Jan 14, 2014
Long before he became the absolutely artless and innately inept self-parodying horror hack he is today, Texas-born filmmaker Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist) was actually a serious and inventive auteur who attempted to test the bounds of cinema as an art form, with his first feature Eggshells (1969) aka Eggshells: An American Freak Illumination, which he co-wrote with Kim Henkel (who was also responsible for co-writing the script for TCM, as well as writing/directing Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation), being his most uniquely uncompromising and aesthetically ambitious celluloid effort to date. Apparently screened no more than 50 times upon its release before it fell into obscurity for nearly half a century, Eggshells was finally rediscovered, screened for the first time in 42 years, and recently re-released at the end of 2013 as an extra feature on a 3-disc limited edition Blu-ray release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 distributed by the UK company Arrow Films and luckily I managed to track down a copy of the film. Described by Hooper as “a hippie movie” and producer David F. Ford as a “head movie,” Eggshells was advertised as a “time and spaced fantasy film” and “an American freak illumination,” which are both rather fit descriptions for this shockingly idiosyncratic, if not decidedly discombobulating, piece of undeniably penetrating psychedelic pretense. Like Donald Cammel and Nicholas Roeg’s Performance (1970) meets fellow Texan Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991) as aesthetically molested by Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969) and Stan Brakhage’s Dog Star Man (1961-1964) cycle, Eggshells is an uneven mix of spacey cine-magic, plodding psychedelic retardation, counter-culture cinéma vérité, superficial Swinging Sixties comedy, and a dose of supernatural horror/sci-fi conventions. Indeed, while not Hooper’s greatest film, Eggshells is unquestionably the director’s most unique, complex, esoteric, and aesthetically ambitious, so it is quite unfortunate that the entire film is essentially a pseudo-spiritual tribute to dope smoking, albeit with stereotypical 'free love' and left-wing counter-culture politics thrown in for good measure. A softcore degenerate depiction of a small group hippie of slackers in their early 20s that live in a haunted commune house inhabited by the spastic spirit of a brain-dead beatnik artist who lives in another dimension, Eggshells is best viewed as a ‘cinematic experience’ as opposed to a film with a linear narrative (which the film does sort of have, but it is only of secondary importance). Featuring everything from real-life deluded hippie protestors to phantom swords fights to Texas-fried Jewish weddings, Eggshells is a film that is screaming for cult status as work the makes Hooper ‘classics’ like Eaten Alive (1977) and The Funhouse (1981) seem like worthless celluloid trash by comparison. Indeed, if nothing else, Eggshells is ample evidence that the director’s career might have taken a much different path had he not directed the film that would prove to be his prematurely created magnum opus, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).
It is the late-1960s and none of the pansy beatnik boys living in Austin, Texas want to fight in the Vietnam War, so they impotently rebel by protesting in front of government buildings, listening to shitty music, smoking dope, and having sex whilst under the influence of said dope. The first piece of evidence that Eggshells is not a normal movie comes in at about the 10 minute mark when a young dirty hippie bastard named 'Toes' (played by co-writer Kim Henkel) throws a paper airplane in the air which ends up exploding against his house as if it is ‘napalm’ in what is probably one of the most bizarrely moronic anti-Vietnam War scenes of film history. Although it might be hard to discern while watching the film, the meager man that threw the airplane is a spirit from another dimension who now haunts the house in a manner not unlike the Aubrey Beardsley character from George Barry’s equally bizarre counter-culture cult classic Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977). The house that the hippie haunt Toes haunts is the central setting of Eggshells and, rather unfortunately, none of the other characters are nearly as interesting as the stoned spook. Unbeknownst to the people living in the house, a crypto-embryonic hyper-electric presence lurks in the haunted abode and has major influence over its oftentimes inebriated inhabitants. Essentially, there are no real main characters in the film, thus giving it a celluloid ‘commune’ vibe, though a philistine hippie couple probably has the most screen time. Allen (Allen Danziger) and Sharon (Sharon Danziger) are engaged to be married, but the problem is that the former does not like the latter’s anti-communist gentile father, so the two lovebirds impotently bicker amongst one another in a bathtub in a scene mimicking the iconic celluloid mundanity of Godard. In fact, the hippies do a lot in the bathroom, including typing propaganda on a typewriter while sitting on a toilet in a pseudo-Henry Miller-esque fashion and making would-be-passionate love, among other equally uninteresting things. Meanwhile, the lonely hippie spirit Toes battles phantom spirits with a sword (which he finds sitting next to a toilet) and admires degenerate modernist self-portraits that he painted of himself. Eventually, the spirit discovers egg-like tubes in the house’s basement and is sucked into one and sent into some sort of psychedelic orbit. In another standout scene, a THC-addled hippie writer decides he wants to be totally ‘free,’ so he beats up his car with a sledgehammer, strips off his clothes, and ultimately blows up his rainbow-colored eggshell-adorned beatnik-mobile like pseudo-rebellious autistic action hero without real a cause. Eventually, Allen and Shiksa Sharon ‘sell-out’ and get married at a very public outdoors Jewish wedding (and, indeed, the scene is actually a document of their real-life wedding, though the two apparently got a divorce not long after). In the end, most of the characters of the film enters a balloon-covered forest, sit in what looks like a semi-futuristic beauty salon hair dryer machine attached to a porta-potty and are sucked up by said machine and spit back out in the form of a black liquid that looks like oil, while their spirits take on a formless smokey haze. In the sometimes insightful audio commentary for Eggshells, auteur Tobe Hooper states regarding the character’s seemingly degenerative transformation: “They get purified.” Apparently, the smoke is a “pure spirit disguised as marijuana smoke,” thus indicating Hooper was a proud dope fiend when he directed the film.
