I was just getting over the passing of George Romero when I woke up this morning and got the news that Tobe Hooper had passed as well. Hooper was known for the seminal horror classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre and cult favorites like Eaten Alive, Funhouse, Lifeforce, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, as well as the TV mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, which remains one of the best King adaptations ever made. In 1982 Hooper directed Poltergeist for Steven Spielberg, which is one of the scariest PG films ever made.
Critic Rex Reed called Texas Chainsaw Massacre “the most horrifying picture I have ever seen.” That’s a bold statement for 1974, but amazingly it still holds up over forty years later. Even with four decades of escalating violence and gore and shock, TCM retains a power that fades in other films. From the opening moments, dread practically pours from the screen and when the monstrous Leatherface is finally revealed, the scene practically sucks the air out of the room.
Aside from Poltergeist Hooper never achieved the sort of critical acclaim he received for TCM. His three picture deal with Canon resulted in three box office flops, which is a terrible shame considering how well those films — Lifeforce, TCM2, and Invaders From Mars — hold up. Hooper continued to work sporadically through the ’90s and 2000s, but he never had a comeback hit. He also worked in television, directing Freddy Kreuger’s origin story in the first episode of Freddy’s Nightmares, “No More Mister Nice Guy.”
Hooper may not have enjoyed the storied success of some of his contemporaries, but make no mistake; he was as much a master of horror as Romero, Craven, or Carpenter. Not only did he set a standard for horror filmmaking, he raised that bar so high people are still trying to reach it. I wish I could have met him, just once; he seemed like a great guy. There have been some very kind words said about him today by the likes of Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Tom Savini, and Don Coscarelli. Each tribute hurts my heart.
I’ve mostly been on my own since I was sixteen. I was a lonely kid with little to no supervision. Working my way through my local video shop’s horror section was not only an escape from my bullshit home life, but also an education. Hooper was a major part of that. Poltergeist was my first Hooper film and I was as riveted as I was scared. It took me a long time to work up the nerve to actually rent TCM, when I finally did it was like watching an explosion of imagery. It was so overwhelmingly intense that I could hardly focus on details or plot. After it was over it seemed like a non-linear nightmare, but each subsequent viewing revealed more and more genius. As I grew up with the film, so did my appreciation for and understanding of how Hooper with co-writer Kim Henkel had created a horrific work of art for the ages.
I see that level of attention, care, and artistry in his other films. Why some connected with fans and others didn’t, I don’t know. One thing is certain though, Hooper is a towering figure in the horror pantheon and his contributions will not soon be forgotten and neither will the man himself.
Thank you, Mr Hooper, for the wild rides, the nightmares, and the inspiration.