Tuesday, June 19, 2012

THAS: Some Immediate Notes on 'The Dark' and 'Venom'

I recently watched Hooper's two "fired films," The Dark (1979) and Venom (1981), two films that Hooper began filming but shortly into production were fired from. I did not expect either of them to have any bearings as Hooper works, but The Dark proved something of a surprise in this matter:

'The Dark'
If I didn't know any better... I'd place a good-size bet on the idea that more than a modicum of Hooper's DNA still exists in the finished film that is The Dark, despite never-challenged claims that Hooper barely worked two days on the film, and that perhaps not a sliver of what he shot is actually in the final film.

It's a film widely regarded as the stinkiest of turkeys, mainly due to openly-reported, clownish post-production tampering: the producers, wanting to ride the coattails of Alien's success, altered the film with "fancy" post-production tricks to make the creature an alien from outer space who can shoot lasers out of his eyes. But I found The Dark utterly charming in large portions - in its elaborate script, its style, and its narrative whimsy that informs said style. It all seemed very Hooperian to me... I may be stepping out of my bounds, to both Hooper who disowned the film fair-and-square (very reasonable, if you only shot two days of it), and to the credited director John 'Bud' Cardos, who took the film upon him fair-and-square, but it's a feeling I'll find hard to shake. More thoughts to come.

On 'Venom'

I could make a similar argument for Venom, citing its use of its London townhouse setting's enclosed, angular walls, and the heightened drama of interacting characters within those walls, but Venom seems clear to me much removed from Hooper's stamp. Having listened to this film's DVD Director's Commentary, British director Piers Haggard does indeed state none of Hooper's footage is in the final cut of the film.

But Venom is an interesting case. All in all, it is not a stand-out film, though the film's unfortunate production circumstances should be put to blame, Haggard being thrown into this production without the chance to prepare it and nurse its visual style to his own vision from the ground up (a disadvantage he explicitly laments in his commentary).

Anyway, here are salient bits from Haggard's DVD commentary:

* According to Haggard's commentary on the DVD, the film had shot for 9 days before the production stopped and he was brought on. Hooper was not up to it for reasons unspecified.

* Piers Haggard, in response to the question of whether any of Hooper's footage was kept in the film: "All of Tobe Hooper's material was in fact dropped, none of it was kept... I changed some of the costumes... he had Klaus [Kinski] as a grim Nazi and I thought that was quite wrong and outdated." "... Along with this thing of making Klaus into a kind of Nazi, he did a sort of Nazi lighting... and it was all sort of derivative of Fritz Lang, all lit from below... kind of a bit stereotyped... cliched." Haggard opted to go for a more realistic approach.

Without wanting to besmirch Haggard, who I am not familiar with as a filmmaker and whose decision regarding Kinski's character is certainly not a bad one, I of course cannot help but wonder what sort of vision was up Hooper's sleeve, despite Haggard's dislike for it.

The unresolvable mystery of what were Hooper's plans for the film continues to tease while one continues watching the film, as -- Haggard only being brought on at the shooting stage -- Hooper was the sole force involved in the film's pre-production, so all design and script decisions were made under his auspices. Haggard mentions often butting up against the established set design and dressing, completed under Hooper, and seeing the film's rather rich set design and location is another sad flag set off in the land of "What if?".

Finally, one cannot disregard casting, which Hooper's involvement in is a fascinating certainty. Venom arguably would have been his most spectacular and daring cast, even more so than Salem's Lot, which was filled with legendary veteran actors, but not current international superstars (and strong personalities) like Oliver Reed, Susan George, and the notorious Klaus Kinski.

In regards to the script, I did not find much too interesting about it - if Hooper had carried through, this would have been his most conventional (and conventionally exciting, conventionally effective) film, although I would not doubt him being attracted to the striking townhouse-interior setting, the British humor involving the head officer on the case (comedy involving no-nonsense men of authority seeming to be one of Hooper's fixations during this period of his career, it being a major element in the military milieu of Lifeforce and the cop story of The Dark - in fact, a combination of this element from The Dark and Venom's London setting seem to be direct feeds into Lifeforce, where Hooper seems to be recouping the losses of both his British film and his procedural film), and the film's revolving display of textured characters - the grandson and his grandfather (played by the great Sterling Hayden) and the warmth between them; a beautiful and trusted nanny (Susan George) revealed duplicitous conspirator; the lumbering and bullish chauffeur in sexual cahoots with her (Oliver Reed); a maternal toxicologist (Sarah Miles) thrown into the line of fire; and, of course, the mastermind international criminal played by Klaus Kinski.

A final tidbit gleaned from Haggard's Venom DVD commentary:

* Hooper was working with frequent Nicolas Roeg DP Anthony Richmond (who also served as DP for Bernard Rose's Candyman) before Hooper was dropped and Richmond also was replaced.

So, with the lost prospect of having Hooper working with the DP of Don't Look Now being a bit too painful to dwell on, and the fact that there isn't much more to say, that shall end my immediate notes on Hooper's "fired films": two films that would have been fascinating projects for Hooper, as Hooper really would never work on an air-tight, old-fashioned suspense piece/sturdy character drama quite like Venom, or a work of pulpy genre-noir like The Dark.


Anonymous said...

I have an old English film trade magazine with a photo of Hooper and Martin Bregman posing on the set of Venom not long before he was sacked/quit. Also, David Sherwin, who wrote If..., o Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital, spent months in LA writing numerous drafts of Venom. Here is what Sherwin had to say in his autobiography Going Mad in Hollywood -
‎"It took three years for Venom finally to go into production. The screenplay was rewritten by another writer and reverted litralistically to the original novel. All my inventions and subleties were cut ou bar one original line of dialogue. The first director, Tobe Hooper, had a nervous breakdown trying to make a film out of this scenario. he was replaced by Piers Haggard. It is sad: it could have been a great movie."

JR said...

D'oh. I'm partial, of course, but yeah I'd have wanted to see the Sherwin/Hooper version.

So, Jonny Sambuca of Facebook? :) Thanks a bunch for the scoop. I'll add The Tobe Hooper Fan Club Facebook page to the site's links.

Anonymous said...

I got a copy of The Dark to listen to the commentary. Very badly recorded with the Elma Fudd voiced member of the team becoming highly annoying. The on camera intervew with Cardos was better. Not much about Hooper though. And would Hooper's version have been as poorly photographed?

Anonymous said...

On The Funhouse bluray (Arrow) Derrick Powers says that John Bud Cardos was responsible for getting TH the sack.

JR said...

Ha! Yeah, there's a lot of accounts out there... If you get a hold of the Cinefantastique edition on "Salem's Lot," Hooper talks about it himself - vaguely, of course. Saying something about him and the AD (which I assume is Cardos) "being friends," but then a push against him by the producers - and I guess Cardos - ultimately conspiring to get him fired.

My latest conclusions about The Dark is that some Steven Spielberg shit is going down: Cardos made the film, directed the swingin' performances, and surely a bunch of ideas of his are in there that make the film great, but Hooper's presence in the development means he totally Spielberged it (ala Spielberg with Poltergeist).