End Credits #72: Cinema's 2017 Lost Treasures Tobe Hooper
Along with Wes Craven (August 2, 1939 - August 30, 2015) who died just two years ago and the more recent loss of George Romero (February 4, 1940 - July 16, 2017), horror fans now mourn the loss of yet another master filmmaker who excelled in the genre: writer, director, producer, and actor Tobe Hooper (January 25, 1943 - August 26, 2017) who has died at age 74.
Guest contributor Bob DiMucci has provided this tribute to his filmmaking career:
The Films of Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper, a former college professor and documentary cameraman, had his breakout film as a director with 1974's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. (Although many reviews, articles and some publicity for the film list the title as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” onscreen credits spell “chain saw” as two words.) Before the film, a lengthy written statement that also is heard in voice-over claims that the events in the story are true, but the film was actually inspired by the novel Psycho, by Robert Bloch, a fictionalized account of the life of Ed Gein (1906—1984). Gein, a handyman who resided in Plainfield, WI, was arrested after police found dismembered bodies and disinterred corpses strewn all over his farm house, and later charged him with two murders. Gein had fashioned masks and “keepsakes” from the bones and skins of the bodies. Hooper claims to have gotten the idea for his take on the story while standing in the hardware section of a crowded store. While thinking of a way to get out through the crowd, he spotted the chainsaws.
Many of those who participated in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE were former film students from the University of Texas, Austin. Co-writer and director Hooper was a film instructor at the university. Star Marilyn Burns, who played “Sally,” and executive editor Bill Parsley were with the Texas Film Commission. The film was the first onscreen credit for comedy actor John Larroquette. (According to Larroquette, his payment for doing the opening narration was a marijuana joint.) THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was Hooper's first nationally released film. Although he previously had produced, directed, co-written, edited and photographed the low-budget 1969 feature EGGSHELLS, that picture had a very limited, regional distribution.
In the film, scenes of skinned and boiling entrails over a large cauldron and the “dinner” sequence where Sally is tormented imply that the family of slaughterhouse workers are cannibals. In the story, the mask worn by “Leatherface” is supposed to be made from dried human flesh and made-up with lipstick.
The film was produced for $140,000 from investors ranging from several attorneys, some relatives of the filmmakers, and a suspected marijuana smuggler. Upon its completion, the film was rejected by every major Hollywood studio and several minor ones before being picked up by Bryanston Distributors, a small, family-run company that also distributed Andy Warhol’s FRANKENSTEIN (1974) and action star Bruce Lee’s RETURN OF THE DRAGON (1974), among other low budget films. Bryanston’s president and vice president, brothers Louis and Joseph Peraino, were suspected by police of having connections with the Joseph Colombo Mafia family. Louis Peraino had made a fortune in producing and distributing the 1972 X-rated film, DEEP THROAT.
Surprisingly, this film is not particularly bloody. Hooper intended to make the movie for a [PG] rating, by keeping violence moderate, language mild, and having most of the horror implied off-screen rather than shown in great detail onscreen. However, his ideas as to what would qualify for a [PG] rating did not correspond to those of the Ratings Board. Despite cutting and repeated submissions, the Ratings Board insisted on an [X] rating, and it wasn't until the film received the [R] rating when Hooper gave up and released it.
Upon its release, the film garnered mixed reviews. The Los Angeles Times reviewer called it “despicable… ugly and obscene,” while Hollywood Reporter called it “compelling and gruesome.” Over the next two years, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE took in a worldwide box office return of $20 million. However, after Bryanston investors had been paid, the twenty-one Texas based filmmakers were left with only $8,100 to divide between themselves. Eventually the producers sued Bryanston for failing to pay them their full percentage of the box office profits. A court judgment instructed Bryanston to pay the filmmakers $500,000, but in 1976, Bryanston collapsed after the Perainos were charged and indicted for obscenity and conspiracy charges for distributing DEEP THROAT. The company declared bankruptcy. Distribution rights for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE were picked up by New Line Cinema in 1983, and New Line gave the producers a larger share of the profits
Although the film was screened in May 1975 at the Cannes “Director’s Fortnight,” and in 1976 won the critics prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival, it was banned in France for five years after its national censor board rated it “X” for violence.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE went on to become one of the most successful and influential exploitation pictures in the history of the movies. By 1982, it had earned a total of $50 million in worldwide receipts and would inspire a number of “knife” or “slasher” pictures such as MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE (1977), TORSO (1983), PROM NIGHT (1980) and two of the horror genre’s longest running film series, HALLOWEEN (1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980).
