Tag Archives: Tobe Hooper

Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce

Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce is the most dementedly unique horror SciFi mashup you’ll get. Based on a novel that’s literally titled ‘The Space Vampires’, the film is exactly that and more. It’s so out of it’s mind that at a certain point you have to surrender and bask in it, and grab the sides of the cart as it veers between all kinds of increasingly bonkers plot points. When a strange, rice kernel shaped object shows up in earth’s atmosphere, a team of exploratory astronauts led by intrepid Steve Railsback goes on up to investigate. What they find up there eclipses any weirdness aboard the Nostromo, Millennium Falcon or Event Horizon. Intergalactic vampires lie in creepy cryo suspension, just waiting for unlucky hosts to come along. Soon they’re exposed to earth and it’s a gory mad dash all over London to stope them from turning every earthling into zombies. Yes, that’s actually the plot, and despite how it sounds on paper, they really make it work. That’s mostly thanks to the screen shattering, ridiculously good special effects, especially in the opening aboard the alien’s strange, baroque vessel which is one of the most otherworldly and atmospheric sequences in any horror film ever. Once the action shifts back to earth it’s a pure shit show and near comedy of errors, with Railsback’s frenzied cosmonaut teaming up with a peppy British intelligence agent (Peter Firth), and even Patrick Stewart comes out to play as some vague scientific bro. There’s boundless imagination at work here, carried by sheer movie magic to contribute lasting, impressive images and create an entirely unique horror experience. Plus, how could a flick about space vampires not be amazing (we will not speak of Dracula 3000). A sci-Fi horror classic, an under-sung jewel of visual flights of fancy and practical effects laden nightmares.  

-Nate Hill

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The Blind Wolf speaks: An Interview with Kurando Mitsutake by Kent Hill

Independent film making is a minefield.

I recall Tarantino being asked for his advice on how to break into the film business. In his response he compared films to waves breaking against the shore. One after another, after another. I’m paraphrasing here, but at the end of his answer he said if you really want people to stand up and take notice, then you have to put a killer shark on one of those waves.

Kurando Mitsutake has been climbing the mountain towards success in the industry for a while now. Burdened by low budgets and tight schedules, he has refused to surrender to defeat by virtue of his tenacity and creativity. Thus he has gone on to produce a collection of eclectic, action-packed explosions that not only homage but summon the spirit of the heady days of that glorious age that saw the rise of exploitation cinema.

Beginning with his audacious debut Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf, Mitsutake brought to my mind memories of Jodorowsky’s El Topo as he would himself write, direct, produce and even star in the ultra-violent extravaganza that carried all the delightful hallmarks of a revenge western, along with shades of Kenji Misumi’s Lone Wolf and Cub series.

Success lies at the ends of roads that present everything from gentle rises to precipitous falls. Kurando has known both and has managed to endure. His ability to deliver furious and engaging movies on a shoestring has preempted his rise, and rise again. He is a filmmaker on the verge of greatness, and what he may he yet achieve with a healthier budget or, dare I say it, studio backing will be (I have no doubt) a film the likes of which the world has not yet experienced.

He was an absolute delight to talk to and I say to you now, mark well and remember – Kurando Mitsutake has only just begun. His journey will captivate, his cinema will excite.

I give now, The Blind Wolf himself . . . . Kurando Mitsutake.

THE FUNHOUSE (1981) – A REVIEW BY PATRICK CRAIN

Poor Tobe Hooper. Unlike other genre contemporaries such as John Carpenter, George Romero, and David Cronenberg, he really didn’t waltz into the 1980’s with unlimited potential and the brightest of futures. Despite helming the Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974 and the well-received television adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot in 1979, Hooper’s reputation was one of an unreliable commodity; a combative personality who had been a contributing factor to the troubled production of Eaten Alive, Hooper’s third feature, and someone who had been outright fired from the William Devane/Cathy Lee Crosby vehicle, the Dark, in 1979.

But with horror at peak interest in the early 80’s, every studio was looking to get in on the action. And what studio wouldn’t want to splash “From the director of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre” across the front of the poster? Universal Studios certainly did. What emerged from Tobe Hooper’s major studio debut did him little favors in terms of his future (Poltergeist was a life-raft tossed his way by Steven Spielberg). But, in retrospect, the Funhouse is one of Hooper’s strongest films; another addition in a line of narratives about an almost folklorish, ruined America, where families are still separated by class and equally troubled. If the cannibalistic Sawyer family represented the unmanageable pioneer lifestyle amid an industrial society in the first Texas Chain Saw Massacre and a gluttonous shark swimming in Reagan’s pools of unfettered hypercapitalism in the sequel, the Funhouse’s twin families reflect America’s white hot fascination with both nightmarish tragedies that were being peddled by television magazine shows and tabloids and their voyeuristic curiosity for the malformed versus a travelling family populated by society’s outcasts.

