The loss of Tobe Hooper to the horror community is severe and sad. Hooper created so much as we know as modern horror. Like George Romero before him, Hooper’s full length directorial debut, 1974’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, helped jumpstart the independent film movement.
In memory of Tobe Hooper Daily Grindhouse spoke with creative professionals, who share the same independent spirit as Tobe Hooper and to find out what Tobe Hooper and his films meant to them. Here’s to one of the greats. Your films terrified me and your death saddens me. Rest in peace, Tobe Hooper.
JUSTIN M. SEAMAN- director THE BARN
With the recent passing of Tobe Hooper, I’m sort of at a loss for words. He was among the many filmmakers that influenced and gave me the desire to try and become a director. But perhaps Tobe was the one director that made feel that I was truly watching something that was REAL and horrific when I first saw THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
I remember watching the film back around the time I went into second grade. I actually thought it resembled a documentary because of the way it was shot and I felt as though I had watched something forbidden. I was captivated and terrified at the same time, and it is still one of the few films that makes me second-guess taking road trips on back roads, ha ha.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 and THE FUNHOUSE were some of my favorite movies to rent growing up. It was great to see two worlds collide when Tobe’s name appear on the screen for the first episode of FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES (It was also being the best episode of the series in my opinion). I think deep down inside all of us filmmakers who were by inspired by Tobe, Wes, and George hope to leave an impression behind in the horror world when our time is no more just like they did. Rest in Peace Mr. Hooper.
GREGORY GUNTER- actor BEAR CITY trilogy
Guttural, visceral; you feel like you are in every frame of Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Auteur Tobe Hooper’s response to the Vietnam War redefined horror films from 1974 forward. The real monsters are not demons from a pit, they are U.S. Sometimes so scarred they wear a skin mask, but that’s just dinnertime at the Sawyer table. To the viewer, Leatherface & his hideous family are the heavies, but to the poor Sawyer clan, it’s the interlopers, the invaders; they are the enemy … and soon … sustenance, dinner.
But it was his brilliant, subdued work on the Stephen King television masterpiece, SALEM’S LOT that emblazoned Tobe on my fat little heart forever. A young teen King devotee, I’d read the book, but was not prepared for this visual & spine tingling banquet. I watched it with my youngest cousin—no longer with us—the only soul brave enough to watch it with me. The masks these townsfolk wore were equally concealing, and quickly peeled away … for HIM. Like CHAINSAW, there was almost no blood – in a VAMPIRE flick! Nothing like the vampire movies I’d come to relish, just little drips around the lips.
Often in those films, the vampire woos a guest in a spooky house. Here the wooer — snags families, whole houses, the CHILDREN. Your dead little brother calls to you, “Open the window, Mark. Open the window.” I watched my little brother intently for months to see if he might float & summon me for Barlow’s hungry desires. I was a fat kid…lotta blood. The banality of James Mason’s Straker, however classy he might feign, was delicious. He’s the Master’s agent, and almost blasé about his duty. Classic actor Reggie Nalder as Mr. Barlow is seared into my noodle to this day. We sit around the Petrie Family dinner table until out of the very floor, Barlow rises — jaw dropping. Such an exquisite entrance, my cousin Claire & I leapt — we had to be shushed by the ‘rents. We swooned over David Soul & Lance Kerwin; we bristled as Barlow & Straker devoured many of the beloved character actors of the day. All fell prey to the Master’s hunger. We ate it up.
Hooper would go on to Co-Direct (so to speak) another ‘master’-piece, POLTERGEIST, but SALEM’S LOT still makes me draw the curtains close, and hope that my dear cousin, now departed, doesn’t float to the pane to draw me out . . . for dinner. Adieu, Master Tobe, thanks for the feast.
NATHAN ERDEL- writer HEADLESS
In 1974, Tobe Hooper “won” independent horror filmmaking; that is to say, Hooper beat us all at the game, and, ever since, the horror filmmaking world, along with Hooper himself, have been struggling to catch up.
It is simply not to be: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is THE perfect horror film.
It’s a shame that Tobe Hooper will likely be solely remembered by mainstream cinephiles as the director of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and while that remembrance is entirely understandable, Hooper was much more than his knockout punch to the cinematic world. He was, and remains, an underrated filmmaker, someone whose filmography contains many more hits than his detractors would have one believe. EATEN ALIVE and THE FUNHOUSE are both great, early entry films in Hooper’s oeuvre, with the former being one of the meanest entries in the deranged killer/slasher/killer alligator (?) genre.