Although Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell receive credit for the film’s “score,” the film’s soundtrack contains no sounds from musical instruments (with the exception of some copyrighted music to which the filmmakers had the rights). Instead they used sounds an animal would hear inside a slaughterhouse.
In EATEN ALIVE!, a psychotic redneck (Neville Brand) who owns a dilapidated hotel in rural East Texas kills various people who upset him or his business, and he feeds their bodies to a large crocodile that he keeps as a pet in the swamp beside his hotel. The film was loosely based on the story of Joe Ball from Elmendorf, Texas (also known as the “Bluebeard from South Texas” or the “Alligator Man”). Sometime after Prohibition ended, he owned a bar with an alligator pit serving as an entertainment attraction. Ball was suspected of murdering several women, but it was never proven that the flesh found in the pit was human. However, Ball committed suicide at his bar on September 24, 1938 when he was about to be arrested by the police in connection with the murders.
EATEN ALIVE! was shot, in part, on a soundstage, using dry-ice fog effects in the style of earlier Hollywood horror films. A sixteen-to-seventeen foot mechanical crocodile, along with a three-foot “walking” model, were used to simulate the killer reptile.
Producer Mardi Rustam set up his own distribution company (Virgo International Pictures) for the film, originally planning an 8 September 1976 release in 600 theaters. However, the film was not released until May 1977. The 5 December 1977 Los Angeles Times review called the film, “one horrendous and ludicrous movie where bondage, brutality and sadism are rampant.”
In 1978, EATEN ALIVE! was part of a challenge to a Chicago, IL, law that allowed the city’s film review board to rate films as “adult only” based on violence. The city sued after New World Pictures refused to accept the classification restricting anyone under age eighteen from seeing one of its films, PEOPLE TOYS. Judge Raymond K. Berg upheld the 1976 Chicago ordinance banning the exhibition of violent films to minors.
Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell provided the film’s music, which has not had a release.
In the 1979 two-part made-for-television film SALEM’S LOT, David Soul played a successful novelist who returns to his boyhood home and finds strange doings, behind many of which is a sinister-looking antique dealer played by James Mason. Tobe Hooper directed the film from a teleplay by Paul Monash based on Stephen King’s novel. Producer Richard Kobritz selected Hooper after viewing THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
Hooper recalled that the makeup work on Reggie Nalder (“Kurt Barlow”) had to be constantly touched up as it would crack or fall off while the actor was performing for the camera. Hooper said that the film's finale required numerous takes to keep the makeup work intact during shooting.
The original 184-minute telefilm was cut down to 150 minutes for a single night’s rerun on network television. A 112-minute version was prepared for theatrical release overseas and for U.S. cable TV. This latter version has some different music than appeared in the original. Henry Sukman’s score for the original full-length film received an Emmy nomination. He lost to Jerry Fielding, who received a posthumous award for his score for the television movie HIGH MIDNIGHT. Sukman’s score was released by Intrada in 2013.
When four teenage friends go to the carnival and spend the night in THE FUNHOUSE, they are stalked by a deformed man in a mask. Star Elizabeth Berridge was given an “Introducing” credit, although she had appeared in the 1979 independent film NATURAL ENEMIES.
Producer Derek Power assembled the creative team of THE FUNHOUSE and brought the filmmakers to executive producer Mace Neufeld. The team included director Tobe Hooper. Although the script described the monster as a “troll,” special makeup designer, Rick Baker advanced the design from a deformed person to a type of mythological creature. His goal was, in his words, to create something “overwhelmingly ugly, but strangely sympathetic.” The latex mask was molded to the features of actor Wayne Doba, who was formerly a Berkeley, CA, street mime and was performing at a Miami restaurant when he was discovered by Power and Hooper.
