Tobe Hooper died and the hashtag campaigns started up and the Internet lamented losing yet another great horror filmmaker to the force that drove their films: death. I never met Tobe Hooper and certainly never worked with him. I did have the pleasure of working with people who have worked for the legendary director. Gunnar Hansen incepted my latest film, Death House and now director and actor are reunited on that great desolate farm in the sky.
The Internet, being The Internet, had to resurrect the question of whether Hooper directed Poltergeist. For me, it doesn’t matter and Hooper’s numerous answers on the matter work for me. Rather, it is my opinion as a filmmaker, that Hooper worked best on low budgets, because he seemed to be most free to unleash real, visceral terror on his audiences. Tangible, palpable terror drove the engine of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. By today’s standards, the film is tame on blood and gore. You can spot the fake Texas Chain Saw fans who claim they’ve seen the film by describing how “gross, bloody, gory” the film was. As soon as I would hear that, I knew this person never saw the film. However, what does propel the film into the annals of horror history is Hooper’s deft use of a documentary style, gritty direction that connects with something primal in our brains and scares the living shit out of us.
I will argue Hooper did his best work on no money or very little of it. Aside from Poltergeist, I found Lifeforce and Invaders From Mars to be over-bloated and misfires because it seemed there were two Tobe Hoopers at work. One wanted to adhere to his own talent and style and the other was bound to deliver a product for studio executives. They had money but came up short on things the things that made a Tobe Hooper film. To be fair, this is all part of keeping the lights on and the bills paid. When studio work comes your way, you take it. He showed his own dark style again in the offbeat The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 that’s been recently reassessed. This would be the same of his 1977 alligator film, Eaten Alive which despite mostly negative reviews has also found a new appraisal decades later.
Hooper’s consistent legacy is his well-documented kindness to cast and crew on his sets. He forged long term relationships with his actors and by all accounts was a gentleman and professional on his film sets. Many recount his love for Dr. Pepper and talking classic film.
He gave America nightmares from Texas which has spawned a franchise all in its own as a Leatherface prequel readies for release. The did he, didn’t he debate over Poltergeist is not his legacy. His deft, brutal, raw cinematic style redefined terror at a time when America was reeling fin the aftermath of Manson and his “Family.”
Gentleman, iconic filmmaker and a kind person. He has a headstone now, but not bad words to have on it. I hope fans raise a drink and toast to Hooper and Gunnar, out there somewhere, dancing the Leatherface Chainsaw dance together one more time in the sunset.
– B. Harrison Smith