Tobe Hooper, one of the pioneers of the horror genre, died Saturday at age 74. He passed in Sherman Oaks. Hooper made two of the most distinguished films in the fright genre. His low budget 1974 film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which gave a glimpse of the frightful potential of a power tool, and became a favorite on the drive in theater circuit. Made at a cost of $300,000, the film grossed over $30 million at the domestic box office. He also directed Poltergeist.
Hooper wrote The Texas Chain Saw Massacre script with Kim Henkel. They based it loosely on the horrific crimes of Ed Gein, a murderer whose influence would also be felt on a latter horror classic, The Silence of the Lambs. While initially banned in some countries, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre held up as a great horror film in that, much like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (also inspired by Gein), most of the violence was implied as a traveling group of teens found their way into the company of a demented clan of cannibals in a Texas slaughterhouse, led by the saw-wielding burly figure Leatherface. While the film was initially lambasted for its shockingly violent subject matter, it got reconsideration over time for the restraint shown onscreen, and stands with films like Halloween and The Night of the Living Dead as pictures that helped shape the genre. Subsequent and far more violent incarnations of the series helped launch the film careers of Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger, along with Jessica Biel.
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Hooper’s other classic was Poltergeist, the 1982 ghost story hatched by Steven Spielberg. Made at a $10 million budget that was far more than anything Hooper was accustomed to, the film starred Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams as parents who move to a dream house in the suburbs, only to find it full of ghosts from a graveyard below the house. While the film’s success left Hooper poised to stay in the mainstream, he seemed most comfortable working on shoe string budgets in the fright genre. Perhaps his other most memorable credit was directing the 1979 miniseries adaptation of the Stephen King vampire saga Salem’s Lot, based on the Stephen King novel. The last film he directed was the 2013 horror thriller Djinn. His death follows the July 17 passing of George Romero, whose Night of the Living Dead launched flesh-eating zombies as a genre staple.
There will certainly be an outpouring of remembrances by filmmakers inspired by Hooper and we’ll add those tributes when they come in. For now, here is the original Chain Saw trailer that is a vivid reminder of his greatest accomplishment to the genre:
Homages to Hooper poured in from fellow directors and genre fans, with many acknowledging Hooper’s personal warmth.
Actor Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville):
Actor Bill Moseley (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2):
Director Kevin Smith (Tusk):
Director John Carpenter (They Live)
Director Eli Roth (Hostel):
Director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy):
Director Scott Derrickson (Dr. Strange):
Director James Wan (The Conjurer):
Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead):
William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist:
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