A period carnival, with a freak show and rides dating to the 1940s and 1950s, was discovered in Akron, OH, and moved to Norin Studios in Miami, where it was reassembled for the production. Production designer Morton Rabinowitz also built the funhouse set on the studio backlot.
Hooper wanted Andrew Laszlo for his cinematographer on this film because he liked Laszlo's lighting of Walter Hill's THE WARRIORS (1979). To create heightened intensity, Lazlo chose to film exterior night scenes with existing light. Some of the interior funhouse shots were filmed with flashlights as the only light source. It was Hooper's idea to shoot the film in anamorphic Panavision.
At one point during filming, Hooper was nearly struck by a flying cog, but was saved by an extra who broke his arm in the process. Hooper was, however, bitten by a brown recluse spider during filming. Following completion of the shoot, Hooper acquired a number of antique, clockwork, and mechanical old toys which had been used as props in the film. A few of these props were used when Hooper directed the music video for Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself" (1983).
THE FUNHOUSE was independently financed, and Universal Pictures obtained worldwide distribution rights. The film opened on Friday, 13 March 1981. Composer John Beal released a promotional CD of his score through Intrada in 1998.
On 21 April 1981, Daily Variety announced that writer-producer Steven Spielberg would reteam with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK producer Frank Marshall for POLTERGEIST, to be directed by Tobe Hooper. Reportedly, Spielberg had asked Hooper to direct E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982) but Hooper turned it down because he was busy on THE FUNHOUSE.
POLTERGEIST was one of a dozen MGM/United Artists films partially financed by SLM Entertainment Ltd., which fronted between one-third and one-half of each picture’s budget, amounting to no more than $7.5 million. POLTERGEIST had an estimated total cost of $15 million, with an additional $9 million for prints and advertising. For a flat fee of $425,000, MGM/UA was granted supervision of theatrical distribution on all SLM films, as well as a 22.5% fee on all theatrical rentals. MGM was relying on the film’s financial success to help alleviate the studio’s $600 million in debts.
Principal photography began 11 May 1981 in Simi Valley, CA. Storm scenes were filmed on Stage 12 of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City, CA, while a swimming pool and crawlspaces were built on three additional soundstages. Shooting concluded on 12 August 1981, two days early, at MGM’s Stage 30. Spielberg had visited the set in order to urge production to finish before an anticipated Directors Guild of America (DGA) strike; he was often accompanied by friend and Industrial Light & Magic Co. founder, George Lucas.
During production, a 2 June 1981 Los Angeles Herald Examiner article fueled speculation that, due his heavy involvement on set, Spielberg actually served as the project’s co-director. A follow-up story on 5 June 1981 included a statement from Hooper clarifying that Spielberg had not overstepped his bounds as a producer, and had been preoccupied with preparations to direct another film, beginning August 1981. But there were many claims to the contrary. The 1 February 1982 Daily Variety stated that Spielberg was editing E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL and working with composer Jerry Goldsmith to score POLTERGEIST before both pictures’ scheduled openings in June 1982. A 24 May 1982 Los Angeles Times article stated that Goldsmith collaborated exclusively with Spielberg on POLTERGEIST, and that Hooper had “no input whatsoever.”
Additionally, the 13 August 1981 Los Angeles Times cited Jobeth Williams’ claim that Spielberg and Hooper collaborated on set, but Spielberg had “the final say.” The 2 June 1982 New York Times noted that Spielberg also completed storyboarding, selected cast and locations, and supervised editing. Despite a clause in Spielberg’s Universal Pictures contract preventing him from working on any motion picture while directing E.T., the filmmaker remained closely involved with POLTERGEIST to attempt to keep the budget within 10% of the approved $9.5 million limit set by MGM. Although Spielberg and Hooper insisted the arrangement was amicable, the 25 May 1982 Hollywood Reporter announced that the Directors Guild of America (DGA) had begun a formal investigation to determine if Spielberg’s actions were “detracting from the director’s credit,” but made no mention of specific guild rules that may have been broken. Ultimately, the DGA did not recommend any change to the film’s director credit. On 8 June 1982, Hollywood Reporter published a letter Spielberg wrote to Hooper on 2 June 1982, responding to the press’s allegations. It read in part: "Regrettably, some of the press has misunderstood the rather unique, creative relationship you and I shared throughout the making of Poltergeist. I enjoyed your openness in allowing me...a wide berth for creative involvement, just as I know you were happy with the freedom you had to direct Poltergeist so wonderfully. Through the screenplay you accepted a vision of this very intense movie from the start, and as the director, you delivered the goods. You performed responsibly and professionally throughout, and I wish you great success on your next project."
