Sunday, July 31, 2011

Scene from '2001: A Space Odyssey'

I feel it is often restraint and stylistic severity - such as is productive to a holistic expressive vision, and conjointly neutralizing of such habits of story-telling as stylization and the most conventional dramatic involvement (I'll come out with it, essentially the fun in cinema) - that most effectively activates the "art dimension" in the medium. Why is a film not a painting? Because it entertains you.

Out in the world of cinema, there exists those films that can be deemed "anti-roller coasters." It is not that they are stylistically inert, it is just that these films are intent only to entertain as far as the extent and motivations of their thesis, and, ideally, theses are not "fun." Ideally, they are severe, bracing, ironic, deconstructive; deep in dimensions and low in surface pleasures. In fact, sometimes it is achieving of the opposite of fun, or the antagonizing of style, that makes some works as pointedly communicative and truly demonstrative as they are. There are many great filmmakers who make communicative films in their own special way, but there are "anti-roller coasters" in the specific sense of a seemingly utmost devotion to "anti-fun." Or, at least, there is a particular inclination away from being resolutely fashionable, pleasurable, or stylistically showy.

Some possible examples: Godard's often painfully impenetrable output; Chantal Akerman's awkwardly mimetic Jeanne Dielman; the vague thrillers, blatant theses of Michael Haneke; less at home in my argument, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's snail's-pace Edenic tales and Bela Tarr's elegant noir beauties - while wonderful films and fine examples of that newly-minted critical label "slow cinema," I feel Tarr and Weerasethakul are too stylistically, cosmetically, or sentimentally-driven of stylists to fit into this category of rigid masters.

As for Tobe Hooper, he does have a heightened genre style, but I feel it is mostly ironic and deconstructive, never simply elegant or picturesque, and results in style that is not simply narrative-serving, entertainment-serving, or audience-effect-serving. It may not seem like it, but in the deeply embedded, mostly inadvertent way of his, he often gives service to this artistic philosophy of formal rigidity and idea-prioritizing, anti-escapist severity.

Scene from '2001: A Space Odyssey'

A perfectly a-lovely scene that sparkles with slackness, shimmers with un-skill, undulates uneventful; is luminously lumbering, winningly wooden, radiates its repetitiveness and glistens in its gawking -- ardent in its all thumbs, rings ebullient of its bore. Kubrick's cold, mysterious future is first all conference room formality, Man cool and perfectly in control of Man's destiny. Kubrick's camera observes like a surveillance camera.

The first shot sings the praises of the stiltedly. What is a painting? A stilted movie.

The master shot: a stiff, almost-but-not-quite-encompassing shot of the conference room that has to swivel awkwardly left and right in order to get the whole of the room, doing so with the very unpretentious motivation of keeping track of all bodies in action, despite such actions being hardly important (like the man walking away from, and then all the way back to, his seat).

Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper


Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper
And a repeating stream of angles:

- A1

- B1

- C1

- D1

- E1

- A2

- B2

- C2

(A breakage)

- D2

(Another breakage.)

- A3

A return to the awkward, back-of-the-room, swiveling camera. The scene's close burns of brusque, shines its succinct. It (alongside that stiffly attentive camera-eye, the lock-step shot sequence) maddens the notions of gloss and over-production, placating finesse and movie-making flash.

A sharp, interrupting cut to the next scene:

Monday, July 25, 2011


I’ve had a hard enough time with Poltergeist, now I have to deal with co-authorship again with his new novel? Oy vey, why does it seem like you’re doing this on purpose, Mr. Hooper!

Well, I’d be inclined to think Hooper doesn’t have a prose-writing, novel-developing, research-adept bone in his body, so my brain tells me to attribute most everything to Mr. Goldsher (that is, capable writer/novelist/ghost writer Alan Goldsher). But it is a proclaimed fact that Hooper is a collaborator on the novel. We at least know that much, and without contention. Phew. I will attempt to tease out his stamp on it.

