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Tobe Hooper

Mortuary (2005)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Shown: Price Carson

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, October 14

October as always brings horror to movie blogs, with two pieces this week aiming to rehabilitate Tobe Hooper. Noel Murray’s the more conventional of the pair, saluting the director’s command of cinema and his deliberate assaults on audience expectations while letting everything Hooper directed after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 fall under the one-sentence dismissal of “hackery,” while offering some well-grounded insights into how Hooper’s unconventionality and seeming distracted air onset probably harmed his career. (“The problem—at least from Cannon’s point of view—is that while Hooper was evolving as a craftsman and artist, he was moving away from what the horror fans of the mid-‘80s expected. […] Lifeforce and Invaders From Mars in particular are self-conscious throwbacks to the more theatrical and expressionistic genre pictures of the ‘50s and ‘60s.”) While Mike Thorn goes all-in, claiming masterpiece status for the likes of Mortuary and The Mangler. (On the latter, it “showcases an even more mature, sophisticated, and focused artist, though, wearing its crazed aspirations in every scene like a badge of honor. However, it’s worth noting that the film doesn’t simply revel in formal excess; rather, it finds the potential for serious and damning social allegory in its source text.”) Not to pick sides, since Murray’s piece is damned fine and the better observed of the two, but if you can’t go whole hog unsubtle in your praise of Tobe Hooper, when can you?

“When characters sleep, the plot of the film comes to a standstill. All we can do is wait. That Kiarostami deliberately lingers over these moments of narrative vacancy reveals more than his aversion to Hollywood pacing. As he explained in [a] 1997 interview: ‘Whenever I make a film, it’s the content that determines the film’s style.’ And the content that makes up most of Kiarostami’s work is the granular moments of the everyday: a car ride, a walk, a boy trying to get his mother’s attention, an idle taxi driver waiting for his passenger to return, and, of course, sleep.” Kiarostami made more than a few tongue-in-cheek comments over the years about putting his audiences to sleep, but Xueli Wang argues that when you consider the many scenes of slumber in his films, and their warmly soporific pacing, you get less a joke than one of the keys to Kiarostami’s cinema.

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Review: ‘Cocoon’ / ‘Lifeforce’

[Turner Classic Movies will show Cocoon, one of Ron Howard’s pretty-good movies, this coming Sunday, Feb. 10, at 2:45 p.m. Pacific Time. The following review appeared in The Weekly during the film’s 1985 first run. Also on screens then was another sci-fi film in a very different key, Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce. That won’t be on TCM (which is showing Cocoon because of the Oscar it won for Don Ameche), but Lifeforce is available on DVD. However, you really should wait for the Shout! Factory upgrade of it, coming out on Blu-ray and DVD in April. – RTJ]

[originally published in The Weekly, June 26, 1985]

Blue steel pending: Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, and Don Ameche in ‘Cocoon’

The summer braindeath alert is still in force, but the Cineaste General has just announced two additional safe zones in which the filmgoer can move without undue fear of contamination. Somewhat surprisingly, both abut the science-fiction genre, a plague-ridden territory where video-game special effects and kiddie cant are habitually substituted for intelligently impelled narrative and a provocative point of view. Nevertheless, Cocoon and Lifeforce may both be recommended to discerning viewers, even though they happen to be light years apart in style, tone, content, and likelihood of achieving commercial longevity.

Of the two, the apparent class act is Cocoon. It’s the latest film from actor-turned-terrific-movie-director Ron Howard, whose romantic comedy-fantasy Splash last summer was an entertainment of rare freshness and enchantment. Its packagers are Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, who first enabled Steven Spielberg to set his Jaws for the unwary moviegoer. They’ve supplied Howard with a nifty story idea (by David Saperstein), two-thirds of a good screenplay (Tom Benedek), and a cast unmatched for professionalism and appeal, if not marquee clout: Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Don Ameche, Gwen Verdon, Maureen Stapleton, Jack Gilford, Brian Dennehy, and Steve Guttenberg.

Most of the aforenamed play residents of a Florida retirement community called Sunny Shores, where they sit waiting, with varying degrees of contentment and resignation, for the Grim Reaper to pay a house call. Actually Ameche, Brimley, and the terminally ill Cronyn don’t do much sitting. They’ve lately taken to trespassing on the disused palatial estate next door and paddling, like truant sixth-graders, in the indoor pool.

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After Sunset

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Take out the word “Chainsaw” and it could be the title of a Western. And what do you know? It is.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre takes place over one day, from sunrise after a night of grave desecrations to sunrise after a night of unspeakable murderous horror. Sunset comes not at the end of the film but at its center.

The Texas Chainsaw landscape

The east-to-west movement of the sun has stood, as long as there has been poetry, for two eternal kinds of motion: the adventurous drive toward discovery and new frontier, pulling what passes for civilization from central Asia to Europe, from Europe to America, and from America’s East to her beckoning West; and also the inevitable progress of every being, human or otherwise, toward that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler ever returns. Unlike the sun, we do not rise again with each new day.

Between the emphatic shots of sun (and later, moon) that punctuate The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film relies on shots that never allow us to lose sight of the unobstructed rural Texas landscape. But these are not the widescreen landscapes, the cloud-studded bright sky blues and warm golds of sun-kissed grain so familiar from the cinematized western mythos. Instead they are the bleached browns of desiccation, the pale greens of decay.

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