REMEMBERING TOBE HOOPER

Written by J.Weagle

Saw is Family.

A few weeks ago, the horror community lost yet another legendary filmmaker and visionary.  Perhaps more so than anyone else however, none have been more overlooked and under appreciated as the great Tobe Hooper, who not only created what is arguably the greatest horror film of all time but who helped shape an entire genre.

At this point in time everyone on planet earth has seen or at least knows the name, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a landmark film that may just be the most talked about horror film of all time.  Think about that a moment, think about how many horror films come and go each year, some great – some not so great, but none of them even coming close to the cultural impact of the original Chainsaw Massacre and I don’t think any of them ever will.

I remember watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time when I was younger.  Me and my friend, both being lifelong fans of horror had yet to experience the the legendary film, and we intended to finally watch it and see what all the hype was about.  I remember that day completely, right down to the finest details, because that is the sort of impact it has had on me throughout the years.

It was a cool Summer night and we were fourteen years old, my friend had just bought the special edition DVD that day.  Not knowing he had picked up that DVD I went to the video store (remember those?) and rented the VHS tape that had loomed in that musty old store since the 1980’s.  Rather than watch the cleaned up remastered DVD we instead opted for the gritter, almost unwatchable dirt infested VHS copy I had rented for a dollar.  On a pretty crappy CRT Television we blasted the volume as loud as it could go and we were welcomed into the absolute insanity and brutality that unfolded on the screen in front of us.  The revving of the chainsaw, the manic laughing, the hooting and hollering and blood curdling screams that were so loud my friends mother (who lived nearby) actually went outside because she thought someone was being murdered in the woods.

That was the first time I experienced it, and yes you don’t watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you experience it.  Me and that same friend once again watched it fourteen years later on the big screen at an outside drive-in, this time with our wives and girlfriends who got to experience that insanity for the first time.

It’s memories like that, had by millions around the world that make Chainsaw Massacre such a goddamn masterpiece that it’s hard to put into words.  That’s the thing about Tobe however, he was so tied to Chainsaw Massacre that people often forget the other great films he made throughout his career.  He would go on to follow up his masterpiece with a sequel, that only a guy like Tobe would have the balls to make.  He took just about everything out of the original except the insanity and gave the viewers the complete opposite of what they were expecting and for me at least, delivered yet another iconic horror masterpiece that dives head first into a hyper real chainsaw dueling world that I never knew I wanted until I saw it.

Like many great horror directors, he tackled the works of Stephen King when he turned the vampire novel Salem’s Lot into a television miniseries, and managed to give us some of the most terrifying images of vampires we had ever seen.  It’s a series that was not so well regarded upon its initial release but has gathered much more love and support over the years.   I can remember watching this and having a nightmare two nights in a row about a creepy looking creature tapping on my window while I slept, the image still gives me chills to this day.

Though he often gets no credit for it, many forget his contribution to the original Poltergeist which is often categorized as a Steven Speilberg film, though Tobe is the director.  Yes, there was controversy around the filming of the project and just how big Tobe’s roll was compared to Speilberg’s but you can’t take his name out of the credit, and you can no doubt feel his impact on the project.  It was this film that I felt stunted Hooper’s real rise to fame and recognition, and for a while after it he would go on to direct a series of wacky but fun independent horror films like The Mangler which involved a possessed laundry folding machine from hell.  Perhaps one of the most underrated Tobe Hooper films is the great Toolbox Murders, which much like Hooper’s talents went overlooked and deserves the praise.

Hooper may not have been a household name like many other great horror directors but he was no doubt a master of his craft and one of the most fascinating filmmakers working in the genre throughout his almost four decades in the business.  For me, he helped shape what a movie could be, and showed that a film doesn’t have to stay on the straight and narrow line or follow the path perfectly.  Sometimes it’s okay to take a detour or proceed off the path completely.  Sometimes the most interesting and fascinating things are found in the madness and chaos of primal fear.

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