In any case, I think the book is an interesting and ambitiously out-there piece of pulp writing experimentation and occasionally-sprawling, occasionally-finely-observed worldly lamentation, even if it's mostly a cloyingly silly and cloyingly anti-tasteful horror mish-mash, made up mostly of simple first-person prose, irritatingly amiable vulgarism, and large concentrations of pure narrative and tonal goofiness, such that it comes off like the world’s most X-rated GOOSEBUMPS book. But while it won’t be making runs through any literary circles, its purposes are elsewhere: it’s fun, and interesting, and capably written, and seems sincerely interested in delivering the goods, and, by those modest virtues alone, seems to have successfully achieved completely what it set out to do.

To restate, I’ll venture that most likely the bulk of the writing is by Mr. Goldsher, while Mr. Hooper just co-concocted the broader story and bounced various ideas off the other. I happened across the article on MIDNIGHT MOVIE in the July issue of Rue Morgue, in which they talk to Goldsher about the project. Some tidbits from that include the fact that Goldsher also helped put down into print Hooper's intro to Robert Englund’s book Hollywood Monster; that Hooper was the “big picture man” in the collaboration while he was the “nuts-and-bolts” man; and that the Hooper of the book is 50% real Hooper, 50% his Hooper supposition, purely of his imagination.

For those who don’t know, the story is: a film Hooper made as a teenager is rediscovered and shown at the SXSW Music Festival, but it has a strange effect on all those who attended and watched, bringing out their worst impulses and manifesting as a contractable disease involving blue bodily expulsions…

It’s hard to make heads or tails what the hell MIDNIGHT MOVIE is, as it is, by matter of fact, a goofy novelty item, yet it's also so utterly narratively insane -- so batshit crazy and fucked-up and at times quite intense, without heed for anything but its own conviction that we need to get a taste of the worst the world is capable of. In that regard, it’s an admirably evocative tale-spinning of extreme awfulness, one with sense enough to let Goldsher and Hooper eke out a teensy moral direction at its heart. That moral core, of course, one really has to dig out of a novel that functions first and foremost as a tie-in book and gross good time. But it’s there, and it is actually found in just how far it is willing to go, its sense of moral weight found in the extent of diverse awfulness it is willing to throw at you. It is a tonally inconsistent book, going from amiable comic novel, to the more hard-boiled passages depicting a world losing center (told through an array of multimedia platforms, from websites to Twitter to newspapers to personal journal entries), to its nerd-catering story of horror pop meta-ness, to the dependable narrative following conventionally likeable, adequately well-drawn, mostly uninteresting heroes and heroines, which includes the gruffed-up Hooper, two level-headed youths (eventual romantic interests, of course), and an assortment of sympathetic best buds and quirky supporting eccentrics.

So does MIDNIGHT MOVIE show any possible narrative Hooper traits?

First of all, its fundamental traits: its genetics trace back to the weird fiction literary tradition (Lovecraft and Machen and the like), and acts upon the gleeful appeal of the always-novel, creeps-guaranteeing “cursed text” premise that recently and most notably has been appropriated in the likes of John Carpenter’s CIGARETTE BURNS and David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE. But taking into account the book’s explicit theme of disease and viral epidemic, the book is clearly a product of the modernity-fixated, social-world-collapsing existentialism of THE RING (it explicitly name-drops it in the book, clearly the story's main forebear) and the whole slew of Japan-originating tales of viral-existential calamity with an explicit socialized slant (Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s PULSE, Sion Sono’s SUICIDE CLUB). MIDNIGHT MOVIE shares a similar abstract slant, with its never-scientifically-explainable allegorical disease, more soul-dissecting than immune system-dissolving.

Now in regards to attributes of a Hooper film, MIDNIGHT MOVIE does share a make-up similar to those of his bold metaphysical clusterfucks LIFEFORCE and SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION (it’s actually highly like the former… both are looks at viral sexuality). They all are about worlds in tailspin, due to the unleashing of diffuse aspects of people’s worst and bleakest impulses, and they forgo literalism in favor of symbolic surrealism and all-out mystical conclusions, in which sense is not served so much as symbolic threads are knotted closed.

