TOBE HOOPER’S NIGHT TERRORS (or THE MARQUIS DE SADE’S NIGHT TERRORS according to the menu of the German DVD I watched – it’s VHS-only in the States) is a lesser known one from Hooper’s disreputable ’90s period. This was 1993, when he was doing alot of TV, but theatrical-movie-wise it came between SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION and THE MANGLER.
I’d actually never seen this one before and I’m glad I waited until now because I can at least respect its place in Hooper’s filmography and its rejection of normal horror ideas. Can’t really say I like it, though.
What is the premise? I’ve seen it, so I have a good guess. It’s about Genie (yes, that’s how it’s spelled), a young American woman played by Zoe Trilling (DR. GIGGLES, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2) who goes to Alexandria, Egypt to stay with her archaeologist father Dr. Matteson (William Finley, THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, EATEN ALIVE, THE FUNHOUSE), meets a few people, experiments with her sexual boundaries and then gets chained up by some sadists.
One of them is Chevalier (Robert Englund, EATEN ALIVE, Freddy’s Nightmares, THE MANGLER), who is the descendant or reincarnation or something of the Marquise De Sade, and she of course resembles some lady from his time, so he obsesses over her like he’s a damn Candyman. Englund also plays De Sade in flashbacks, a grotesque, rambling weirdo with syphilis sores and sloppy drag makeup. The movie opens with him in a prison, hanging upside down having his feet beaten with a stick, and he says, “Such enthusiasm. I commend you.” Those scenes kinda remind me of Stuart Gordon’s THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, though not as good.
This all somehow connects to some ancient Christian artifact that Genie’s dad dug up. I’m not sure. A ritual or something. And there’s at least one scene that’s a nightmare about her running through spooky, foggy passages chased by Englund, who is cackling and making menacing sounds with a metal stabbing tool. Can’t quite put my finger on why that seems familiar.
Before it turns into a big mess there’s a Clive-Barker-esque atmosphere of discomfort and taboo-breaking that’s pretty effective. It’s unusual and interesting that it’s a story about Americans in Egypt just trying to have fun and go to parties and stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie about anything like that before. Then Genie gets saved from alley rape by a rich lady named Sabina (Alona Kimhi) who knows her dad. Though he’s known as a pious Christian, it’s implied that she’s his dominatrix. She has a great laugh when Genie asks her if she’s a diplomat. “No, not exactly.”
Genie starts hanging out with Sabina, experiencing lesbian tension, going with her to the type of party where a servant type guy comes over and rips open her nylons to kiss her feet. Great customer service. Also Genie’s friend Beth (Chandra West, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER II and III) brings her to a desert horse race where she meets a handsome sheik type dude (Juliano Mer-Khamis) and next thing you know she’s making sweet romance-novel-with-Fabio-on-the-cover type love to him in his fancy desert tent of adventure. But it keeps flashing to shots of him riding around butt naked on a horse and a lady fellating the head of a snake. Which I’m against. And there’s a part where she has a vision of rolling around with a gold-skinned snake lady?
These Mattesons, like the TEXAS CHAIN SAW kids, are hapless tourists – outsiders who think they can cut it but really don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. A local, Dr. Matteson’s servant Fatima (Irit Sheleg, THE WEDDING PLAN) watches from the sidelines like “What the fuck are these white people doing?” The doctor refers to Fatima as “a lifesaver” who’s going to “watch after us,” which is more literal than he thinks – she sees that Genie is following a dangerous path and tries to steer her back. But she doesn’t succeed, and becomes a victim herself.
Hooper does a good job of violating comfort zones. He uses our fear of the unknown and the forbidden to mess with us. You could argue that the movie is judgmental of S&M people, since Genie is drawn to them and it brings her trouble. She’s warned to stay away from these weird sex parties, and if she’d have heeded that advice she’d have been fine. I don’t know. I don’t understand that stuff. I was with the movie and its intentionally shaky footing for a while, but eventually it’s clear that the pieces of story here are not gonna come together in any coherent way. They’re all gonna just bump into each other and spin around and drop in the dirt.
What I did like about the climax is that it made me wonder what it was that terrorized Hooper at night. The TEXAS CHAIN SAW basic scenario reoccurred enough times in his movies that I think we can interpret it like a dream. Genie gets drugged and molested by Sabina and chained up – it’s not all that different from Sally being tied up and forced to take part in a sham family dinner. Like Stretch with Leatherface in part 2, she uses seduction and appeals to sympathy to get conflicted-bad-guy Sabina’s help against the others. And, just as in CHAIN SAW, it seems like she’s about to be rescued by a character from earlier, but then it’s realized that that person was with these other crazies all along.
Was Hooper’s experience in Hollywood like this? Play-acting as director, not allowed the freedom he wanted, having to sweet talk and be phony to get people on his side until he can run and jump out a window? Or was that just his fear? Probly the second one. But I think it’s interesting to consider.
This is the only writing credit of Rom Globus, along with Daniel Matmor (HOMEBOYZ II: CRACK CITY), who also plays kind of the sidekick character in THE MANGLER.
IMDb lists this as a Canadian/Egyptian/American co-production, but it was filmed in Israel. I think it’s interesting that Hooper returned to the Middle East for his final film DJINN, which was filmed in the United Arab Emirates and centers on an Emirati family dealing with a clash between their westernized lifestyle and traditional expectations of the culture.
It’s pretty forgettable, neither great or terrible – so in the middle that I couldn’t write a full review, just wanted to piggyback it on this one. But its content is definitely unusual for an American movie because the main characters are all Muslims and it’s partly in Arabic. The look is simple and clean, not traditionally Hooperlike, though there’s a creepy atmosphere to the main location of a hotel always surrounded by impenetrable fog. Like POLTERGEIST it’s haunted because it was foolishly built over where some dead people were left. And the one white character is – in the TEXAS CHAIN SAW tradition – a dumb tourist who is totally ignorant and rude about local customs, getting himself into some shit.
It’s mostly just interesting for the novelty of a horror movie in a Muslim culture and for the mysterious riddle of how the great horror master was off the charts for eight years and then suddenly made his last movie in a culture and language so very far from Texas. To add to the enigma, the director’s friend Mick Garris said on his Post-Mortem Podcast that the movie was taken away from Hooper under mysterious circumstances and eventually released in a cut that’s not his at all.
Both NIGHT TERRORS and DJINN are interesting pieces in the Tobe Hooper puzzle, but I wish they were better movies.
You get it? Wish, because of genies. Although there is only a person named genie in the former and the “djinns” have nothing to do with wishes or magic lamps or anything in the latter. You know what, I retract that pun. I wish I never made it. That’s my second wish. My third wish is for world peace.
thanks everybody, more soon
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.