Tobe Hooper, who shaped the face of modern horror with Texas Chainsaw Massacre and exploited bad TV signal feed in Poltergeist, has passed away at 74.
Hooper broke into the industry working on documentaries in the ’60s after upbringing and education in Austin, Texas. Cinema verite filmmaking was in style during the ’70s after William Friedkin won Best Picture for procedural The French Connection, so Hooper joined in the fun, using his documentary background to maximum effect with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Released in 1974 on a $300,000 budget, Chainsaw would become among the most profitable movies ever, as theaters – grindhouse, drive-ins, and mainstream alike – booked it to shock audiences with Hooper’s cool detached imagery that ratcheted up demented plausibility, pervasive tension, and implied violence.
Hooper was among the filmmakers of the 1970s ‘New Hollywood’ stable to take studio shelter after Heaven’s Gate marked the end of the era. Here Steven Spielberg got Hooper his biggest gig: directing 1982 face-peeler Poltergeist, a dark riposte to E.T.‘s bright vision of suburban life. Poltergeist penetrated pop culture (“They’re heeeeere”), but only after a famously curious production, with persistent evidence of Spielberg taking over much of directing. Both he and Hooper were highly diplomatic in addressing the topic, and the two would regardless work together again on Spielberg’s early 2000s TV series, Taken.
One to never stray far from the horror genre, Hooper toiled attempting the same kind of cultural impact in the shadow of Chainsaw and Poltergeist. He followed the latter with cosmic sex vampire romp Lifeforce, before softening up with a kid-oriented remake of Invaders From Mars, and returning for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, re-purposing the series as satire. And he found some success adapting Stephen King, most notably the Salem’s Lot miniseries in 1979. Post-1980s and inbetween movies, Hooper directed horror anthology episodes in shows like Tales From the Crypt, Night Visions, and Masters of Horror. His final release was 2013’s Djinn.
Hooper’s Fresh movies are Poltergeist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Salem’s Lot, Body Bags, Lifeforce, and The Funhouse.