Two weeks later, the 18 June 1982 Daily Variety reported that MGM was required to pay Hooper $15,000 in damages for deliberately attempting to “enhance the box office appeal” of POLTERGEIST by displaying “A Steven Spielberg Production” twice as large as Hooper’s name in promotional trailers. Although the DGA originally demanded $200,000 in damages and correction of all trailers, the case arbitrator ordered MGM to correct only trailers circulating in Los Angeles and New York City, in addition to all future trailers. The studio was also required to issue a public apology to Hooper and the DGA, which ran in the 9 July 1982 Hollywood Reporter.
When questioned about who had the greater control over this film, he or Hooper, Spielberg replied "Tobe isn't... a take-charge sort of guy. If a question was asked and an answer wasn't immediately forthcoming, I'd jump in and say what we could do. Tobe would nod agreement, and that became the process of our collaboration." Co-producer Frank Marshall spoke out to the press and claimed "the creative force of the movie was Steven. Tobe was the director and was on set every day. But Steven did the design for every storyboard and was only absent for three days during the shoot, because he was in Hawaii with (George) Lucas." According to actress Zelda Rubinstein, while Hooper set up the shots, it was Spielberg who made the adjustments, and most of the time, Hooper was "only partially there" on set. "Tobe Hooper couldn't even direct traffic!" she said. However, Rubinstein has also said in interviews she didn't like Tobe Hooper because she could see he had a drug problem. The issue then of who had creative control over this film is still a muddy one even today.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) originally rated POLTERGEIST as [R] due to “children in peril,” despite no actual gore or bloodshed. However, the MPAA’s Classification & Rating Appeals Board unanimously agreed to change the film’s rating from [R] to [PG] after hearing statements from Spielberg, MGM chairman Frank Rosenfelt, and psychiatrist Dr. Alfred Jones in New York City on 30 April 1982. Spielberg advocated for the creation of a new category between PG and R. On 2 June 1982, the New York Times reported that the ratings decision behind POLTERGEIST would likely force MPAA President Jack Valenti to consider the long-running debate of adding an “R-13” label.
Meanwhile, the city Motion Picture Classification Board of Dallas, TX, filed suit against MGM/UA to stop POLTERGEIST’s local release, arguing that the film was “not suitable for young persons.” In response, MGM/UA countersued, planning to ignore the motion and continue advertising. MGM/UA planned to show the film in seven Dallas theaters under the MPAA-issued [PG] rating until the local jury made its decision. At the trial, the Dallas board argued that the graphic nightmare scene featuring Marty Casella’s character, “Dr. Marty Casey,” made the film too violent for children under sixteen years of age. During a special screening, jury members compared the footage to the face-melting scene in Spielberg’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, which passed with a [PG] rating from the local council. As a result, the jury voted in favor of MGM.
A June 1982 MGM press release announced a three-day box office return of $6.9 million in 890 theaters. The film was re-released in 864 theaters for Halloween, beginning 29 October 1982. By 2008, POLTERGEIST had grossed $122 million worldwide.
POLTERGEIST received three Academy Award nominations: for Music (Original Score), Sound Effects Editing, and Visual Effects. Goldsmith lost the scoring Oscar to John Williams for E.T. However, Goldsmith received the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Musical Score from the National Horror Motion Picture Association. Goldsmith's score has most recently been released on CD by Film Score Monthly in 2010.