Hooper’s uncompromising, no-nonsense approach to horror (totally exemplified in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) made him a powerhouse, and his work in the genre was mostly effective… sure, the man created THE MANGLER, but, c’mon – he earned at least one guilt-free misfire. Horror nerds have spent too much time incorrectly dissing Hooper as a one-hit-wonder, but they’re wrong, plain and simple. It can be debated whether Hooper was completely in the driver’s seat for POLTERGEIST, but it really does this master of horror a disservice.
Hooper gave us films that were raw and gritty – films that evoked the feeling of gore without resulting in a bloodbath; the wallowing is in the depravity, not the gore. Tobe Hooper was a consummate filmmaker, an original and independent voice in the genre; the horror world is forever in his debt, and won’t be the same without him.
RICHARD TANNER-director FRANKENTHUG
It’s always hard to watch a master of horror leave us and Tobe Hooper was one of most iconic masters of all time. Even if Leatherface wasn’t your favorite slasher you never forget that “the saw is family!”
One of the first horror movies I ever saw was POLTERGEIST—ya know cuz it’s PG, and it’s scary as hell. I was not equipped to handle that torture at 8! It was years before I got the nerve to watch THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, I’d seen every Jason and Freddy flick but Leatherface was a whole new ball game. He was brutal and real! The gore wasn’t funny… It was terrifying and sickening. I almost vomited the first time I saw it!!!
It was AMAZING!
DANIEL W. KELLY- author WET SCREAMS
GenXers had the great privilege of growing up alongside some of the most impactful names in the horror genre right from the start. Although we were too young to see their movies in theaters in the 1970s, we were equally traumatized (and oddly tantalized) by commercials for their films. Tobe Hooper, however, got to us via a different channel: the television miniseries.
He brought Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT to my non-flat screen, non-widescreen TV in 1979 and nearly stopped my 10-year old heart from beating. When little Ralphie Glick came floating to the bedroom window of his brother Danny—who shared my name—it was as if the emotional scarring was being personalized. Once Danny opened that window, it was too late, for both him and me. For I’d willingly invited a decade of nightmares into my home.
My TV screen was the portal to terror, and the invasion of the cable box was about to begin. I was at the mercy of all the masters, and plenty of the scares came in the name of Tobe – THE FUNHOUSE, LIFEFORCE, POLTERGEIST (if that was indeed him and not Spielberg…), INVADERS FROM MARS, and Billy Idol’s DANCING WITH MYSELF video. But despite all the horroring around I’d done by the time I turned eighteen, I was still terrified of going all the way and doing…THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. So one night just before high school graduation, I opened up to an equally uptight friend, and we decided we would pop our Chainsaw cherry together. It hurt. It hurt real bad.
HENRIQUE COUTO- director SCAREWAVES
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE didn’t just change cinema it changed many cinema viewers. As a movie fan often you’re used to a degree of polish in a movie, but one day you stumble across a VHS of TCM and everything changes. It’s grainy, it’s loud, and it’s uncomfortable. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is the gateway into the underground, it was super underground but became mainstream.
Tobe Hooper made films of which the worst you could say about any of them is they are memorable. They left an impression of myself and many people my age and I’m comforted in being confident that there’s no way he can be forgotten.
HARRISON SMITH- director DEATH HOUSE
I never met Tobe Hooper. I never had the chance to work with him. Mark Twain said once to write what you know. What I do know of Tobe Hooper was viewing his work. While the Internet lit up over THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and rightly so, I like to remind folks of the fun romp he gave us with SALEM’S LOT. My Cynema piece found here gives all the details of a mini series that broke some stellar new ground as the 70s drew to a close. Hooper, at his best, tapped into the visceral energy of film. By today’s standards, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is barely an R as its reputation for blood and gore is highly exaggerated. However, what it earned and maintains, is its ability to inject terror into our veins. Hooper was able to mix together the post-Manson hippy world with a growing suspicion that our worst nightmares are right around the corner. As a boy the previews terrified me, and it preceded THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT in fostering the belief we were watching a true story. This was a result of Hooper’s adept documentary feel to a film that did as much for the genre as PSYCHO did in 1960.
Hooper’s ability to guide a huge cast in SALEM’S LOT and also give us some great vampire moments is another testament to his talent to tap into what scares us on the basest of levels. Ralphie Glick floating through his brother’s window in SALEM’S LOT is as iconic as Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface final chainsaw dance at the end of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
Hooper influenced a whole new generation of filmmakers, and he contributed something fantastic to the ether. He leaves us, like Romero, like Craven, having given us something that will live on. The genre is better for it.
