The Horror of the Camera that Sees the Truth: Tobe Hooper and Alan Goldsher's 'Midnight Movie'

The Texas Chainsaw maestro pens a fun, self-referential novel about a haunted horror movie... or does he?

Midnight Movie: A Novel

Publisher: Three Rivers
Price: $14.00
Authors: Tobe Hooper, Alan Goldsher
Length: 320 pages
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2011-07

Here are four facts about the 1974 horror classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:

1) The titular chainsaw was always "live", according to director Tobe Hooper, Gunnar "Leatherface" Hansen and cinematographer Daniel Pearl (on the commentary track of the "special edition" DVD). The teeth were sharp and the cutting chain was active, which led to several startling near-misses.

2) At the time, people described (and still recall) the film as being notoriously bloody and overflowing with gory special effects. However, there are only about "two ounces" of blood in the entire film, according to Hooper. Oddly enough, this was because he was aiming for a PG rating.

3) Along with the film's most famous motivation, real-life killer Ed Gein (who also inspired Psycho and other films), the inspirations for the Massacre include the post-'60s political climate and an odd song. The Independent Film Channel's 2000 documentary, The American Nightmare describes how the violence of Vietnam, the civil rights struggle, Kent State, the gas crisis and seemingly global chaos informed the film's latent fear and horror.

"[The gas crisis] was integral to its times, in a way that you don't think of now when you see the movie," Hooper says. "It washes over you. It's scary and frightening, but a lot of stuff is working subliminally." Then he waxes mystical:

"I intended for [the movie] to wheedle its way into the unconscious mind, where the nightmares are. If you get all the little weird things particular, the stuff we don't open the door on, and when those doors start cracking open a little bit--because you're forcing them open with images, images that blow right into the nightmare zone, with the elements that were the things that frightened me as a child, and at the right place too, because it leaves that harmonic buzzing in your head that's mixed with another little nasty. It sits there and quivers with the other one. If you can get enough of these things going, and then you slam the door, it takes on a whole different tone."

On the DVD commentary, Hooper expands the range of influences: "This film kind of came out of Watergate, and was inspired by it in a lot of ways," he says. "That, and there's a song called ‘Dead Dog in the Middle of the Road.' It said nothing, but then again I guess it said everything." [Note: Hooper might have meant "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road" by Loudon Wainwright III.]

4) They filmed the infamous "family dinner" scene over a single, 27-hour shooting day in sweltering heat, necessitated when the teenage actor who played the grandfather surprised everyone by saying he would never sit for the long makeup session again.

"This is the one scene where there's really no acting going on, where we're all crazy," Hansen says on the DVD commentary. "In this scene I lost any sense that I was play-acting... and I really thought I was trying to kill her."

The qualities revealed by this chunk of Texas Chainsaw trivia include: ever-present physical and psychological stress (1, 4); a "subliminal" and mystical-sounding filmmaker (3) with a devil-may-care approach to danger; popular culture blended with chaos (3); and an eccentric savviness regarding the marketing and business side of filmmaking (2).

This jibes well with John Kenneth Muir assessment of Hooper's oeuvre, Eaten Alive at a Chainsaw Massacre: The Films of Tobe Hooper: "There is something inherently dangerous and liberating about the works of this artist and even the weakest of his films breaks barriers, heightens the viewer's blood pressure, and seems to plug into a no-holds-barred sense of escalating insanity."

When the mastermind behind this work of weird art (not to mention Poltergeist and his various other credits) turns his attention towards writing a novel, the expectations are enough to make a horror fan giggle (in a sinister way) with anticipation.

Co-authored with Alan Goldsher -- more on the Poltergeist-like "controversy" surrounding that in a moment -- Midnight Movie is a fun, fast, self-aware horror story laden with pop culture and film-nerd references. The book doesn't quite reach the same levels of strangeness, surrealism or macabre fascination as Hooper's breakthrough film, but it certainly doesn't disappoint, either.

The story centres around "Destiny Express", a fictional "lost" movie that Hooper (one of the main characters in the novel) made in his teens. This parallels Eggshells, the real-life 1969 film that represents Hooper's first feature. Described by Muir as "a 90-minute fantasy and social commentary concerning a group of hippies sharing a commune house where something strange... and perhaps malevolent" lives in the basement, Eggshells wasn't a success, despite winning a film festival award. Five years later, Hooper unleashed Chainsaw.

Early in Midnight Movie the mysterious Dude McGee invites Hooper to Austin for a special screening/celebration of his "lost" film. Weird things happen at the event, and weirder things happen afterwards. Dubbed "the Game Changer" and quickly shortened to "the Game", a "psycho metaphysical virus" quickly spreads around the world. Among other gruesome effects, it increases the sexual appetite of its victims and turns them into...wait for it...zombies! Hooper teams up with the "weekend film critic for the Austin Chronicle, lead singer and guitarist for Massacre This," to try to solve the mystery and save the world.

A horror movie that infects its viewers: this aspect of the novel resonates with an observation made by Carol J. Clover, in her seminal study of horror, Men, Women and Chain Saws:

"Horror privileges eyes because, more crucially than any other kind of cinema, it is about eyes. More particularly, it is about eyes watching horror. Certainly the act of watching horror films or horror television also looms large in horror films... Looking at screens is particularly perilous and perilous in particular ways."

She cites Lamberto Bava's 1986 film Demons as an example of this type of cursed-viewing, and incidentally, that film's plot bears an intriguing parallel with Hooper's novel. In Bava's work, "A number of people are lured to a new movie theater to see a free ‘mystery' movie... As suspense mounts, members of the audience become sexually aroused," Clover writes. The audience members become zombified by demons who seem to escape from the film-within-the-film.

Next Page

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.