Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Five Movies Almost Directed by Tobe Hooper

by Patrick Bromley
As much as I would love to have seen Tobe Hooper direct any of these, I'm not willing to give up the movies we got instead.

*This article was originally published on Blumhouse.com. Seeing as no trace of that site exists anymore, I thought I should reprint it here.

This history of the horror genre is one littered with “almosts” – those movie and director matchups that came so close to happening but never saw the light of day. In some alternate reality, there were movie theaters and drive-ins in the ‘80s playing Joe Dante’s Halloween III and John Carpenter’s Firestarter. George Romero should have an entire shelf of “almosts” in your movie collection, with everything from Pet Sematary to ‘Salem's Lot to Resident Evil passing through his hands at some point.

One filmmaker with a bunch of “almosts” to his name is Tobe Hooper, a cult director even within the confines of the horror genre. Because he’s my very favorite filmmakers of all time, I’m just as fascinated by the movies Hooper didn’t get to make as the ones he did. Some of the titles on this list feel like missed opportunities; in other cases, it’s best Hooper wasn’t involved. Here are five of Tobe Hooper’s “almosts.”
1. Spider-Man (2002) – Yes, you read that correctly. Back in the 1980s, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus held the big screen rights for everyone’s favorite wall crawler at their low-budget exploitation factory Cannon Films. At different points during its development at Cannon, the film was to be directed by the likes of Albert Pyun and Stephen Herek. But the first filmmaker Cannon wanted attached to the project was none other than Tobe Hooper, who had a three-picture deal with the studio in the ‘80s – the same three-picture deal that produced Invaders from Mars, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, and, best of all, Lifeforce. Golan and Globus reportedly didn’t fully understand the Spider-Man mythos and instead intended to make a movie about a monstrous half-human, half-spider hybrid from a script to be written by Leslie Stevens, creator of The Outer Limits. With this horror movie take on the character, it makes sense that Cannon would turn to Hooper, who left the project fairly shortly, to be replaced by another horror director, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’s Joseph Zito. Cannon eventually sold off the rights, which put Spider-Man into limbo for over a decade as various studios and producers attempted to untangle just who could bring the superhero to the big screen. It wasn’t until Sam Raimi – another director best known for horror, as luck would have it – made Spider-Man in 2002 that audiences could finally see the character in action.
2. Return of the Living Dead (1985) – Fresh off the box office success of Poltergeist in 1982, Tobe Hooper was one of the hottest directors in horror. So when John Russo’s novel Return of the Living Dead was finally ready to be adapted into a film scripted by Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Dead & Buried) in the early ‘80s, Hooper’s name was naturally attached to direct – and in 3-D, no less. Production delays eventually led Hooper to jump ship over to Cannon, where he was given a three-picture deal and a huge budget to direct Lifeforce instead – which, incidentally, was also written by Dan O’Bannon. Given Tobe Hooper’s propensity for onscreen insanity, I think his ROTLD could have been a lot of fun (and I curse the fact that we never got to see Tobe Hooper’s 3-D movie). Hooper’s movies are often funny, but the humor is also a lot wilder and more outrageous and would likely not have been as sharp as what we eventually got. This was really a best-case scenario, as Dan O’Bannon was brought on to direct his own script and made what has become a zombie classic and Hooper got to make the batshit naked space vampire epic Lifeforce, a movie I love just as much (if not more) than ROTLD. Hooper’s fingerprints can still be felt on Return in ways both big – he is reportedly the one who recommended Bannon as director – and small, as it was Hooper who suggested the line about “skeleton farms,” according to the original DVD commentary.
3. Venom (1981) – This one is a bit of a cheat, as it’s a movie that Tobe Hooper actually did make – for nine days, at least. I suppose Hooper was a logical choice to direct 1981’s killer snake movie Venom, having already made his homicidal crocodile opus Eaten Alive in 1977. But something went wrong during that first week of production (there are conflicting reports as to whether Hooper quit or was fired) and the director was replaced by British filmmaker Piers Haggard, who claims to have re-shot or cut out all of the scenes Hooper already had in the can. On his DVD commentary, Haggard suggests he didn’t like the choices Hooper made in directing, and that Hooper was using a lot of photography inspired by German Expressionism (a love for which is on display in other Hooper movies, most notably The Mangler). Still, it was Hooper who developed the script, scouted and chose the locations, and, most importantly, assembled a cast of incredible actors like Oliver Reed, Klaus Kinski and Susan George all trying to out-crazy one another.
4. The Dark (1979)– Here’s another film that Tobe Hooper technically started making but left after just two days, even more quickly than he did on Venom. Many accounts claim that Hooper was fired for being too slow and falling behind schedule; others state he quit upon clashing with interfering producers. In either case, John “Bud” Cardos, best known for Kingdom of the Spiders, replaced him. The finished film is widely considered a disaster, maybe because the producers reportedly decided mid-shoot that the bad guy should be an alien from outer space despite the movie having never been conceived as science fiction. Hooper probably dodged a bullet on this one.
5. The Thing (1982) – Before John Carpenter directed what is one of the best horror movies ever made – if not the best – this ‘80s remake of The Thing from Another World began its life as a Tobe Hooper movie. He was under contract at Universal, which owned the rights, and co-wrote a screenplay with writing partner Kim Henkel (his co-writer on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) that producer Stuart Cohen – who claims to have always wanted Carpenter to direct – once described on his blog as a “dense, humorless, impenetrable…disaster.” Rather than the paranoid group dynamic the finished film would have, Hooper’s version ignored the shape-shifting element for a lone man-versus-monster tale set in the Arctic. Unlike most of the other movies on this list, The Thing is a movie I’m glad Hooper wound up not making, as it would be pretty much impossible to improve on the Carpenter version. Even the rabid Tobe Hooper fan in me can recognize that you shouldn’t mess around with perfection.

Tune in LIVE to this site for our all-day Tobe Hooper tribute on 8/26 beginning at 10 am CST!


  1. Wow, this was very informative. I don't think I knew any of this info prior to reading this.

  2. I feel like I'm pretty up on late 70's horror but I've never even heard of The Dark. After peeking at the Wiki page, I'm gonna say it was all some producer excuse to vacation in Wales on the company dime.