Cat Scratch Fever (Sleepwalkers, 1992)

Mary and Charles are the mysterious mother and son that have arrived in a local small town.Charles is handsome and charming, while his mother is ethereal and elegant. Quickly, Charles seems interested in local Tanya.

While she thinks his interest in her is romantic, it turns out that his real purpose is far more sinister. Charles and his mother are actually supernatural creatures…shapeshifters known as Sleepwalkers who go back centuries. They survive by feasting on the life force of young virginal women.

Sleepwalkers is an original idea from Stephen King’s mind. It is an interesting general concept. But the mystery quickly is sideline by comedy and gore. Featuring some decent digital morphing, the shapeshifting in the film is an okay effect. The film is never scary, but there are also some good practical effects.

This is more comedy than horror, with the Sleepwalkers having the weakness of being killable by cat scratches. There is a scene where a guy is killed by a corncob. There is a scene with cameos from Tobe Hooper, Clive Barker, John Landis, Joe Dante and Stephen King that is largely a comedy bit (but lacking…ahem, Wes Craven). The Sleepwalkers are given to hackey one liners, especially Charles.

I enjoy the film as a goofy horror film. And it has a really good cast. But my favorite thing is honestly the music. The soundtrack is punctuated by a really haunted theme that features a sad and ominous hum. It also features a terrific use of an older song called Sleepwalk.

Sleepwalkers is not a classic horror film…it is, however, a lot of schlocky fun to gather wisth some friends around the Halloween season for some laughs and fun jumps.

Let’s Visit Texas, Part 8 (Leatherface, 2017)

Leatherface_2017_PosterLike 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D, this film sets itself within the universe of the original film.  This time around, we are learning the origins of Leatherface.  We meet young Jed with the creepy Sawyer clan on his birthday.  As a right of passage, the family wants the young boy (eight to ten years old?) to kill a man they believe has stolen some of their pigs.  It turns out Jed does not have the guts for this, at least, not yet.  I mean, we know he eventually will.

Not long after, his brothers (cousins) kill a young woman, who just happens to be the daughter of the local Sheriff.  They cannot prove it was murder, but the Sheriff is able to have Jed institutionalized to protect him from his family.  His mother tries to visit repeatedly, but is blocked at every turn.  When Jed and a couple other patients kidnap a young nurse and go on the run, things get very bloody.

The film actually sets it up so that you have no idea who Jed is. He is older, and none of the escapees are named Jed because apparently they changed his name in an attempt to disassociate him from his family. Meanwhile, there is a romance brewing between the terrified nurse and one of the patients, while others just want to kill her and go on their murder spree to Mexico.

They are tracked by the Sheriff who put Jed away, and he is seeking vengeance for his daughter.  This is a prequel, so you know things won’t end well for him.

When it comes down to it, this film reveals nothing we could not put together ourselves from simply watching the first film.  I mean, he grew up in an isolated and depraved family.  It is not a stretch to figure out how he became a chainsaw wielding murderer.

The film also suffers the same issues as the 2013 film.  It makes Leatherface incredibly sympathetic.  Yeah, you get why the Sheriff is obsessed with vengeance against the Sawyer clan, but he is so cruel and and willing to bend the law, he gets other people killed. Jed was forcefully institutionalized by a cruel doctor who indulged brutal treatments and allowed guards to be rough with the prisoners.  He also bends the law. Leatherface is a brutal killer and should not have the audience rooting for his success, and yet this film casts him as a victim of people who seem even more terrible than he.

What we are left with is a film that works against the purpose of giving a terrifying background to a horror icon.  We do not need insight into the psychotic killer, no more than we already had and this film adds nothing of value to the canon.

Dancing Thing (Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead, 2005 & the Damned Thing, 2006)

The Masters of Horror series aired on Showtime.  The Masters of Horror is a gathering of Horror Directors, it is a loose conglomerate of folks in the Horror community started by Mick Garris.  The idea behind the show is various popular horror directors contributing a short horror film (an hour long or so).  Admittedly, some directors were not primarily doing horror at this point (such as Joe Dante, who had not done a horror film in quite some time) or was not primarily known for horror (Session 9’s Brad Anderson).  And noticeably missing was George Romero.  But they did get John Carpenter for a good one and one really ham fisted political one.

Dance of the Dead

Masters_Dance_DeadThe fourth outing for Hooper and Englund, Dance of the Dead is a post apocalyptic story.  After a generally society  ending war, kids run around being hoodlums.  A young woman, Peggy, works for her mom in a diner.  Her sister appears to have a mysterious condition that makes her a pariah of sorts. She meets one of the “good” hoodlums.  We know he is good because he respects her mother’s wishes and talks back to his friends.

Her mother believes that nobody is any good except her daughter, trust nobody else is her message.

