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Eaten Alive at a Chainsaw Massacre Book Review

Written by ZigZag

Published by McFarland

Eaten Alive At A Chainsaw Massacre Poster

Written by John Kenneth Muir
2002, 206 pages, Reference
Released on February 2nd, 2009

Review:

The late, great, Tobe Hooper was a true master of horror, a cinematic force to be reckoned with. He catapulted onto the scene with his 1974 classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a film that served as both a blessing and a curse to his professional career. The picture gave him his start and made a name for Hooper in the industry, but its reputation as an unrelenting gorefest kept him as a bit of a social outcast in Hollywood. The movie in all honesty is not that graphic, but is so well-crafted that a great level of violence is heavily implied. Hooper is an excellent filmmaker and has kept his love of creative storytelling throughout his career. Viewed by many as one of the top five genre directors of his generation, Hooper enjoyed four decades of work on both the silver screen and the smaller television format. In later years, many of his efforts went straight to video, but he continued to work into the 21st century. His work in television started early in his career with the universally praised adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1979). Years later he would return to the medium to direct episodes of many popular programs including Amazing Stories, Freddy’s Nightmares, Tales from the Crypt and Masters of Horror.

In 2002, author John Kenneth Muir (Horror Films of the 1980s) took a look back at the career and influence of the Texas filmmaker with his excellent book Eaten Alive at a Chainsaw Massacre: The Films of Tobe Hooper. Muir defends Hooper against his many detractors with an intense study of the director’s work on a picture-by-picture basis. He begins with an acknowledgement that Hooper’s career was maligned by frequent meddling by producers and haunted by a controversy over creative ownership of his biggest picture, Poltergeist (1982). Muir points out in his introduction that perhaps the biggest roadblock of all was the reputation of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a film praised by critics but one that managed to keep some audiences at arm’s length based on the title alone.

Eaten Alive at a Chainsaw Massacre is divided into five sections. Part I provides a history and overview of Hooper’s filmography (up to the year 2000), providing context and behind-the-scenes stories about the making of each picture. Part II studies each work by year of release in extreme detail with critical response as well as Muir’s detailed analysis of each movie. Part III takes a look at Hooper’s telefilms and miniseries while Part IV focuses on his contributions to episodic television. The final section, Part V, is a thoughtful conclusion that reflects back at Hooper’s place in the history of the genre and compares his work to that of some of his contemporaries.

The career overview is engaging as Muir traces the history of Hooper’s growth as a filmmaker. He points to recurring themes and signature trademarks featured throughout his filmography. Muir’s analysis of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre is particularly enlightening, as he draws parallels to material as far-reaching as the 1970s gas crisis and Alice in Wonderland. Muir includes various production anecdotes that help expose the challenges of the process of bringing this story to the screen. He points to the appearance of multiple antagonists working in tandem as a recurring element in Hooper’s films, including TCM, The Funhouse and Eaten Alive to name a few.

Muir is firmly on Hooper’s side in the Poltergeist directorial controversy, insisting that Steven Spielberg served only as producer (and co-screenwriter) since the film features many familiar facets of Hooper’s signature style. That film led to the large-budget epic Lifeforce and the box-office disappointment Invaders from Mars remake. Muir reads in some interesting subtext that may or may not be present in these two pictures, but makes a strong argument for his findings. Hooper returned to his roots with the black comedy sequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, another film that opened to mixed reactions dividing critics and audiences alike. The author has a lot to say on the subject and gives Hooper the benefit of the doubt when it comes to content and tone.

Tobe Hooper is a director often overlooked in his field since he never achieved the same level of success as contemporaries like John Carpenter or Wes Craven. When his theatrical release output ended with The Mangler in 1995, he returned to the small screen and made some impressive efforts in both telefilms and short-form episodic television. This was before the television renaissance we are currently enjoying and it was a bit of a surprise for a feature film director to work in the medium. Tobe Hooper died in 2017, and the loss is still being felt throughout the horror community. I wish Muir would revisit the material and release an updated edition of this book that covers the rest of his filmography. As it stands, this is a thoroughly informative - albeit incomplete - look at the work of a genre legend.

Grades:

Overall: Fourstars Eaten Alive At A Chainsaw Massacre Cover
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About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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