This history of the horror genre is one littered with “almosts” — those movie and director match-ups that came so close to happening, but never saw the light of day.
In some alternate reality, there are 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 dedicated to these hypothetical projects, since everything from PET SEMATARY to ‘SALEM’S LOT to RESIDENT EVIL has passed 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 one of 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, while in other cases, it’s probably for the best that Hooper wasn’t involved…
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, SPIDER-MAN was to be directed by the likes of Albert Pyun (CYBORG) and Stephen Herek (CRITTERS). 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 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 OUTER LIMITS creator Leslie Stevens.
For a horror take on the character, it makes sense that Cannon would turn to Hooper, who nevertheless 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 — tackled Spidey in 2002 that audiences could finally see the character in action.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD
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 (a sequel to 1968 classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which he co-wrote) was finally ready to be adapted into a film scripted by Dan O’Bannon (ALIEN) 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 the aforementioned three-picture deal and a huge budget to direct LIFEFORCE instead (which, incidentally, was also written by 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, while 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 LIVING DEAD in ways both big and small: He is reportedly the one who recommended Bannon as director, and as it was Hooper who suggested the line about “skeleton farms,” according to the original DVD commentary.
This one is a bit of a cheat, as it’s a movie that Tobe Hooper actually did work on — 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.
Here’s another film that Hooper technically started making, but left early on — after just two days, in this case. Many accounts claim he 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.
Before John Carpenter directed 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. Tobe was under contract at Universal, who owned the rights, and co-wrote a screenplay with his TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE writing partner Kim Henkel. Producer Stuart Cohen — who claims to have always wanted Carpenter to direct — has described Hooper and Henkel’s draft 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.
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 Carpenter’s vision. Even the rabid Tobe Hooper fan in me can recognize that you shouldn’t mess with perfection.