The dead also walk in this wasteland.  There are clean-up crews that gather them up and burn the animated bodies.  But this is not the only use.  Robert Englund  is the Ringmaster of a club where they make the dead dance for entertainment.    the club is the kind of post apocalyptic bondage club we have seen throughout sci-fi history.  And there is nothing to set it apart.  Englund has some fun with his role, but this film is not about him.

Dance of the Dead feels largely pointless, and takes forever to get going.  In an hour long story, long slow scenes a re a death knell.  If it is a satire or exploration of mankind’s darker tastes in entertainment…it sure misses that mark.  Is it about teen rebellion? Rebelling against repression? Maybe.  But the film feels largely empty and without meaning.  And not in the darker meaningful sense where it is upsettings or subverting our expectations.  It is simply cotton candy…and bland cotton candy at that.

The ending is very dark, and would have been really powerful had the set up been better.

The Damned Thing

Masters_damned_thingThe Damned Thing was written by classic sci-fi and horror writer Richard Matheson and based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce.  Sheriff Kevin Reddle has a dark history.  As a young boy, his father killed his mother and tried to kill him.  Decades later he is married to Dina and they have a son.  He secretly suspects there is an evil force that caused his dad to try and kill the family.

At first there is little proof, and he questions his own sanity.  But as the town starts to experience aggressive outburst, Kevin becomes certain that there is a force, one that feeds on people’s fear and anger, turning them into violent killers.

Sean Patrick Flannery gives a good performance here, especially as Kevin sinks into the overwhelming power of the “Damned Thing”.  Hooper shows the sparks of his stronger works here.  He makes good use of the environment and his setup is very effective in making this one of those southern feeling horror tales with talks of generational curses and the like.

This is probably the strongest of all of Hooper’s later works.

New In Town (Mortuary, 2005)

Mortuary_CoverDenise Crosby is Leslie, recently widowed, has moved her family cross-country to a small California town.  She has bought a local mortuary (right next to a graveyard).  The Mortuary has a past and there is a lot of legend regarding the land it is built on.

As the tale goes, the first owner was a farmer who found nothing would grow on the land.  It was as if the ground was cursed.  Eventually, they built the mortuary and cemetery.  The last owners had a dark history and a handicapped son.  They hid the son away, and then when he got older, as the story goes, he killed his parents and hid beneath the cemetery.

Of course, something evil lives in the mortuary and it possesses people, turning them in zombies.  It is up to her son Jonathan (Cougertown’s Dan Byrd)  to stop the evil (with the help of his girlfriend) and save his little sister from the sinister force.

The plot is kind of a mess.  What exactly are the evil force’s goals?  Why is salt a perfect weapon?  Is it some sort of slug?  Why is it a terrible look digital monster?  The characters are the under-developed stock character type and the film lacks any scares.  This is pretty much a failure on every level.

Renovations (Toolbox Murders, 2004)

Toolbox_Murders_PosterTobe returns to the haunted house genre.  Nell and Steven move into a dilapidated but historic Hollywood apartment complex. From the start, Nell feels there is something wrong with the building.

As people disappear, nobody believes her that murders are happening.  Of course, this leads her to watch the red herring, only to discover secret passages below the basement.  So, you know a sub-basement..with sub-basements.


She finally finds that the real killer is a disfigured man in a ski mask.  Apparently, it never occurred to him to wear a human face mask, but hey…we can’t all be Leatherface.  I should say, I do think the look is the villain is pretty effective.  Sadly, the rest of the film is less effective.


The film has laughably inept cops.  In one scene, they leave an apartment, never noticing the body nailed right above the door.  There are several character who exist to be dispatched at the end in a massive bloodbath of a final reel.  The film lacks both suspense and scares.

This is a remake of an exploitation slasher from 1978 that, frankly, I remember nothing about.  Well, except for that VHS video box in the horror aisle at Blockbuster and Hollywood Video.

This is definitely not one of Hooper’s most memorable films.

Leapin’ Lizards (Crocodile, 2000)

Crocodile_PosterA bunch of teens go on a trip to the lake, staying in a houseboat.  They stumble on a nest of crocodile eggs and take one.  So then they are pursued by the huge crocodile momma.  Meanwhile, the local police chief is investigating a series of grisly deaths.  With help from a shady alligator farm owner, he figures out what is going on.

Crocodile is not very good.  It is pretty standard, it’s pretty teens are bland and only two characters are really defined… the nice girl and the slut, who wants the nice girl’s man. But no worries…the slut gets eaten.

The egg plot seems directly lifted from the third Jurassic Park movie…right down to a female character returning the egg.  And let’s be honest…this is a poor man’s Lake Placid…and it is indeed poor.  This is one of those films where people are ten feet away, but still end up in the crocodile’s mouth.  The crocodile is a mix of practical and digital.  And all the digital looks terrible.

Even for a die-hard Hooper fan, this is not a movie worth checking out.

