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."


Rodney said...

Danka for the review. I'm going to pick this one up. It sucks that there is even a question that Hooper doesn't have a voice in the writing and it is supposedly mostly ghost written. I do think Hooper is criminally underrated as a writer and would hope that this would have squashed any Poltergeist type of drama. Oops

JR said...

No problem at all. Hope you find it worth it.

Underrated as a writer, really? Haha, perhaps. It is the nature of his films as much as the style that I admire, even if he's no master playwright.

Plus, the Bloody-Disgusting review of MIDNIGHT MOVIE probably puts it clearer than I ever did: "At its worst moments Midnight Movie feels like a long wade through the written whims of a pair of authors who simply slapped the contents of their stoner-fied imaginations down on the page."

Rodney said...

JR- I did pick up the book at a liquidating Borders but have yet to read it.

I do feel Hooper is undervalued as a writer. Sure he may not be the most elegant speaker but he was the brains behind Texas Chainsaw and contributed a lot to the script with Kim Henkel. He seems to work best in collaboration and is an idea man.

Going back to Poltergeist I would say that there are tons of Hooper traits in it..Just look at the lighting of when the parents at the neighbors during the "mosquito" scene or the scene where the guy tears his face off. Both of those examples are more like Eaten Alive than anyone gives him credit for. And I would say based on readings that Hooper had a lot to do with the story of Poltergeist too.

Spontaneous Combustion has a very cool story but is bogged down by production restraints. While it is grade A late 80's-early 90's cheese and a modern throwback to the B's of old, it was a imaginative way of trying to explain spontaneous combustion.

And while The Mangler may be awesomeley bad and entertaining it still has some golden lines. Like when Ted Levine says something to the effect of "Yeah we'll just goi down and knock on her dorr..Hey there's this demonically posessed folding machine that is killing people..are you a virgin?"

JR said...

I'll agree Ted Levine really gets to yuck it up in The Mangler, and mostly I really just enjoy it. Goofy movie that I love.

And I see what you mean. Hooper, whether he had a hand in screenplays or not, gravitates towards weird/cool/outré, and he no doubt wrote/guided the particular narratives of Texas Chainsaw and Eaten Alive.