In the case of MIDNIGHT MOVIE, the final act has Hooper and Goldsher’s story reverting back from disturbing documentary-like news-reporting to the metafictional quirk of early on, with Hooper returning to the action and getting convinced the one way to possibly help the situation and make amends for the situation he created is to remake his toxic film and figure out how it got its terrible power. It’s a novel plot development and hints at some sort of whimsical commentary about movies and movie-making (and movie-making culpability?). I can’t quite figure out exactly what that is, but, well, it’s something Charlie Kaufman would definitely have been more adept to get meaning out of (Goldsher and Hooper don't quite get there). Anyway, the book then goes on to conclude in the vein of LIFEFORCE and SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, reality getting tossed to the wind in order to execute vividly symbolic climaxes. Here, it involves Pandora’s Box Redux generating itself into something unexplained after Hooper and co. make it in an amnesiac daze; Pandora’s Box Redux actually successfully airing out humanity’s [apparently rainbow-colored] ills; a contempt-filled loser proving a victim of abuse and unexpectedly competent master of destinies; Tobe Hooper himself condemned to hell; and an epilogue of a strikingly happy nature that insists, if the world, and us, tend to go to hell, there’s always, for some, the going-back again.

I’ll say Hooper and Goldsher seem like cool guys with charming, imaginative brains (a segment involving a character's nocturnal vanishing act is awesomely imaginative, a gleeful standalone episode that is weird and outlandish to an extent almost worthy of Lovecraft and Dunsany), and they can certainly churn out a fun, engaging slab of mass market pablum. But thankfully I can go on and say, despite betraying itself to easy comic quipping and splatter-novel stupidness, it is blessedly not a jumble of dull insensitivity and juvenility, or a smorgasbord of deaf-eared misogyny (that, considering the subject matter, it very well could have been), as it doesn’t neglect to contain some prominent female point-of-views and other sensitively formulated female voices (Goldsher is incredibly prolific – he’s also penned some successful “chicklit” novels). As said, the story has a moral center and a dependable grasp on human thought and behavior, and it comes through amidst all the oozing assholes and hardcore zombie murders.

In conclusion, MIDNIGHT MOVIE is a fluffy novel but one with many intriguing points, which includes the allegorical premise in which the awful trends and behaviors of the modern world are generously, graphically exposed to us. If Goldsher is the main brain, one can still see this fucked-up story as being very possibly informed by Hooper’s world-wary world-weary, which is something that seems evident in his films and I feel crops up in his personal words as well. Props, though, most likely should go to Goldsher for formulating the right details for his and Hooper’s occasionally gritty look at empty primal satisfactions, sexual mania, deluded extremism, and amoral anarchy, while the multimedia format taken on by the book effectively explores the theme of activism and the visibility of suffering and atrocity. Much like George Romero’s multimedia Diary of the Dead, explored are the facets of one’s being plugged into the world, and how it must be a careful balance of knowing when to pay attention and when to keep from entering the realm of “activist nihilism,” where spreading activity is not the same as spreading humanity. (One of the more pointed aspects of the book is the back-and-forth of proprietors of a zombie blog, continuously deciding to pick up or drop the hobby when they realize the intensity, and nastiness, it attains in real life; this leads to one of the more poignant aspects of the book: the blog’s last entry is someone sharing his story of seeing a zombie regain his humanity -- tellingly, a very rare, I'd go so far as to say unheard of, occurrence in zombie fiction... “Thank you for welcoming me back into humanity,” the once-zombie says.)

