascinating curiosity, never really approaching “good” by any common measurement of quality, but nonetheless relentlessly entertaining in its guarantee of industrial bloodletting.

The Toolbox Murders [2004] (w. Jace Anderson & Adam Gierasch)

The late '90s and early aughts were not a kind time to Tobe Hooper, when he mostly churned out episodes for TV series, and unwatchable DTV trash (Crocodile). But every now and again, he’d slip another act of cinematic cruelty in through the backdoor, such as this remake of the notoriously scuzzy '70s slasher. Starring Angela Bettis (May), Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch’s script takes the rather basic premise of the original (a handyman starts killing members of his apartment complex with the various tools in his box) and repurposes it into a supernatural thriller where an otherworldly being begins to off tenants with various pieces of renovation equipment. There’s nothing overly flashy about the film, but Hooper applies a knack for mean-spirited brutality to what could’ve otherwise been a rather routine redux. It’s just a shame that we didn’t value the director’s oddball talents during the latter part of his career, because the sturdiness of this DTV blood feast reveals a genre workman able to deliver cheap thrills for little to no money at all. Rest in peace, Tobe. You will be sorely missed.