PEACHES CHRIST- drag performance artist and director of ALL ABOUT EVIL
Tobe Hooper first terrorized my life when I secretly watched the original THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE at a sleepover party as a kid. We knew we weren’t supposed to watch it and pretended we were in the basement watching something else. I couldn’t understand how it wasn’t real because of the way it all felt and looked. I understood it was a movie, but it was the scariest thing I’d ever seen…and I loved it! Other kids ended up playing foosball while I sat, with my eyes glued to the TV watching the entire VHS tape, even wanting to figure out a way to sneak it home with me.
My next Tobe Hooper obsession was repeatedly watching POLTERGEIST on HBO as a kid and it was a movie I knew every line of dialogue to. I could probably still do a say-along and nail most of the dialogue. My obsession was so real that I actually recorded the entire film onto cassette tapes so that I could listen to the movie going and coming from school on the bus. I was that kid. The kid everyone knows is off, sitting there and chuckling at the sounds of terror. His movies were experiences.
And over time, I’d discover LIFEFORCE, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, and INVADERS FROM MARS. Eventually, THE FUNHOUSE became another obsession of mine. I finally got to meet him in San Francisco when he came to do a screening of THE TOOLBOX MURDERS and I briefly said to him that his films had changed my life, and I could tell that he’d heard this before. He was polite I wanted to grab him and scream, “you don’t understand, I’m being serious here!” but instead I just said, “thank you”. I’ll miss him and continue to worship his work. I’ll always be grateful.
JOHN BOROWSKI- filmmaker SERIAL KILLER CULTURE
Tobe Hooper served as an inspiration to me as an indie filmmaker. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was brutal and visceral. It also proves that a quality horror film can be created on a low budget without all the glitz and glamor. Tobe Hooper made many excellent horror films but I feel he will always be remembered for the frightening reality/docudrama style of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
TOMMY MCLOUGHLIN- director JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI
In 1974 I was a film student at Sherwood Oaks Experimental College. Thanks to the mad visionary Gary Shussett there was finally a school where we could learn from the masters and those just beginning their careers.
Dan O’ Bannon fresh out of USC had made a film with fellow student John Carpenter called DARK STAR.
Dan was my 16mm editing teacher at Sherwood Oaks. Our first assignment…go see this low budget horror that’s opening this Friday. Dan said its ‘fucking brilliant’. Soon we all went to see THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
It was fucking brilliant!! Not a slick fear flick but realistic, almost documentary, in its vision. Tobe Hopper was now officially ‘the guy’!
I saw everything he did after that. Loved it all, from Billy Idol’s DANCING WITH MYSELF to THE FUN HOUSE to SALEM’S LOT. Such a cool director.
And I heard all the wild stories about him, thus I had no idea what it would be like to meet him. Thanks to Mick Garris and his MASTERS OF HORROR dinners I finally got to meet the legendary Mr. Hopper.
“Tobe,” he said warmly shaking my hand. When I introduced myself he turned on that infectious warm smile and began treating me like I was the celebrity. He did that to all of us fellow directors. Tobe was always humble and genuinely gracious about any compliment about his work. His heart was bigger than the great state he came from.
I will always love him for the warmth he shared. And I will miss his laugh and the goodbye hugs on the sidewalk after the dinners. Tobe would always say, “See ya next time, Tom” in his soft gravelly Texas accent.
Now, I so wish I would have hugged him longer that last time. Never imagining it was the final one I’d ever get. That is–
“Until next time, Tobe”
CHAD FERRIN- director PARASITES
Floored to hear of the passing of my hero Tobe Hooper. Just last night I was watching the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 DVD with his wonderful commentary track. Behind the scenes stories through his wonderful down home, Texas twang, soothing and inspiring all at once.
About ten years ago, I went to a screening of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE at the Egyptian theater and as the lights went down, I looked over and there he was sitting right next to me in the dark. I sat there in giddy excitement trying to figure out what to say as his assault to the senses masterpiece blazed across the screen. After the lights came up, I introduced myself, then sputtered out praise for LIFEFORCE, SALEM’S LOT, THE FUNHOUSE, EATEN ALIVE, POLTERGEIST and even THE MANGLER. He smiled, shook my hand and said, “Thanks, kid”, patted me on the shoulder and walked away down the isle.
Every time I watch one of his films, his warm smile pops in my head. I take comfort that he’s looking down from above with a Dr. Pepper in one hand and a Montecristo in the other.
