The Movie Waffler Five Under-rated Tobe Hooper Movies | The Movie Waffler

Five Under-rated Tobe Hooper Movies

the funhouse 1981
The hidden gems of the late horror master.

Words by Eric Hillis

Filmmaker Tobe Hooper sadly passed away on August 26th 2017. Though he failed to enjoy the commercial success of the other three members of 'The Fangoria Four' - John Carpenter, Wes Craven, George Romero - Hooper leaves behind a legacy of movies that helped shape and define the horror genre in its '70s and '80s heyday.

Every horror fan should be familiar with Hooper's groundbreaking grindhouse masterpiece The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, his iconic TV adaptation of Stephen King's Salem's Lot (arguably the best screen representation of King's work), and his much debated collaboration with Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist. But look beyond Hooper's celebrated work and you'll find some forgotten minor gems. Here we've picked five of Hooper's movies that we feel deserve more attention.

Eaten Alive (1976)
eaten alive 1976
Hooper reteamed with his Texas Chain Saw Massacre co-writer Kim Henkel for his difficult third film. Just as TCM drew on the exploits of serial killer Ed Gein, Eaten Alive was inspired by Joe Ball, a Texan killer rumoured to have disposed of his victims by feeding them to his pet alligator. In the movie, Neville Brand plays a deranged motel owner who offs his tenants by the same method. Shot entirely on a primary colour lit sound stage, Eaten Alive plays like Dario Argento adapting Tennessee Williams. The film was initially banned on video in the UK, one of the first titles added to the 'Video Nasty' list. Look out for a wonderfully sleazy early performance by horror icon Robert Englund ("My name is Buck, and I like to...").

The Funhouse (1981)
the funhouse 1981
Before finding brief fame as the female lead of Milos Forman's Amadeus, Elizabeth Berridge was terrorised as the final girl of Hooper's 1981 carnival set thriller. In a plot that would be ripped off several times over the course of the '80s, The Funhouse has a quartet of teens stalked by a deformed killer while trapped in a ghost train. Before we get to that point however, Hooper spends time revelling in the atmosphere of the unique world of the carnival. British censors were unsuccessful in their attempts to add The Funhouse to the 'Nasties' list. Think Scooby Doo meets Freaks.

Lifeforce (1985)
lifeforce 1985
Anyone who happened to be a young heterosexual male horror fan in the mid-80s will have fond memories of discovering Lifeforce and its naked female space vampire (Mathilda May) on VHS or late night TV airings. The first of three movies Hooper made under the notorious Cannon Films banner, Lifeforce was slaughtered by critics and bombed hard at the box office. Time has been kind to Hooper's film however - which is a fun homage to British sci-fi of the '50s and '60s, and features some genuinely impressive special effects - with recent blu-ray releases prompting more positive reevaluations. You can see Lifeforce's influence in this year's reboot of The Mummy.

Invaders From Mars (1986)
invaders from mars 1986
Despite boasting a much lower budget than Lifeforce, Hooper's second collaboration with Cannon Films again failed to break even, and received another critical bashing. Hooper's Invaders From Mars is of course a remake of the beloved 1953 William Cameron Menzies directed classic. While the first half of Menzies' film is undoubtedly brilliant, capturing Cold War paranoia as seen through the eyes of a child, it loses much steam once the military show up and the narrative moves beyond its all-American small town milieu. The greatest flaw of Hooper's film is that it sticks too closely to the original, and once again falls flat when the army gets involved. But those early small town scenes are charming in a Joe Dante way, and the film is due for rediscovery in this post Stranger Things landscape of '80s nostalgia.

Toolbox Murders (2004)
toolbox murders
After the 1986 double of Invaders From Mars and his TCM sequel, Hooper's filmography makes for grim reading, propped up mostly with journeyman TV work. He made a minor comeback however in 2004 with this remake of 1978's The Toolbox Murders. Toning down the gore and grime of the original, Hooper's version is a black comedy that plays more like a spiritual sequel to his own Eaten Alive, introducing us to a quirky cast of characters - the residents of an apartment complex, who are being bumped off one by one by a masked killer. Cult star Angela Bettis is excellent in the lead role, and really should have enjoyed a more high profile career.