Tobe Hooper’s Haunted Houses, The Man Of A Thousand Faces and MORE!
In this Issue:
- Horror History: Hooper’s Haunted Houses
- Image of the Week: The Man Of A Thousand Faces
- Tiny Bites – This Week’s Best Horror Headlines
- Things We Love: Horror, Naturally
- Hey, That’s Us! – Shudder in the News
HORROR HISTORY: HOOPER’S HAUNTED HOUSES
By John Bowen*
Life (and death) lessons from the late great Tobe Hooper: meat is murder, monsters wear human faces (some more literally than others), and the haunted house is where you find it. From the ode to nihilism that is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the slow-burning dread of Salem’s Lot to the niche favorite that is Lifeforce and beyond, Hooper returned to the haunted house more often than any other director in our beloved genre. Despite this, he never once made an entirely typical haunted house movie. Eschewing cobwebs and bats, he was able to mine new terrors from an old archetype by knowing its essence so intimately.
While his contemporaries George Romero and John Carpenter enjoyed plaudits for siege films, Hooper preferred to bring us to the threshold of the Bad Place, shove us inside and lock the door. Of course, even today’s most casual horror fan is familiar with Chainsaw’s fearsome farmhouse, a makeshift abattoir and shrine to the act of slaughter, festooned with grotesque, primitive objets d’art created from discarded, decaying parts of humans, animals and everyday items. (An arm-chair? Seriously?)
The squalid bayou hotel in Hooper’s next film, Eaten Alive, might initially appall the squeamish guest with its unsanitary conditions, but the Starlight’s batshit-bonkers owner and his pet crocodile pose more serious threats. For those who like their scares in layers, we offer The Funhouse, a seedy carnival ride whose cheesy thrills never hint at the misshapen maniac who calls the place home after hours.
Lurking closer to the archetype, Salem’s Lot’s Marsten House is a creaky, vermin-infested old manor that, while not classically haunted, has a history of attracting supremely evil tenants. Conversely, Poltergeist’s domicile could be the most standard haunted house in the Hooperverse, save for one significant deviation: it’s a brand-new cookie-cutter number nestled in the prosaic monotony of Los Angeles suburbs.
Farther afield, in 1985’s
A Naked Space Vampire in London Lifeforce, astronauts live to regret infiltrating a seemingly derelict alien spacecraft before the film relocates to Earth and completely loses its mind. The edifice in Hooper’s last good film – 2004’s Toolbox Murders – veers closer to the classic model, in that it’s an old building inhabited by a vindictive spirit, but the “house” in question is a historic Hollywood hotel converted to apartments that have long since gone to hell.
Dear old Uncle Chainsaw often strayed so far from familiar trappings that the motif was scarcely recognizable, but if we look beyond superficial tropes – austere architecture, creaking doors, secret passageways – the haunted house, in manifold incarnations, is the beating black heart of much of Hooper’s oeuvre.
*John W. Bowen is a long-time columnist and feature writer for Rue Morgue Magazine and author of Rue Morgue’s Authorized Phantasm Film Companion. He’s also a professional musician and recovering strip club DJ.
IMAGE OF THE WEEK
The Man Of A Thousand Faces
There’s a reason Lon Chaney Sr. was given that nickname, and it was because of his unique ability to completely transform into his characters, literally. In the earliest days of film, makeup effects weren’t much of a thing beyond a twirly mustache to identify villains and some simple contouring. For the most part, actors were responsible for their own makeup, and Chaney’s self-taught skills wound up giving him a unique advantage over other performers. Along with his special kit pictured above, Chaney became a pioneer of makeup effects, laying the groundwork for the greats we know today.
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