With the passing of Tobe Hooper, it feels like the hope of getting great horror films again is slipping away. In the last two years, we have lost three of my four favorite directors. Craven, two years ago. Then, Romero and Hooper both this year. John Carpenter is the only one in my top four left. Lucky for us, he’s keeping busy.
To many, Tobe Hooper was a one-film guy. Maybe, at best, he’s seen by many as a two-film guy. These statements are complete and utter bullshit. Yes, he gave us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yes, it is the greatest film of all time to me. No, nothing else he ever did would be able to live up to that. That doesn’t mean he didn’t still do great things.
One of the nice things about the horror genre is that so many of the films that were initially overlooked or seen as not up to par have become more underground, cult hits. Much like Carpenter’s Halloween III, Hooper’s The Funhouse has seemed to really strike a chord with horror fans in recent years. I haven’t seen this one in what seems like forever but I remember it being a hell of a lot of fun.
Of course, there’s Poltergeist. Hooper directed Poltergeist! How is he overlooked so often on this one?! It’s a Steven Spielberg movie. Spielberg wrote and produced it but Tobe Hooper was the director. Spielberg took a few shots himself in front of the house while Hooper was doing other shots behind the house. The LA Times happened to show up and see Spielberg doing his thing out front and started the whole “it was Spielberg doing everything and Hooper showed up to drink his Dr. Pepper and put his name on it” rumor. Watch the movie and see how dark it gets. It’s a Spielberg film, alright, but Hooper’s directing is all over that movie. No question.
Let’s not forget the greatness of Salem’s Lot. The Nosferatu-style vampire was back in a big way on that one. With Stephen King writing the novel, even with this being a television mini-series, Hooper had everything he needed to knock this one out of the park.
Something I didn’t know was that Tobe Hooper directed Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” video. It was a little surprising that after Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist, he’d next do a a music video but think of the times. MTV was new and everyone was watching it all the time. Michael Jackson enlisted John Landis, it’s not really so strange that Idol would enlist Hooper. Music videos were big budget and big exposure.
Hooper made Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 with mostly negative reactions. I think this is where his stigma as a has-been really stemmed from. Hooper, himself, said when he made Lifeforce that he knew no one would get it and it was career suicide. Luckily, all of these movies have been embraced by genre fans. The critics can say whatever they want. These films weren’t made for them.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was a movie that seemed like it could never work. How can you recreate the magic from the first one… especially 12 years later?! You can’t and Tobe Hooper knew that. He could make it gory, he could make it intense but the gritty griminess of 1974 wasn’t going to shine through in 1986. So, he put a comedic spin on it. Yeah, it’s disturbing but also has plenty of laughs for the demented. It worked on every level. Apparently, not at the time, but it stands on its own these days.
Hooper went on to direct single episodes of television shows throughout the late 80s and 90s, stopping off for the occasional film. One stop was the often forgotten anthology Body Bags which he directed with John Carpenter. I think it just got lost in the shuffle because it’s a good one.
In the 2000s, Hooper had a small comeback, albeit with a very meager budget to work with each time. By this point, I think he had been written off. While Mortuary might have been a pretty basic ghost movie, it was well done and better than most anything that was coming out of the horror genre in 2005. People also didn’t seem to give his remake of The Toolbox Murders a chance but, unlike the original, it was watchable and had a good, gritty look. I really dug that one.
I never did see his last film, Djinn. I heard mixed things. I’ll have to see for myself. Either way, there are plenty of Tobe Hooper movies to enjoy.
I’m sad to lose another horror icon. I’m hopeful that independent filmmakers will take note and find inspiration in what Tobe Hooper did with and without much of a budget. I also hope people will stop and appreciate everything he did aside from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist now that he’s gone. Thank you for the great films and great times, Tobe Hooper. Your impact will live on.