There was so much more to iconic filmmaker Tobe Hooper than just The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Sad news this morning for many of us, waking up as we all are to learn of the passing of one of the founding fathers of contemporary horror, the brilliant, innovative Texas-weaned filmmaker Tobe Hooper. This stings even more, coming so hot on the heels of the death of George A. Romero in July. For if Romero’s nihilistic 1968 masterpiece Night of the Living Dead opened the doors to a more graphic, visceral and unsparing breed of American horror, Hooper’s 1974 landmark The Texas Chain Saw Massacre slammed the steel slaughterhouse door on it, trapping us all inside a grime-soaked cinematic abattoir that set the bar for cinematic shock.
And although The Texas Chain Saw Massacre will remain the movie that history will forever cite as his signature film, Hooper made many, many masterpieces. Some of which were better films than Chain Saw, if not as important.
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His troubled 1976 shocker Eaten Alive is even more bananas than TCM (we adore it) and hammered home the sort of blackly funny, out of control vision that Hooper would wind into all his movies, no matter the budget or source material. His 1979 TV miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is perfection, a hyper-Gothic, epic masterclass in dread and vampirism that perfectly captured King’s characters and their eccentricities while amplifying the horror by making King’s “Dracula,” Mr. Barlow, into a Nosferatu-like wraith from Hell (played by the late, great Reggie Nalder). His slasher opus The Funhouse was unlike the other meat-and-potatoes slasher flicks of the early 1980s and offered — like his best work — great empathy for its villain along with the sort of unhinged set pieces and black comedy that made him famous. His 1982 big budget breakthrough Poltergeist may have been controlled by producer Steven Spielberg, but Hooper’s sense of operatic chaos and slow-burn menace are what made it so special, a sensibility that was glaringly absent in the Hooper-free sequels. His three picture deal with Cannon Pictures included the ballistic, full throttle comedy horror masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, the sort of movie that the first movie only hinted at being and his adaptation of Colin Wilson’s The Space Vampires — re-titled Lifeforce — is now widely considered one of his greatest and most opulent and lush achievements and commands a large following (this writer eats, sleeps and breathes the film). And his Invaders from Mars (the third picture in the Cannon deal) remains an underrated remake.
Even Hooper’s lesser, latter day films like Crocodile, The Toolbox Murders and Mortuary always managed to show evidence of that dry, wry Texas wit.
The man was one of the greats and his rich, wild and beautifully perverse filmography will endure the ages.
Rest in piece, Tobe Hooper. You crazy, wonderful motherf***er.