Tobe Hooper – filmmaker

William Tobe Hooper (January 25, 1943 – August 26, 2017) was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer best known for his landmark horror feature film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1973) which he co-wrote with Kim Henkel, for the mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1979) and for his collaboration with Steven Spielberg on Poltergeist (1982).

Tobe Hooper was born in Austin, Texas, the son of Lois Belle (née Crosby) and Norman William Ray Hooper, who owned a theater in San Angelo. He first became interested in filmmaking when he used his father’s 8mm camera at age 9. Hooper took Radio-Television-Film classes at the University of Texas at Austin and studied drama in Dallas under Baruch Lumet.

Having initially made Eggshells in 1969, which he referred to as a “hippie movie”, by the early 1970s Hooper was working as an assistant film director at the University of Texas at Austin and as a documentary cameraman. He began to develop ideas for a horror film. He credited the graphic coverage of violence by San Antonio news outlets as one inspiration for what became The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (filmed in 1973, released 1974).

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1973) with Tobe Hooper directing

Although it was marketed as a true story to attract a wider audience and as a subtle commentary on the era’s political climate, its plot is entirely fictional; however the character of Leatherface and minor plot details were inspired by the crimes of real-life murderer Ed Gein, who was also the inspiration for Psycho (1960) and Deranged (1974). Hooper also collaborated with Wayne Bell on the experimental soundtrack for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Hooper’s 1976 film Eaten Alive was filmed entirely on the sound-stages of Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, California, which had a large-scale pool that could double as a swamp. Shooting on a soundstage contributed to the atmosphere of the film, which director Tobe Hooper described as a “surrealistic, twilight world.”

However, Eaten Alive eventually proved to be problematic for the director, who left before production ended, due to a dispute with the producers, an experience repeated on the Film Ventures International movie The Dark (1979). Instead, Hooper had a career boost with his work on the 1979 mini series version of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1979) which has become a landmark horror TV adaptation and it often cited as one of their scariest childhood memories by many fans.

In 1981, Hooper directed The Funhouse (1981) for Universal Pictures but despite some notable imagery and great production values, it received mixed reviews. In 1982, Hooper found greater success when Steven Spielberg hired him to direct his production of  Poltergeist (1982) for MGM. It was a major motion picture event, although some creative differences led to Spielberg himself taking over Hooper’s directing duties.

It was three years until Hooper found work again. He signed a contract with Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’ Cannon Group, and directed London-based sci-fi epic Lifeforce (1985), the tongue-in-cheek remake of Invaders from Mars (1986), and his black comedy-filled over-the-top sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986). The latter was poorly received at the time but has found considerable favour since, critics and fans having had time to re-evaluate Hooper’s intentions.

Tobe Hooper with one of the Invaders from Mars (1986)

Robert Englund had a minor role in Eaten Alive, and Hooper would go on to direct the horror icon again in Night Terrors (1993) and The Mangler (1995). Throughout the 1990s, the director continued working mainly in television, as detailed below, often in horror or sci-fi series.

Tom Arnold and Tobe Hooper in Body Bags (1993)

In 2003, Hooper helped co-produce the reboot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for New Line. The movie took over $107 million at the box office and led to a 2006 prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, on which Hooper also served as a co-producer. Clearly, the influence of his seminal 1973 horror movie lived on via a younger generation of filmgoers and still does now with the release in 2017 of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s Leatherface.

Unfortunately, the director’s own Toolbox Murders (2004) and Mortuary (2005) were poorly received by critics and fans alike. Hooper’s final movie assignment was to be Djinn, a 2011 United Arab Emirates-financed production that struggled for a wider release.

Among his works outside of the movie world was the MTV hit mutant-filled music video for Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself.” In 2011 he co-authored a post-modern horror novel titled Midnight Movie in which he himself appeared as the main character.

Selected filmography:

Television:

  • Salem’s Lot (1979)
  • Amazing Stories (1987) – Episode: “Miss Stardust”
  • The Equalizer (1987) – Episode: “No Place Like Home”
  • Freddy’s Nightmares (1988) – Episode: “No More Mr. Nice Guy”
  • I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990)
  • Haunted Lives: True Ghost Stories (1991)
  • Tales from the Crypt (1991) – Episode: “Dead Wait”
  • Nowhere Man (1995) – Episode: “Turnabout” / “Absolute Zero”
  • Dark Skies (1997) – Episode: “The Awakening”
  • The Others (2000) – Episode: “Souls on Board”
  • Night Visions (2002) – Episode: “Cargo” / “The Maze”
  • Taken (2002) – Episode: “Beyond the Sky”
  • Masters of Horror (2005–2006) – Episode: “Dance of the Dead” / “The Damned Thing”

3 Comments on “Tobe Hooper – filmmaker”

  1. The man created without question one of the greatest American Horror films ever. Although his directorial fortunes might not have been as great later, many of the films he made that were unappreciated back in the day (The Funhouse, Texas Chainsaw 2, and especially Lifeforce) has since undergone reappraisal and become better appreciated now than when first seen. And he sadly leaves us during this time of renaissance. RIP Tobe.

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