It’s one of the sad facts of existence, that the longer we survive, the more we get to experience the deaths of our idols and childhood memories. Just this year we’ve lost Jonathan Demme, George Romero, and now Tobe Hooper. If Romero was the Godfather, Hooper at the very least would be the crown prince (or at times the red headed step child). Hooper was frequently talked about, but never in the hush revered tones set aside for the Carpenter’s and Craven’s. This in spite of the fact Hooper has probably influenced more indie filmmakers next to Romero.
Starting out as a documentary filmmaker, you could see this background in his debut feature The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In fact the success of TCM is entirely due to that documentary feel. 43 years later, nothing has come that even matches its intensity. His creation of Leatherface will always be his contribution to horror, and that’s a shame because he was so much more than that. Very few could ratchet up the tension as Hooper, let alone create an atmosphere of dread and fear. His lesser known films like Eaten Alive or my personal favorite The Funhouse, can attest to his mastery of the craft.
One can’t talk about him without at least mentioning what he’s also noted for, the 1982 Spielberg penned Poltergeist. In spite of the controversy over who actually directed it, it certainly has Hooper flourishes, and still remains one of my all time favorite horror movies. I saw this opening weekend with a friend, and the line for it was wrapped around the theater. The screams in the sold out show reverberated off the walls and set my fillings a trembling. It was, to the best of my memory one of the last times an audience really felt like one.
Hooper was never afraid to mix things up, and movies like Lifeforce and Invasion From Mars proved that as well. He also co wrote and directed one of the worst, if not the worst adaptation of a Stephen King short story, The Mangler. Even that was beyond Hooper’s considerable talent. He was also adept at mixing horror with comedy, as witnessed in TCM2 and the more recent remake of The Toolbox Murders.
The passing of an icon is always a sad time, but fortunately we have their legacy to view over and over again. Rest easy Mr. Hooper, your kind will never be seen again.