In the 1985 sci-fi/horror film LIFEFORCE, a space shuttle investigating Halley’s comet discovers a spaceship containing three suspended, nude human bodies; returned to Earth, the bodies come alive and begin vampirically sucking the life force out of humans.
LIFEFORCE was the first film in Tobe Hooper's three-picture deal with The Cannon Group, Inc. / Golan-Globus Productions. Hooper said of working for Golan-Globus: "Cannon was really a good company to work for...both Yoram (Globus) and Menahem (Golan) loved the movies and the filmmakers, and really treated them well. It seemed more, when I was there, like maybe what the old system was like. I miss that kind of showmanship and risk-taking."
Hooper was the one who came up with the idea of using Halley's Comet in the screenplay, rather than the asteroid belt, as originally used in Colin Wilson’s novel. He did this because the comet was going to pass by Earth one year following the film's release. Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon was displeased with the end result, as he disliked the change.
The role of “Kelly,” played by Chris Sullivan, was actually six roles joined together by Tobe Hooper, after he met Sullivan, who was initially offered the small role of a crew member. The cast members playing the astronauts exploring the alien spacecraft were suspended on wires forty feet up in the air. Some days, Hooper only got a few seconds worth of footage during the shooting of these scenes. Hooper almost lost one of his ears from frostbite during the shooting of a scene on the freezing cold English moors.
Tobe Hooper's director's cut of the film ran 128 minutes. When the film was cut down to 116 minutes, the cuts were mostly to scenes set on the spaceship Churchill. The Churchill scenes originally took up the first 35 minutes of the film. Approximately twelve minutes of these were cut, and other Churchill scenes were moved to later in the film, and turned into flashbacks. All this was done against Hooper's wishes. The originally released 116-minute European version contains more violent and erotic footage, which Tri-Star Pictures cut from the 101-minute domestic U.S. version.
The European version also contains the full Henry Mancini score, in place of the occasional Michael Kamen music cues placed at the last minute for U.S. prints. Mancini had agreed to do the film based on the original concept of a 15-minute essentially dialogue-free opening sequence involving the discovery and exploration of the alien spacecraft and the moving of the three aliens back to the Churchill, for which he composed a tonal "space ballet. As discussed above, this opening section was largely cut from the film. The latest video version runs the full 116 minutes. Henry Mancini's score was most recently released by BSX in 2006. The release also has Kamen’s music.
On release, the film received negative reviews from American critics. Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, "Its style is shrill and fragmented enough to turn LIFEFORCE into hysterical vampire porn." Michael Wilmington in the Los Angeles Times said the film was "such a peculiar movie that it's difficult to get a handle on it." Jay Carr wrote in the Boston Globe that "it plays like a tap-dancing zombie." John Clute dismissed LIFEFORCE as a "deeply silly flick." Leonard Maltin called the film "completely crazy" and said it was "ridiculous, but so bizarre, it's fascinating." The film grossed $11.6 million in the U.S., against an estimated budget of $25 million.
Karen Black, young Hunter Carson, and Timothy Bottoms had the lead roles in Tobe Hooper's 1986 remake of the 1953 sci-fi classic INVADERS FROM MARS. The remake has basically the same plot as the original: a boy, “David Gardner” (Carson), tries to stop aliens who have taken over his town and are attempting to brainwash its inhabitants.
Jimmy Hunt, who played young “David MacLean” in the original film and the police chief in this remake, actually has more than almost a dozen lines, not just one as reported by a reviewer. When he and “Officer Keeney” (Kenneth Kimmins) go up the hill in search of “George Gardner” (Timothy Bottoms), Hunt's line of "Gee, I haven't been up here since I was a kid" is a playful reference to the similar area of Martian activity that he witnessed as the boy in the 1953 movie.
Reportedly, producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus hated the final film and thought that Hooper had mislead them. (How he had mislead them, I don’t know.) Composer Christopher Young was urged by Hooper to write some far-out experimental music for the film, after which Hooper left to begin his next project. Upon listening to Young’s mainly electronic score (there was some orchestral music as well), Hooper decided against using it and engaged David Storrs to write replacement electronic cues. The picture went out with Young being credited for the score in the opening credits and Storrs receiving an “Additional Music” credit in the end credits. All of the film’s music was released by Intrada in 2008.
