There can be little doubt that Tobe Hooper’s film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre despite being over 40 years old remains one of the most influential horror films ever made.
It was almost inevitable that he would somehow be involved with film making as his parents owned a cinema in San Anglo (amongst several other properties) and he claimed that his mother went into labour whist watching a film there. Born on January 25th 1943 he spent an unremarkable childhood in Austin, Texas and he went to the University of Texas where he studied film eventually graduating and began working as a cameraman on documentaries.
But being a cameraman was not really where his heart was and he wanted to direct and he made his feature film debut in 1969 with an improvised film called ‘Eggshells’ though he returned to documentaries afterwards with The Song is Love about the folk group Peter Paul & Mary. There was a lengthy hiatus before he was to make the film that would establish him and with Kim Henkel who had appeared in Eggshells they wrote The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. The story of a group of teenagers terrorised by chainsaw wielding cannibals was horrific enough and was matched only by its production for which the whole crew and cast suffered. Shooting in unbearably hot weather but having to us film lights which heated the set even more it also caused the real animal carcasses that they used on set to stink causing many to throw up. The set was beset with accidents and injuries and almost unbelievably the chainsaw they used was actually a working one which one actor almost fell on when he was working it. The chainsaw was quickly made safe for future use.
The film quickly gained notoriety around the word being banned with only ten councils in the UK showing the film after the BBFC refused to grant it a certificate though by 1999 they relented admitting that the film was a master class in suggestion rather than graphic gore. But that doesn’t take away from a film that is heavy with almost unbearable dread and still stands above many other horror films even today.
He remained in the horror genre making ‘Eaten Alive’ in 1976 and followed by the first TV adaptation of a Steven King novel – Salem’s Lot with a decent cast that included James Mason. After completing another horror film ‘Fun House’ he found Steven Spielberg calling for him to direct Poltergeist.
Poltergeist was a huge success and came out within months of ET but it was to cause Tobe Hooper problems for the rest of his career. Spielberg hadn’t wanted to direct but was a constant presence on set to such a degree that it was alleged that it was he rather than Hooper who was calling the shots on set. It didn’t help either when the rumour spilled out into the industry bigwigs and Spielberg was quoted in an LA Times article as saying, ‘Tobe isn’t what you’d call a take charge sort of guy. He’s just not a strong presence on a movie set’, though Spielberg later published an open letter of apology but by then the damage was done.
Tobe Hooper felt the door of Hollywood close on him and he turned to Golem – Globus the Isareali brothers behind Cannon Films who financed the rather decentLife Force and the rather less so Invaders from Mars and he felt obliged to return to Texas Chainsaw and made a sequel which was far more comic in tone. Cannon Films were not best pleased with it and wanted monsters not laughs and re-edited the film.
It was his last really notable film and he turned to TV where he remained in the horror genre making Freddy’s Nightmares, Haunted Lives, & Tales from the Crypt although he did work for Spielberg again on Amazing Stories. He made the very occasional feature film which were a shadow of his former glories including another Stephen King adaptation the ludicrous The Mangler and his last was Djinn in 2013 which attracted poor reviews.
His legacy was always going to be Texas Chainsaw. Married and divorced twice he had two sons and passed away of natural causes.