BILLY PON- director CIRCUS OF THE DEAD
What a sad day… it is absolutely heartbreaking to hear about the passing of director Tobe Hooper. I can say unequivocally that THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is the one movie that influenced me the most as a filmmaker. It is the Bible and Blueprint that I follow, learn from and use in everything I do film wise. It was lightning in a bottle and the perfect storm.
Being a director and making a feature I know how hard it is to catch that lightning. Tobe did this time and time again. He had a unique eye and macabre way of telling stories. To me he is a true hero of indie filmmakers and rebel filmmaking. A million others have tried to do what he did and they fail. They fail because more than the gore (they think they see) they are not seeing the human emotions at stake in the film. Look at Sally’s eyes, tears and face and the dinner table. That’s a director’s vision, that’s lightning in a bottle! Thanks Tobe for making me so God Damn proud to be from Texas and giggling every time I eat barbecue.
Leatherface chortles in excitement…
Li o ba fu gapa gil…
JT HABERSAAT- stands up comedian ALTERCATION PUNK COMEDY TOUR
Hooper was far and away my favorite horror director. I think he’s criminally underrated. Obviously everyone points to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and while it was groundbreaking it was never my favorite film from him. That belongs to SALEM’S LOT, which, aside from NOSFERATU, I think is the most effective vampire film ever made. It’s a four-hour epic! The head vampire is terrifying visually, of course, but there are so many moments of tension in that flick, and his use of sound and silence is amazing. The scratching of the floating vampire kid’s nails on the window, the creaking of the rocking chair upstairs, the way the light rocks back and forth to reveal the waking vampires during the climax…it’s just such an effective film. The way the sheet falls off the mom vampire’s face in the morgue while Hatch hurries to bless the cross made of tongue depressors? Terrifying. I’ve re-watched it dozens of times and always find something new.
Also, his remake of INVADERS FROM MARS…wow. When the teacher turns around and has half a frog in her mouth I screamed like Flanders. It made quite an impact on my 11-year-old brain.
I met Tobe once, and he was quite grouchy and would not shake hands because he was concerned about catching Swine Flu, back when that was a thing. Somehow I even found that endearing. Like, “look, fuck off everyone, I’m not catching your horrific pig disease because you want a high-five!” I thought it was pretty hilarious. He’s Tobe Hopper, he made THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, he does not owe you a handshake, hahaha!
ANGUS MAPLE- adult film star SWINEY’S PRO-AM
Take a look at Tobe Hooper’s work, especially THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 and Billy Idol’s DANCING WITH MYSELF video, and you see (or more specifically feel) a creepy sense of oppression. Sure, you got a dude chasing kids around with a chainsaw or post apocalypse ghoul punks climbing up buildings, but I mean something else… the production design, the actual LOOK of the sets and characters. Spaces are cluttered with bric a brac and discarded junk but all having an ornamental purpose to them. This has the effect of subconsciously overwhelming the viewer; the eye literally gets exhausted seeing everything and the mind is overclocking taking too much detail in. It’s a neat trick; mentally sledgehammering you while a character is sledgehammering someone on screen.
It’s been thirty years since I’ve seen THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 but that final shot; a pull back of the woman, triumphant in her chainsaw battle with Leatherface, standing atop a mountain of garbage and rusted auto parts still sticks in my brain. The shot is visually implying the new king (or queen) of the mountain. “Visually implying” I say because even though the mountain was trash it looked ornate, intricate, and baroque. Tobe Hooper’s visual style was a junk punk baroque.
Remember the terrifying arch monster blocking the mom’s way in POLTERGEIST? How could you forget? Do you remember how its look had it covered in hair, bandage or what looked like an ocean of torn skin floating, drifting but still tenuously attached to it’s warped body? Find a picture of that thing and you’ll see what I mean. The monster is terrifying but also took much to look at; overwhelming warped visual chaos. LIFEFORCE ends with a literal mountain of corpses inside St Paul’s cathedral just pressed limbs and empty bodies piled to a peak inside one of the most ornate buildings in the city. Even the original THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, made on a shoestring budget, had an oppressively junky filthy look to the film.
Before you think I’m spending more time praising Hooper’s production designer than Hooper, remember, Hooper came up with this shit! This was no accident; like Carpenter and Craven, Hooper could wring every last iota of tension out of a scene. Like Carpenter and Craven, Hooper used a lot of psychological tricks to keep the viewer off balance and anxious. Subtle … even if you had a guy wearing someone’s face running around swinging a chainsaw.
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