INVADERS FROM MARS was released on 6 June 1986 to negative reviews and a disappointing box office intake, opening in seventh place. In total, it earned a paltry $4.9 million at the U.S. box office, a major loss from its $12 million budget.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 was Tobe Hooper’s third film under his agreement with Golan-Globus. Originally, Hooper was just going to produce the film, but he could not find a director that the film's $4.7 million budget would afford. Reportedly, the film’s budget varied during production depending upon how Cannon’s other films were doing at the box office. In the film, set thirteen years after the events of the first film, a radio host (Caroline Williams) is victimized by the cannibal family, as a former Texas Ranger (Dennis Hopper) hunts them down.
Hooper’s original idea for the film was as a black comedy. He and the co-writer of the original film, Kim Henkel proposed a sequel that would feature an entire town of cannibals, and also be a satire of the film MOTEL HELL (1980), which itself was a satire of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. The title of that sequel was to be “Beyond the Valley of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” but the studio forced considerable changes to be made to the screenplay, even hiring a new screenwriter (L.M. Kit Carson). The result of those changes is what became THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2.
In an interview, Hooper said that cutting the 1986 film down to 90-100 minutes was a major priority for Cannon, so that they could have more screenings per day and potentially make more money. The final theatrical cut in the U.S. ran 95 minutes. When the film was submitted to the MPAA, the film received an [X] rating, prompting the filmmakers to release it as unrated. However, TV previews, theatrical trailers, and posters for the film displayed the written statement: "Due to the nature of this film, no one under 17 will be admitted". The film ran into considerable censorship problems overseas, and did not play in Britain, Germany, and Australia, among other countries, during its initial release.
Golan-Globus was unhappy with the final released film, feeling that it over-emphasized the black comedy aspects of the story. But they were happier with the film’s box office performance, as it made $8 million in the U.S., the only one of Hooper’s three films for Cannon that turned a profit.
Tobe Hooper and Jerry Lambert composed a little background music for the film. But the I.R.S. Records release was strictly a song-score album.
In 1990’s SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, a young man (Brad Dourif) finds out that his parents had been used in an atomic-weapons experiment shortly before he was born, and that the results have had some unexpected effects on him.
The first draft of the script was written by Tobe Hooper and Howard Goldberg in 3 weeks, and the film was shot in 8 weeks. When Taurus Entertainment released the film on 23 February 1990, Spin magazine, while giving the film an overall favorable review, also wrote "no one makes bad movies as deliriously entertaining as Tobe Hooper, whose career continues its spectacular downward slide with SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION.” Graeme Revell’s score for the film has not had a release.
In 1995, following his run as “Freddie” in the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, Robert Englund worked with director Tobe Hooper on THE MANGLER. The somewhat ridiculous storyline concerned a laundry-folding machine that has been possessed by a demon from Hell, causing it to develop homicidal tendencies.
Hooper collaborated on the film’s screenplay with Stephen Brooks and Peter Welbeck (aka Harry Alan Towers), which stemmed from a short story by Stephen King. Although the movie was filmed in London and South Africa, it takes place in Maine, as most of Stephen King's stories do. Tobe Hooper filmed most of the picture, but left before completion and was replaced by producer Anant Singh. Hooper receives sole directorial credit, however.
New Line Cinema released THE MANGLER on 3 March 1995. The film received a negative critical reception. Richard Harrington of The Washington Post wrote, "The Mangler is ludicrous from start to finish: its plot lines dangle, its effects fail to dazzle and the acting and directing are uniformly bad. [...] even the least demanding of genre fans will be hard-pressed to tremble in its presence." Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle wrote, "perhaps it's time for Tobe Hooper to hang up his light meter. After a string of disappointments culminating in this silly waste of time, it's hard to care if horror's golden boy carries on or not." Godfrey Cheshire of Variety called the film’s villain a "silly contrivance" and described the acting and story as lackluster. Stephen Holden of The New York Times called it "a potpourri of supernatural cliches and warmed-over Stephen King notions about corruption randomly stuck together with fill-in-the-blanks dialogue." David Kronke of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Consider, for a second, what you might honestly expect from a movie called The Mangler. Well, it doesn't even aim that high." Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer called it a "plodding and virtually plotless" film that should have been played for laughs. But Stephen Hunter of The Baltimore Sun gave the film a positive notice, stating that the film recycles common Stephen King themes, but the film's novelty makes it enjoyable for horror fans.
