Thoughts from the Ledge: The maverick artist Dennis Hopper


Welcome to my weekly series where I pay homage to those unsung heroes of the horror genre. The topic of discussion this week is maverick actor, Dennis Hopper.  The director of Easy Rider, the man that was the harbinger of the death of the studio system, also had roots in dark, sometimes sinister cinema.

“The man is clear in his mind but his soul is mad.” – Dennis Hopper

Get Out of Dodge

It is somehow befitting that a rebel with the soul of an artist like Dennis Hopper would be born in Dodge City, Kansas. The notion of a hard driving town from the Old West and the man that gave us one of the most terrifying characters in cinematic history, Frank Booth intertwined feels right.

He ended up in New York City at the Actors Studio palling around with fellow actors like James Dean. During this time, he made his debut in 1954 on Cavalcade of America. Like most thespians of his generation, he cut his teeth on television.

The fifties saw him appearing in the taut teen drama, Rebel Without a Cause and the grandiose sweeping epic, Giant. It wasn’t until 1969 when he came into his own.

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Partnering with Peter Fonda, he wrote the screenplay for Easy Rider. A film that would effectively usher out the studio system and hail the birth of the independent feature.

Not one to shy away from controversy, he had a famous battle with director Henry Hathaway during the making of From Hell to Texas. He was blackballed for years in the industry until he made a comeback with the Sons of Katie Elder.

The film was ironically enough directed by Henry Hathaway. His fondness for recreational drugs was legendary and he worked sporadically during the 70s.

Apocalypse Now was a small part for him but in true method fashion, he gave it his all. Reportedly, he did not bathe during the shoot to be “authentic” for the part as a photographer in the jungle. This also caused most of the cast and crew to choose not to be around him. The isolation helped him transform into the character.

It Was a Very Good Year

1986 was Hopper’s year. He made back to back pictures. The haunting River’s Edge, the terrifying Blue Velvet and his Oscar nominated performance in the feel-good basketball pic, Hoosiers with Gene Hackman were his ticket to being a working actor again.

This brings me to his finest performances in the horror genre. Let’s start with the Tobe Hooper directed, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

Bringing in the Sheaves

DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock is having a bad night. Not only is she getting harassed by these two idiots prank phone calling her but it’s about to get even worse. When those guys call in and their grisly demise at the hands of the chainsaw wielding Sawyers is captured on tape, Stretch calls in Lieutenant “Lefty” Enright played by Dennis Hopper.

He’s out for revenge and he will take them on with their own weapons. Not one but two chainsaws. It doesn’t get any better than this for horror fans.

Don’t You Look at Me, Don’t You F****ing Look at Me!

This movie reinstated Dennis Hopper in Hollywood. His turn as the diabolical Frank Booth in David Lynch’s masterpiece, Blue Velvet is downright disturbing. His total commitment to the character makes him very real and threatening to the audience.

Hopper even worked it out that every time Frank donned the oxygen mask he would in effect be doing, “poppers.” This recreational drug was very popular in the 70s because of the high it would give during sexual encounters.  Every time the mask appeared, someone was going to have a very bad time.

Warning this clip is NSFW! So, watch at your own risk.

Red Rock Neo-Noir

Red Rock West isn’t a horror film but it is definitely a psycho-thriller that will leave you biting your nails and on the edge of your seat. Nic Cage gets mistaken for a hitman when he is confronted by the client who wanted his wife dead.

Nic takes the client’s money for services rendered and all hell breaks loose. He gets pursued by the real killer played by Dennis. Maybe he should have had a better exit strategy.

The Apostate

Two ghastly murders take place. Someone has painted the walls with the victims’ blood. Apparently, law enforcement gets a tip that they should look for a painter who is angry at God. The tipster happens to be the brother of the first victim.

For whatever the reason, the police ask him to assist in their investigation. During the course of his endeavors, he meets up with Hopper’s character Lewis Garou. He seems to fit the profile but is he the right perpetrator?


Lance Henriksen and Dennis Hopper in one picture? Yes, please! Hopper plays a sadistic warden who allows a scientist to experiment on death row prisoners. However, when a new inmate shows up who just happens to be a serial killer fun ensues. Pure evil is unleashed.

Unfortunately, Dennis Hopper passed away in 2010 at the age of 74. According to IMDB, he has a film in post-production called The Other Side of the Wind. He plays Lucas Renard. In an article in Variety from March of this year, it has been noted that Netflix is finishing the film which was started in 1970 by writer/director Orson Welles.

He worked on the effort up until his death in 1985 leaving behind a 45-minute work print. Frank Marshall and Peter Bogdanovich will oversee completion of the film. It is good to know that a talent like Hopper’s will not fade away but will only continue to grow stronger, forever preserved in celluloid.

Next: Stephen Gevedon: The ‘Session 9’ Retrospective Interview

Are you a fan of Dennis Hopper? Which one of his works do you enjoy the most? Feel free to share our thoughts in the comment section below. We want to hear from you!