In describing the film himself, director Tobe Hooper stated the following pretentious gibberish: “Eggshells, An American Freak Illumination Time & Space Fantasy of the exploding Austin inevitable crypto embryonic hyper-electric presence dueling with itself as Vince Sobrosek is in the bathroom yelling “listen to yellow dog, goddamn yellow dog!” The devil’s hose dog tongue loops and lollies through a glory hole to your uninvited dinner guests and the bedroom paints itself on it’s way to the wedding as your girlfriend and her lover dance beneath the hemoglobin balloons the writer-man takes an axe to the exploding windshield the naked man makes bathes the girl he loves for her breasts and they all grab a seat under the protoplasmic hair dryer transmogrifying as Vince proclaims, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Indeed, Hooper’s own description is a better synopsis than any for an audacious and innately abstract avant-garde flick that, for better or worse, provides a totally singular celluloid experience of hippie Austin during the late-1960s. Rather unfortunately, Hooper originally intended for Eggshells to be a much more darker and intricate work, but opted for getting rid of various scenes and subplots, including a curious character named the ‘traveling prophet.’ Indeed, I am sure that I would have enjoyed Eggshells much more if it was more in the spirit of Messiah of Evil (1973), but Hooper had yet to realize his niche in horror cinema.
Still, I was rather shocked by Eggshells as it made me realize that there was actually a time in Hooper’s mostly forgettable career when he had a passion for making truly passionate, personalized, and highly experimental cinematic works. Described the filmmaker himself as “being a mixture of Andy Warhol's Trash and Walt Disney's Fantasia” and shot on a reasonably meager budget of around $100K, Eggshells is a true testament to the fact of how Hollywood morally and artistically corrupt filmmakers. After all, 13 years after releasing Eggshells, Hooper would become the meek pawn of Steven Spielberg while ‘directing’ Poltergeist (1982) and apparently even allowed the Hebraic producer to take control of the film as a sort of ghost-director. In fact, Spielberg had the gall to publicly insinuate that he was the real ‘auteur’ behind Poltergeist, commenting, “Tobe isn't... a take-charge sort of guy. If a question was asked and an answer wasn't immediately forthcoming, I'd jump in and say what we could do. Tobe would nod agreement, and that become the process of collaboration,” thereupon making Hooper seem like a stoned stupid shabbos goy with a kosher-contaminated philistine brain. Yiddish midget Zelda Rubinstein also confessed that during production of Poltergeist, Hooper apparently “allowed some unacceptable chemical agents into his work” and that “Tobe was only partially there.” Undoubtedly, in the audio commentary for Eggshells, Hooper sounds like a badly burnt out egomaniac and even gets discernibly offended anytime the interviewer, David Gregory, mentions any other filmmakers aside from himself as if he is some sort of marvelous messianic auteur. Indeed, while a interesting experiment, Eggshells is riddled with hippie pseudo-metaphysics that—as Hooper’s horrendous post-The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) filmmaking career certainly attests to—in the end proved to be pure bullshit, as the director’s youthful worship of weed and crap slave-morality-driven counter-culture politics ultimately contributed to the total evaporation of his artistic talents. The then-novice director’s very own Texan take on Zabriskie Point but with an experimental flare comparable the films of Werner Nekes, Eggshells is pre-hack Hooper before the curse of hard drugs and Spielberg, and thus much be watched accordingly. Assumedly, the title 'Eggshells' is an allegorical reference to the director's belief that people are delicate and must be handled like 'eggshells.' Of course, if that is the case, it seems that Hollywood hedonism caused Hooper to crack and fry long ago.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:48 PM
Soiled Sinema 2007 - 2013. All rights reserved. Best viewed in Firefox and Chrome.