Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist has died, aged 74.
Just six weeks after the passing of George A. Romero, we’ve lost another master of American horror with the news of Tobe Hooper’s death, reportedly from natural causes.
Born in Austin, Texas, in 1943, Hooper was a college professor turned documentary cameraman who broke new ground in the horror genre in 1974 with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, bringing a nightmarish vérité style to the low budget horror film that put him in the company of peers Romero and Wes Craven. Based on the crimes of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, TCM became one of the most notorious and influential films in horror history and inspired an entire sub-genre of backwoods shockers, not to mention a franchise of its own.
His next film, Eaten Alive (1976), didn’t have the impact of TCM, but was still a berserk and sleazy little grindhouse gem that’s championed by fans, while his 1979 television mini-series of Salem’s Lot remains a vampire classic and one of the best Stephen King adaptations. The Funhouse (1981) was another underrated Hooper gem – part slasher film, part monster movie, and rich in seedy carnival atmosphere.
While it’s still debated how much directorial input Steven Spielberg actually had on Poltergeist (1982), Hooper’s first big budget Hollywood picture has his bloody handprints all over it, from the crawling steak to the graveyard erupting finale.
Following Poltergeist, Hooper signed a three picture deal with Cannon Films which included Lifeforce (1985), an insane FX-filled sci-fi misfire that wasn’t a commercial hit but attracted a devoted cult following. His subsequent film, the remake of Invaders from Mars (1986), was less a guilty pleasure than just plain guilty, but Hooper’s third film for Cannon saw him returning to his roots with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986). Unlike the first film, however, it was a demented black comedy that quickly became another cult classic, thanks to unhinged turns from Dennis Hopper and Bill Moseley.
Hooper’s career dipped in the 1990s with forgettable fare like Spontaneous Combustion (1990), Night Terrors (1993) and The Mangler (1995) finding a small audience on home video. His last film, the little seen Djinn, was released in 2013.
Hooper is survived by his two sons, and of course his indelible and enduring impact on the horror film.