After factoring in marketing costs, the film probably broke even, grossing $1.78 million on its modest $934,000 budget. Barrington Pheloung’s score has not had a release.
Hooper spent the next 9 years directing television episodes and TV movies. He next returned to the big screen with 2004’s TOOLBOX MURDERS. The film was a loose remake of the 1978 film THE TOOLBOX MURDERS and was produced by the same people behind the original. The film focuses on the occupants of an apartment who are stalked and murdered by a masked killer.
The film was heavily edited to avoid a [NC-17] rating in the U.S. Upon the film’s release as an R-rated feature, Slant Magazine's review, while only marginally positive, called the film "not unlike an episode of ‘Melrose Place’ as imagined by Lucio Fulci," and noted that it "may be Hooper's most impressive film in years." Variety wrote, "Toolbox may not renew the splatter genre in any significant way, but the chills and kills prove Hooper, when armed with the right script, can still tighten the fright screws." Joseph Conlan’s score for the film has not had a release.
Hooper was back the next year, re-teamed with TOOLBOX MURDERS producers and screenwriters for MORTUARY. This film was NOT a remake of the Bill Paxton film from 1983. In this film, a family moves to a small town in California where they plan on starting a new life while running a long-abandoned funeral home. The locals fear the place, which is suspected to be on haunted ground.
MORTUARY premiered at the New York City Horror Film Festival on October 21, 2005. It received a limited theatrical release in January 2006. Joseph Conlan’s score for the film has not had a release.
Tobe Hooper’s final directorial effort was DJINN, a supernatural thriller set in the United Arab Emirates. In the film, a young Emirati couple returns to their home country and moves into a high-rise apartment in Ras al-Khaimah. They discover that their neighbors may not be human. The story flashes back to an abandoned fishing village, where the apartment was eventually built. In the area of the village, an American backpacker learns about djinn from local Emiratis. Djinn (also known as genies, with the more broad meaning of spirits) are supernatural creatures in early Arabian and later Islamic mythology and theology.
DJINN was based on a screenplay by David Tully. The project was set up by Imagination Abu Dhabi (now Image Nation) in February 2011. Emirati director Nayla Al Khaja joined the project as a cultural consultant. The film is the first supernatural thriller film in both English and Arabic languages.
With a production budget of $5 million, filming began in the United Arab Emirates in late March 2011 and took place at several locations throughout Dubai. The subject matter was treated with caution so it would not offend local values in the different towns where filming took place. In Al Jazira Al Hamra, the cast and crew avoided using the word "djinn" and also taped over the film's title on the director's chair. By late August 2011, the film was in post-production.
The film had a test screening in December 2011 in London, which 300 moviegoers attended. Image Nation promised a theatrical release in early 2012, then in mid-2012; neither release transpired. The film premiered at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival on October 25, 2013. Jay Weissberg at Variety said DJINN looked "outright bad" for a film by Hooper. The critic wrote, "This limp attempt at local horror takes elements from ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE GRUDGE, and others, thrown together into a cheesy, ham-fisted ghost story... Hooper's lack of engagement isn't helped by unimaginative f/x and leaden dialogue."
Over the next two years, DJINN received theatrical showings in scattered countries like Japan and Peru. In the U.S. it went direct-to-video in 2015. The score by BC Smith has not had a release.
Like fellow horror director George A. Romero, Tobe Hooper will be most remembered for his first big success. And even though a second, more polished success would come along to cement their legacy (DAWN OF THE DEAD for Romero, POLTERGEIST for Hooper), these directors will be forever linked, with fond memories, to their early, raw, low-budget shock films. Thanks, Tobe, for all the frights.