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Tobe Hooper (#110 of 5)

The 10 Best Final Girls in Horror Cinema

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The 10 Best Final Girls in Horror Cinema

Columbia Pictures

The 10 Best Final Girls in Horror Cinema

Happy Halloween, folks. Hope you’re enjoying our epic horror list, which is counting down the best of the best in a genre that’s near and dear to our hearts. As an added bonus, I thought I’d pay tribute to one of my favorite horror tropes—the Final Girl, a very specific type of heroine who’s usually left to deal with the cops when they come to clean up the bodies. There are newbies, legends, and even a comedienne on this roster, but all of them have earned their right to be here, either by standing on the shoulders of giants or wildly impaling creatures of the night. Sadly, I Know What You Did Last Summer’s Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) didn’t make the cut, but as she would say, “What are you waiting for?!?!” Read on.

Summer of ‘88: Poltergeist III

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Poltergeist III</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Poltergeist III</em>

Never has the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” principle played more prominent a role in my reaction to an obviously mediocre movie than it did and continues to with Poltergeist III. The enemy in this case being the notion that Poltergeist II: The Other Side isn’t a wretched, insulting cash-in that distorted and desecrated everything that entranced every kid who still can’t look at clown dolls without giving them the major side-eye. There are no arguments to be had that the third movie in the series is worth anything other than a late-night cable-TV viewing to either cure insomnia or revel in nostalgia for a highly representative entry from the height of VHS-era horror. But I’m glad it exists if only to bend the curve that much further toward the unimpeachable original.

For reasons too frustrating not to explore, there are some who have some level of affection for that damned first sequel, even though it ruptures the logic of everything that went into the original film, which couldn’t have been more simple in its cause-and-effect depiction of a paranormal event. Exhibit A: Steve Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) and his real estate development firm plowed over sacred ground, moved a giant cemetery a few miles up the hill, and let the bodies mingle with the foundations of a whole neighborhood’s worth of nearly identical suburban California abodes. Exhibit B: The restless spirits turn over in their graves, steal the Freelings’ youngest daughter, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), from the physical world, bringing her over to their side and holding her hostage, her presence only apparent through the audio from an orphan TV channel transmitting static, white noise…and Carol Anne’s cries for help. Exhibit C: Diminutive psychic Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein) helps Diana Freeling (JoBeth Williams, in a heroically enduring performance) rescue her daughter from the spirit world, telepathically directs the spirits toward the light that, so she explains, will absorb their souls, and declares, “This house is clean.”

The Formulaic Shock and Awe of Tobe Hooper’s Midnight Movie

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The Formulaic Shock and Awe of Tobe Hooper’s Midnight Movie
The Formulaic Shock and Awe of Tobe Hooper’s Midnight Movie

The pop-cultural consensus on horror director Tobe Hooper would seem to be that, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he somehow made one of the genre’s defining masterpieces right out of the gate only to squander a promising career on a string of strange mediocrities that ultimately marked him more as a hack-for-hire than an auteur in the tradition of more respected contemporaries such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven, or George A. Romero. (The only other film Hooper made that had any significant cultural impact, or drew favorable critical notice, was Poltergeist, which is, of course, famously primarily credited to producer/co-writer Steven Spielberg.)

While this rep undeniably has more than a little truth to it, I’ve always been sympathetic to Hooper, as I’ve always felt that he’s gotten a bum rap from even the horror genre’s notoriously less discriminating fans. Firstly, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t “one of the best American horror films of all time” (though snobs love that sort of qualifier), it’s one of the best American films period—a sweaty, rough-and-tumble masterpiece that catches a specifically troubled time in this country’s history with an immediacy and intensity that 30-plus years and countless remakes and imitations hasn’t managed to diminish one iota. Secondly, Poltergeist, which admittedly reflects quite a bit of Spielberg’s sensibility, has a cynicism and jolting brutality, not to mention an intimacy among the reformed hippie parents, that strikes me as more a result of the influence of Hooper than Spielberg. And thirdly, Hooper’s extremely uneven filmography has born more, well, fascinatingly not-quite-right features than is typically acknowledged, such as Eaten Alive, The Funhouse, Invaders from Mars, Lifeforce, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, which all have a mad drive-in theater potency that’s far more interesting than the work of the inexplicably overrated Wes Craven.

Like Death Eatin’ a Craker: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

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Like Death Eatin’ a Craker: <em>The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2</em>
Like Death Eatin’ a Craker: <em>The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2</em>

When you hear people talk about those rare instances when a movie sequel turns out to be better than its predecessor, the usual titles spring up: Aliens, The Godfather Part II, The Bride of Frankenstein, the original Dawn of the Dead, etc. However, there is one sequel that I feel has been unjustly neglected for its superiority to the original and today I come to praise it. Twenty years ago today, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 hit theaters to the resounding thud of overwhelmingly negative reviews by people who probably remembered the original a lot more fondly than they should have and didn’t recognize the sequel for the hilarious, albeit grotesque, satire that it is. This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill followup to a famous slasher film—this is a sharply written parody about the perils of the small businessman, who in this case happens to make his living by turning humans into chili.

To read the rest of Copeland’s article, visit Edward Copeland on Film.