It’s Alive! (The Mangler, 1995)

The_Mangler_PosterThis is…a weird film.  Englund is back for another round with Hooper and he is clearly having a blast this time around.After a tragic accident with an old and giant folding machine at the local laundry, Detective John Hunton finds himself drawn into a dark and supernatural world.

Based on a ten page Stephen King short story, the Mangler is a folding machine possessed by a demon that is served by the elderly Bill Gartley.  Hunton, with help from a spiritualist friend and elderly photographer/mortician he uncovers a dark history of human sacrifice and works to save Gartley’s young niece Sherry.

Among the odd choices in the film are having the mortician be played by a young man in old man make-up.  Jeremy Crutchley turns in a good performance, but the make-up is so obvious it is distracting when he is on screen.  There is an exorcism of an old fridge.  Most of the characters are largely unpleasant or annoying.  Of course, it gets downright hilarious when the giant machine starts running after the leads in the factory like a wild animal.  As mentioned, the short story is pretty short, so they add a lot of stuff…but funny enough?  The machine chasing people?  Not one of them.  In the story, it runs around town killing people. Oh, Stevie.

Truthfully, this is really only good for a bunch of friends to watch and laugh together.  It is also worth noting that although Hooper is the credited director, he was actually replaced after having filmed the majority of the film.

Making Friends (Night Terrors, 1993)

Night_Terrors_PosterThe film opens with the Marquis de Sade in prison.  We witness him being tortured and then once in his cell, he starts to mentally torment the man in the cell next to him until the man rips his own eyeballs from his head. The film jumps to the present day where Genie is visiting her father in Cairo.  After an attempted rape by some locals, she is saved by Sabina.

Genie’s father recommends that she avoid Sabina…that Sabine is not a…good influence.  Dad is kind of right as Sabina pulls Genie into a cult led by Paul, a descendant of the Marquis de Sade. There is murder, betrayal, and sex!  Of the dullest kind! Anything resembling sensuality is comically inept.  The threat of the cult is never there, in spite of them killing Genie’s friends and family.

There is a very fumbled attempt to present this all as a Christianity vs Depraved Cult…but Genie’s religious father makes your average Stephen King religious nut look nuanced.  She has visions of her father walking into the room with a Bible and a big cross and yelling about the cult being unclean.  He is an archeologist who proclaims “Thanks be to God” at weird times.  “Look at this wall carving…thanks be to God!”

Most of the performances are weak and stiff.  Even Robert Englund seems to just sleepwalk through this one, giving one of his least interesting performances.

Night Terrors is not only lacking in scares, it is terribly boring.

Up In Flames (Spontaneous Combustion, 1990)

Spontaneous_Combustion_PosterSam discovers that his parents were part of an experiment with nuclear power while he was in the womb.  Upon being born, he is proclaimed a perfectly healthy baby.  Shortly after his parents burst into flames (spontaneously!).

Sam discovers he has the power to make things burst into flames.  When he gets angry, he causes people to erupt in violent flames.  But it is not just other people.  When a victim burns, so does he.

There are some goofy moments, like when staring into a fire, he has memories from before he was born. Or the fact that they talk about Spontaneous Human Combustion as a totally scientific fact and common occurrence. Or the psychic radio host.


What really makes this work is Brad Dourif’s performance.  Sam is kind and sweet, so when he starts to struggle with his power, he is pretty sympathetic.  This is especially true as he becomes unable to know who he can trust.

The ending gets a little convoluted, trying to be both tragic and “happy”.

The effects in the film are quite good, if somewhat hyper-dramatic.

Overall, though largely forgotten, this is a pretty strong effort from Hooper.

They Are Us (Invaders From Mars, 1986)

Invaders_From_Mars_PosterOne night, young David witnesses a spaceship landing just beyond the hill.  After his father returns from checking it out, he seems…different.  His father seems detached.  Like he is trying to determine how to behave.  David uncovers an invasion from the martians and must try and figure out who to trust.  His teachers? The Military? His fellow students?

Based on the 1953 film, Hooper returned to sci-fi quickly after his space vampire movie Lifeforce.  A decidedly more mainstream film, this falls squarely into the territory of the paranoid alien invasion films.  And it is pretty effective in that regard.  David soon finds his parents and classmates under the influence of the martians, and his only chance for help from Linda, the school nurse.  They eventually find help from the military, who lead a retaliatory attack.

The film is very lush and colorful, with Hooper embracing vibrant reds.  The creature effects by Stan Winston are great and the Martians are utterly unearthly.

The script is very effective. In a few brief moments, Dan O’Bannon establishes how close David is with his parents, so that we can tell that something is wrong a scene later when his dad has been taken over by the martian invaders.

There are some great performances here, with a solid group of actors including Karen Black and James Karen.

Really, the only thing that frustrated me with the film was the choice of ending.  It is frustrating with it’s choice to muddy the reality of the story.  But aside from that, I found Invaders From Mars an enjoyably film from Tobe Hooper’s filmography.

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