Opinion Piece – Tobe Hooper: The Forgotten Master

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Talk of Hooper being an average film-maker really is laughable…

By Jordan

One hit wonders; the worlds full of them. From The Knack, to Richard Kelly, Vanilla Ice and Cuba “Show me the money!” Gooding Jr, these people feed off the success of a single performance/piece of work for their entire careers and are never able to top it, eventually being forgotten while their singular legacy lives on. Many would argue that gentleman horror director Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) fame is suited to this unfortunate list, having perhaps never again reached the iconic heights of his dingy, unrelenting debut so widely regarded by genre nuts as one of the best of all American films. I passionately beg to differ…

So, he’s made some shockers (The Mangler, Mortuary, Djinn), and some that did reek of mediocrity (Spontaneous Combustion, Invaders from Mars, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), but his highs far  outweigh his lows and anyone interested in fantasy or horror certainly need seek these out. Eaten Alive (Death Trap, 1977) is a campy, aggressive cult favourite notable for featuring a young pre-Freddy Robert Englund in which a psychotic hotel owner feeds his guests to his pet crocodiles, Salem’s Lot (1979) a creepy, faithful adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most beloved novels, The Funhouse(1981) a fun, atmospheric slasher with nods to the classic Universal catalogue, Poltergeist (1982) a classic that speaks for itself, Lifeforce (1985) a bonkers sci-fi fantasy thriller full of nudity and space vampires, Bodybags (1993) a forgotten anthology film made with John Carpenter featuring many great cameos and Toolbox Murders (2004) a scary, gory, quality remake starring one of my favourite actresses Angela Bettis.

Still not convinced? In 2005/2006 he joined other luminaries John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Stuart Gordon (severely underrated also), John Landis and Lucky McKee plus many more for IDT Entertainment’s Masters of Horror series created by Mick Garris, in which each director was tasked with creating hour long films with complete creative control (although of course limited by budget and a short schedule). His first effort, Dance of the Dead, a post-apocalyptic, chaotic zombie blast starring an in-form Robert Englund is widely regarded as one of the highlights of season 1, and his second episode, the more demure The Damned Thing, one of the best looking of the entire series (though I do believe I like it more than most).

Watching the attached documentaries on the Masters of Horror DVDs, its clear to see just how immensely respected Hooper is among his peers, each praising his blue-collar spirit and gentle nature; this nature being a trend among all male horror directors of his generation, who can see the evil in and around people and whose acceptance of it renders them able to portray stories of insidiousness or shock whilst never falling victim to it.

Ultimately I’m not risking my credibility (if I have any)  by saying that Hooper deserves credit above the likes of Wes Craven, George A Romero or Larry Cohen, but I certainly believe he deserves to be mentioned in the same company. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most important, uncompromising horror films ever made, and Poltergeist too often lazily referred to as the work of producer Stephen Spielberg (the poster says Directed by Tobe Hooper… as do the credits. deal with it).  I believe that if he had only made these two films in his entire career, his brand would be pristine, but due to critics quick dismissal of the other appreciating gems he has given us his name has become as tainted as Evan’s City tap water.

Long live The Funhouse and Lifeforce. Long live the legacy of Tobe Hooper.

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19 responses to “Opinion Piece – Tobe Hooper: The Forgotten Master

    • Super unnerving! I’ve often thought that if I met someone who had never seen a movie before, or even heard of them, I would love to show it to them above any other film… the reaction would be brilliant.
      Jordan

  1. I watched Texas Chainsaw 2 the other day and thought about reviewing for my blog. I think it’s a kind of underrated film; nowhere near as masterful as the original of course, but it had a weird comic sensibility which I liked.

    • Yeah he certainly took a different approach with it! While I stated its mediocre, there’s no doubting the fun you can have watching it despite its many, many shoddy elements. Also, having Dennis Hopper as the lead helps any film.
      I’d be keen to read your review!
      Jordan

  2. I think when people hear Tobe Hooper, they think of Poltergeist and his more commercial stuff – forgetting all the other great work he’s done. He is certainly versatile. All of his movies are very different from each other and perhaps that gives him a style that is not easily recognized as opposed to someone like Carpenter, Landis, or Gordon who you immediately know its their movie.

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  9. Been reading a lot about Hooper in the past few days since the unfortunate news and one thing that I came across a lot was how often his hands would be tied by studios because of his reputation from Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

    Also, in at least his opinion, he put in a lot of on the story and script for Poltergeist and also did a ton of research about the paranormal folklore for Spielberg.

    Also I loved TCM2. It’s also got one of my favorite, silly, parody posters, a perfect compliment for the movie.

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