Probably most provocative is Goldsher’s getting into the heads of meth-heads, and his use of endless hell-formulas as a motif representing the ingredients of not just psycho-drugs but also the ingredients of being hopelessly human, and how the slight tweak of biology (via a virus), or crack cocaine, or abuse, rootless sexuality, a man’s fatherlessness, etc., can send a person off the rails of all meaning. The first “recipe” we see is a fantastical meth concoction, the next is for amazingly realistic special effects goop, and the last is that of the central virus itself infected onto Hooper’s movie: “My blood is part of the process…” the plan’s pathetic mastermind writes, a man-child characterized by both childishness and great hurt, and also great knowledge (being a reclusive, obsessive news-rat) of the suffering in the world. “My snot… my shit… my cum… The pain."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

ANNEX POST: Cascade - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2


* A moment from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, in four pieces (go from bottom to top).

This is bold, self-demanding, highly effortful and aspiring visual composition - so striking not because it is "stylish" or sleek, dynamic or thrill-creating, but because it is communicative of idea and meaning.

* Being done here is the kind of allegory-making that is firmly and solely in the hands of the film director-artist -- a purely "directorial" allegory-making. For in his composition (of the dance of characters and camera), is really a graceful and conceptually full visual-symbolical encapsulation of the essence of the brothers' dynamic and the heightened meanings in it. In the form itself is contained the expression of the characters' natures and feelings: the Cook's patriarchal and parochial bullying embodied in the camera's aggression; Leatherface's pitiable vulnerability in his "volleying" in and out of the frame; and Chop-Top's dissociative, manic dissoluteness in his background presence, then ambushing the frame with more of his war-spew.

* Added on top of the articulacy of Hooper's directing is his plunging into the heightened comedic tone - tone, a separate thing from form, having its own allegorical functions and creative results. It suggests a great film adaptation of a work of the Theatre of the Absurd - Carson's script's absurdist tropes grasped by Hooper with a sense of both the comedy and the obscenity of the piece, as well as of character intimacy and the power of clowning and gesture [... yet treated with the same graceful expressiveness of camera that is so uniformly a piece in all Hooper's work, without regression to some low expectation for form in comedic film...]. In fact, Hooper's knack for entropic allegory in general, in the content he chooses, in his formalist directing, and his constant creation of environments so heightened and bleak they're practically existentialist, makes me think Hooper would definitely feel affinity with the work of the absurdist dramatists, and makes me dream of a Tobe Hooper Presents Waiting for Godot.

Cascade - BACKWARD - Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - 1/4
SHOT 1 / Sawyers peer into tunnel, inching TOWARDS the camera. / Camera is moving BACKWARDS with them.

Cascade - FORWARD - Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - 2/4
Drayton Sawyer turns on Leatherface, walks toward him AWAY from camera. / Camera begins to glide FORWARD in step with Drayton Sawyer.

Cascade - BACKWARD / THE VOLLEYING OF LEATHERFACE - Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - 3/4
SHOT 2 / Camera now facing Drayton, gliding BACKWARD in step with Drayton Sawyer. / Leatherface is volleyed in and out of the frame, acted upon by the sudden convening of wills between perspectival camera and assaulting brother.

Cascade - SIDEWAYS - Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - 4/4
Chop-Top unexpectedly ambushes the shot, the ironic culmination of the previous expressiveness achieved in the "Cascade." / SHOT 3 - A wide shot that acts to reveal the banal aftermath of the previously heightened shifting of positions.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


First announced just about two years ago in June 2009, Tobe Hooper's book project and writing collaboration with prolific writer/novelist/ghost-writer Alan Goldsher - a horror novel titled Midnight Movie (portion of cover above - yes, it appears to be somewhat of a "zombie book") - is now literally just around the corner.

It is being released by mega-publisher Random House, Inc. (division Crown Publishing Group, division Three Rivers Press, publishers of the other zombie books, Max Brooks's 'Zombie Survival Guide' and 'World War Z') less than a week from now: this Tuesday, July 12th, 2011. Pre-ordered copies are now being sent to the die-hards' mailboxes, and I'm sure big boxes are being unpacked by still-lucrative book retailers. And the rest await Tuesday, July 12th with their Kindles locked and ready.