There is a certain urban myth flavor permeating the central idea of the Funhouse. After a night of pot smoking and grab-ass at the local carnival, the wise guy in a group of four kids on a double date proposes they all spend the night in “The Funhouse” (which, as Wikipedia would correctly point out, is actually a dark ride). What lives within the Funhouse is the Barker and his hideously deformed son who helps work the Funhouse with the cloaking aid of a Frankenstein’s Monster mask. Not long after the kids witness the murder of a fortune teller at the hand of the Barker’s son, they are discovered by the Barker and their attempts to exit the Funhouse are thwarted at every turn. Will they survive the night?!?

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In 1981, the failure of the Funhouse was partly due to Universal’s decision to make the film look more like it was an entry in the slasher genre than what it really was; an homage to the horror film in general with elements of multiple eras represented throughout. While it was certainly made sense from a production standpoint to utilize as much no-charge Universal Monster iconography as possible, it’s hard to discount that the monster in the Funhouse is, like the majority of those early creatures, truly a monster to be pitied and goaded on to aggressiveness by his abusive, alcoholic, and manipulative father. For more modern influences, the opening shot recalls both the shower scene in Psycho and the opening moments of John Carpenter’s Halloween (and even Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, if you’re being generous). The traveling carnival setting has its roots in the oldest of American folktales including those that are represented in our films, such as Tod Browning’s Freaks.

But the Funhouse also hints at a true, simmering horror within in the modern family, and if there’s a nagging issue with the film, it is that its less successful in fleshing this out effectively. The mother for the representative “good” family seems to be a short-tempered alcoholic that instills nothing but fear and dread in her children but we can only guess at this given her scant screen time and the opaque dialogue surrounding her character.

Other than that, the characters and situations do offer up a certain dark streak that runs throughout the film and hints at something deeper. The clean-cut daughter, our identifiable “Final Girl,” isn’t exactly the frigid, do-gooder as in other films from the era. Instead, Elizabeth Berridge’s all-American Amy Harper disobeys her dad, smokes grass, engages in some free-spirited sexual misconduct, and goes along with the crowd without much resistance at all. The ubiquitous younger brother character has a certain perverseness given his prank in the opening moments of the film. I mean, it never occurred to me to, as a goof, take pictures of my older, naked sister in the shower. Additionally, in a nifty plot pivot, the “good kids” find themselves in double-jeopardy after the wise guy pulls a dick move and steals from the Barker and his son. Sure, this is a standard horror device but the motivation suggests a certain deterioration in Hooper’s overall worldview. After all, in both the Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the protagonists’ transgressions were no greater than simply stumbling upon the antagonists’ hunting ground.

But from most standpoints, the Funhouse is an impressive film. The cast is uniformly great; Elizabeth Berridge radiates a nervous and apprehensive sweetness, Kevin Conroy is perfectly greasy as the corn liquor-soaked Barker (Conroy actually turns up as three different barkers, hustling for the strip tease, the freak-of-nature tent, and the Funhouse), Cooper Huckabee sports the right amount of Dirk Daring-Do as Barrage’s lunkheaded date with a heart of gold, De Palma regular William Finley turns up as the nip-taking, ghoulish Magician, and the always exciting Sylvia Miles, sporting the hammiest gypsy accent this side of Grayson Hall on Dark Shadows, steals each scene she occupies as the Fortune Teller. The film also sports some really beautiful widescreen camera work (including some fun split-diopter compositions and epic crane shots) courtesy of the great Andrew Laszlo, a master of color and darkness who gave Walter Hill’s the Warriors and Streets of Fire their distinctive comic book look. Here, much like in Hooper’s Eaten Alive, the colors give the film a roadside attraction garishness the look of which is as threaded into the American consciousness as the colors of the flag.

Like anything Tobe Hooper made after 1974, the Funhouse is far from perfect. The ending confrontation feels anticlimactic, uninspired, and deflated and there is a wish that at least some of the backstory that was written into the Dean Koontz’s novelization (initially released under the pseudonym Owen West) could have been incorporated into the domestic moments, if only to flesh out the parental conflicts with the children and restore a much-needed balance of subtext. But, as it stands, the Funhouse remains an overlooked, colorful homage to the institution of American horror, both real and imagined.

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