RIP Tobe Hooper

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.


RIP George A. Romero

Saddened to hear about the passing of horror icon George A. Romero at age 77, after a brief battle with lung cancer.  I consider Romero to be the king of the zombies.  We wouldn’t have zombies as we know them today without him.  Every single filmmaker who has made a zombie movie after 1968 owes him the biggest debt of gratitude.

Zombies were mindless minions under a spell until Romero’s Night of the Flesh Eaters was released as Night of the Living Dead and the world familiarized itself with the idea of walking corpse zombies.  Now, I’m sure most everyone knows they weren’t supposed to be zombies, initially, but zombies they became.

Romero had a knack for inserting an underlying narrative for what was going on in the world into his films.  It started right off the bat with America’s racial tension in NotLD.

Unfortunately, due to a loophole, Romero’s Night of the Living Dead quickly fell into the public domain and he never made the money he should have from it.  Despite the success of NotLD, he struggled for financing on almost every film he made.  The guy has been heralded as an all time great director, but he was rarely rewarded monetarily.

From what I read, Romero rounded out his “dead trilogy” with Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead from what was initially a three part short story he cowrote with John Russo.  Each part became a film.  This is probably why the three were so fluid together despite being made over the course of 17 years.

Romero proved time and time again that he could make great movies with little money.  Dawn is widely regarded as the greatest zombie film ever and while Day had to be rewritten extensively due to low funding and budget cuts, it was still another iconic zombie apocalypse masterpiece.

George Romero always kept his foot in the cult/horror genre with The Crazies, Martin, Knightriders, Monkey Shines and more.  He even teamed with Stephen King for the essential anthology films Creepshow and Creepshow 2.  Not everything he touched was gold but it was damn close.

In 2005, Romero went back to his zombie roots with a new installment to his dead series, Land of the Dead.  It seemed it was about the only time in his career that he really had any kind of budget to work with for a zombie film.  It was mostly well-received by horror hounds and it looked as if Romero was back and might finally get to make the money he deserved for all of his cinematic contributions.

Romero stayed on the “dead” road but, unfortunately, the efforts were lackluster with the Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead films.   Recently, however, we all got a nice surprise announcement that he was coming back for one more “dead” film, Road of the Dead.  I’ll be honest, my first thoughts on the sinopsis for this one were that it would either be terrible or a fun-as-hell addition to the series.  I like to think it would’ve been a return to form and the latter would’ve been true.  I guess we’ll never get to find out.

Thank you, George A. Romero, for the countless hours of fun watching your films.  Thank you for giving us a world full of zombies.  Thank you for giving dorks like me scenarios to dissect with other horror fans.  More than anything, thank you for entertaining so many of us for so long.  Luckily, we get to watch and rewatch these films for years to come.