The promotional wheels are gearing up as well, horror entertainment websites as I speak plugging Mr. Hooper's literature debut (and me, this is what I'm doing right now). Here's all the information you need to know so far about this big new unfolding for the filmmaker-now-turned-multi-platform-dabbler (and I say, good for you, Mr. Hooper!):

Tobe Hooper's MIDNIGHT MOVIE, Out JULY 12, 2011

Book Information (courtesy of Random House, Inc.):

Midnight Movie: A Novel

Tobe Hooper and Alan Goldsher
Three Rivers Press

The good news: Director Tobe Hooper has been invited to speak at a screening of Destiny Express, a movie he wrote and directed as a teenager, but that hasn’t seen the light of day in decades. And Hooper’s fans are ecstatic.

The bad news: Destiny Express proves to be a killer . . . literally. As the death toll mounts, Tobe embarks on a desperate journey to understand the film’s thirty-year-old origins—and put an end to the strange epidemic his creation has set in motion.

Featuring the terror, humor, and sly documentary style Hooper devotees remember from such classics as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Midnight Movie is vintage Tobe Hooper, again demonstrating the director’s place as one of the godfathers of modern horror.

A book excerpt just put up:

Read an excerpt from Midnight Movie courtesy of

Crown Publishing Group

And readers/comic-book geeks/horror hounds/attendees of Comic-Con: Tobe Hooper will be making an appearance at the 2011 Comic-Con in San Diego, the 1st day of the Con, Thursday, July 21st, at the Random House booth. If you've got your badge all secured, be sure to catch him. If you don't, here's some extra incentive to figure out how to boondoggle your way into the highly-popular super event.

Tobe Hooper Brings His 'Midnight Movie' to Comic-Con
(via FEARnet)

Tobe Hooper's name became synonymous with screen terror for his iconic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But the horror auteur is now tackling another medium -- the printed page. Hooper's first novel, Midnight Movie, will debut next week, on July 12th, from Three Rivers Press. And Hooper will appear at this month's San Diego Comic-Con, from 2-3:30 PM on Thursday, July 21st at the Random House booth, to sign copies. Check out the full cover art for the novel, as well as a synopsis, after the jump.


Here's the official synopsis we received from Hooper's publisher Random House...

The good news: Director Tobe Hooper has been invited to speak at a screening of Destiny Express, a movie he wrote and directed as a teenager, but that hasn't seen the light of day in decades. And Hooper's fans are ecstatic.

The bad news: Destiny Express proves to be a killer . . . literally. As the death toll mounts, Tobe embarks on a desperate journey to understand the film's thirty-year-old origins—and put an end to the strange epidemic his creation has set in motion.

Featuring the terror, humor, and sly documentary style Hooper devotees remember from such classics as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Midnight Movie is vintage Tobe Hooper, again demonstrating the director's place as one of the godfathers of modern horror.

Also, become a fan of Midnight Movie at its Facebook page.

And finally, I shall be getting my own hands on a copy and reading the book myself in the ensuing days, so expect soon enough my thoughts on Hooper's little foray into writing!

If you've read the synopsis of the book, it's a fictional horror novel that follows a half-fictional, half-not character-version of Tobe Hooper, a battle-tested film director also in the book and really by-all-means the same person, such that he retains the name and major facets of his life (such as being the director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).

Clearly the story goes off wildly from there, though I would imagine a major grabbing point of this book is that it contains some essentially quasi-biographical reflections by Hooper on his actual career and life. From perusing the first few chapters in the excerpt linked to above, this seems to be half the case, half-not (in the first chapter, we find out he's editing a remake of Carrie? Huh?), and salience to any critical surveys of his film works is less in the cards than simply a riotous and outrageous fictional yarn, plus a dash of exposé of the Hooper persona: grizzled and industry-disgruntled, a no-bullshit, gin-and-spit, Southern-fried (and semi-profane) all-around-dude with a broad thing or two to say about what grinds his gears and who's a shitbucket (elementary Cheney jab, page 9). So, a novel that allows Hooper to mouth off for 300 pages, with bonus depraved and really messed-up carnage? Sounds like some fun to be had.