Tobe Hooper has been a hero of mine for as long as I can remember. Unlike other horror filmmakers, Tobe’s movies really, truly, scared me. I told him at one point that Ralphie Glick scratching at the window in Salem’s Lot legitimately traumatized me when it aired on primetime television in November of 1979. He chuckled and said “Sorry, dude.”
But I went on to tell him no, he shouldn’t be sorry: if he hadn’t scared the living shit out of me at the age of 8, we might not be talking at that moment, trying to figure out ways to scare the shit out of other people.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was the first horror movie that kind of “broke” me. I was probably 10 years old, watching it on home video. It was during the scene with Sally tied to the “arm” chair at the dinner table. You know the scene, the one where the camera keeps cutting closer and closer to her eyeball while she screams and screams and screams some more. It was legitimately too much for me and I was amazed I made it through the rest of the movie.
I also told him about the Saturday afternoon matinee showing of Poltergeist my father took me to when I was 10 at Cinema 140 in New Bedford, Massachusetts in June of 1982. When the clown doll popped up behind Robbie, I literally jumped out of my seat and into my father’s lap. No exaggeration. Poltergeist gave me legit nightmares for weeks.
Somewhere after that, I discovered Fangoria magazine and became a fan of all of the masters of horror: Carpenter, Romero, Craven, Hooper, Argento, Savini. And I remember being in the prime fan-boy/horror nerd age by the time 1986 rolled around, specifically the summer of ’86 when Tobe Hooper had not one but two movies coming out, Invaders From Mars in June and Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 in August. I remember gobbling up all of the coverage, trying to figure out how the hell someone could direct two movies coming out within two months of one another (it turned out Invaders had been made under relatively normal production/post-production circumstances while TCM 2 was a nightmare rush-job of unthinkable proportions) and becoming absolutely enamored with this sick, twisted mind who seemed to have a habit of making movies I had to see.
Once I moved to L.A. in my 20’s, I met Tobe Hooper a couple of times before we decided to work together on a handful of unrealized projects in 2007. Initially, I met him at Dave’s Video in Studio City while I was working there in the mid-90’s. He was always quiet and friendly, welcoming and humble, an instant father figure. He came into Dave’s quite a bit (Dave’s Video was a laser disc store of which much has been written) and I would bug him once in a while to “go fan boy” on him. He was always gracious.
The next time I met him was on the set of The Toolbox Murders remake at the now-demolished Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (circa 2003 or ’04). I was there to do a set visit for the horror website “Creature-Corner.com.” This had all been set up by Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson, the writers of Toolbox. They showed me around, introduced me to Tobe and Angela Bettis, Juliet Landau, Brent Roam, the whole cast. My write up was well received and the production gave me an open invitation to come back anytime I wanted.
When I did return, Tobe had set up a director’s chair right next to his. He let me sit with him while he directed one of the final confrontation scenes in the basement. I was on cloud nine. It was amazing to watch him work, to see him making decisions and answering questions. It was an incredible day that I will never forget. (I specifically remember him telling lead Brent Roam to make sure when he was striking at the killer with a screwdriver as a weapon, that he hit the wall with it a certain way, a detail he needed to establish that the screwdriver was real and sharp so that when it was then used to pierce someone’s flesh, the audience would feel it.) I can never thank Adam and Jace enough for those unforgettable days (they are two of the nicest, most generous people in the L.A. horror crowd).
Cut to mid-2007: I was shopping around a spec script called Sacrilege, a horror screenplay heavily influenced by Tobe’s work (along with a stew of influences from a lot of other folks) when I found out that my then-manager had recently signed Tobe Hooper as a client. I let my manager know in no uncertain terms: I wanted to work with Tobe and to please give him Sacrilege because he would be the perfect person to direct it.
A week later, my manager called to tell me that Tobe had read and loved Sacrilege and that he wanted to meet with me. “Does he want to direct it?” I asked eagerly. “He wants to meet you and see if you guys click, he’s got notes on the script.” We set a date and we were going to meet in the conference room at my manager’s offices.
The offices were in the heart of Hollywood and parking was a bitch. I had to park two blocks away and was running late. I was hurrying along the sidewalk when I saw a black Humvee blocking traffic on the (busy) street ahead of me. The driver of the Hummer was trying to parallel park and being honked at by annoyed drivers waiting to get by.
As I got closer, I saw that it was Tobe behind the wheel. He saw me, recognized me, and our first interaction that day was him leaning out the driver’s side window of his Humvee shouting “Hey, Jared, will you help me park this goddamn thing??”
I did my best with hand signals and emphatic gestures to get him successfully parallel parked and we got along great from there. He really did want to direct Sacrilege and he did his damnedest to get it made (and it almost happened – twice) but that version of the movie wasn’t meant to be. The interesting side effect ended up being that we wound up working on a handful of other projects together over the next two years (none of them realized), including another high-profile but never made feature, a remake of the Bela Lugosi classic, White Zombie.
In the case of White Zombie, we worked together on the script from scratch. I did all of the writing but we would go over every word, every line, every period and comma together. We would talk on the phone every day, I would fax him new pages (he wasn’t a fan of email), and I would get him to tell me stories about his days filming Texas Chainsaw 1&2, Eaten Alive, Poltergeist, The Funhouse, and even a disturbing anecdote about the vampire contact lenses used for Salem’s Lot (the lenses were hard and painful, actor’s eyes were injured). He even told me that he believed that the caskets in 2005’s Mortuary were used. “They had these strips of human jerky stuck to the insides, Jared. I don’t know where they got ‘em but these were definitely recycled coffins.”
Anyway, White Zombie came extremely close to getting made in 2009. The fact that it didn’t is one of the great disappointments of my life, professional or otherwise. We talked about doing other projects but Tobe eventually moved on. I ran into him here and there, we would catch up, he would usually optimistically bring up the possibility of getting White Zombie going again. But we fell out of touch over the last few years, all the more regrettable in that we both live in Sherman Oaks and I could have easily just walked over to his house to check in on him and say hi. I wish I had.
Ironically enough, I was talking to someone at a production company just this month about the very real possibility of trying to get White Zombie back on its feet with Tobe directing. Those discussions were definitely real and ongoing and escalating… until Sunday. And Sacrilege eventually did get made into a feature, albeit directed by Kevin Greutert and with a title change. It’s now called Jackals and I am heartbroken that he will never get to see it.
First he was my hero, then he was my mentor, and then he was my friend. But the one thing I’m glad he will always be, for everyone, is a legend.
– Jared Rivet