The first film magazine I ever bought featured a piece on a film I’d only heard about in hushed tones as a video nasty.
A notorious work dredged from the depths of depraved and diseased minds.
I had my first glimpse at one of the most iconic and terrifying figures in horror cinema: Gunnar Hansen in a greasy apron and that DIY mask…
The film was, of course, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
I think the magazine must’ve been reflecting on the film’s uncut release so we’re going back to 1999, which isn’t all that long ago when you consider that the film’s original release was in 1974.
And the depraved and diseased mind that dreamt up this vision of horror?
The one and only, Tobe Hooper, who sadly passed away in 2017.
To start a reflection on the work of Tobe Hooper with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, seems at once fitting and dismissive.
Hooper was a director, writer, producer, composer, one-man-band (the last one might not be true) with numerous credits to his name.
His career spanned from the late 60’s (with his experimental debut Eggshells) up to his role as executive producer on 2017’s Leatherface.
He directed a lot for film and TV, but if you say Tobe Hooper you think of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a brilliant and shocking film made on a shoestring budget.
John Laroquette claimed he was paid for doing the voiceover at the beginning with a joint – the ultimate shoestring budget!
Tobe Hooper’s career feels like one of those that people didn’t praise enough while it was happening.
Acclaim – critical and monetary – wasn’t in abundance.
Despite The Texas Chainsaw Massacre making a killing (pardon the pun) at the box office, Hooper saw very little return, due to a poor distribution deal with Bryanston Distributors, which had alleged ties to organised crime.
It wasn’t until New Line Cinema took the home video distribution rights that any real money trickled down to the creatives.
The film that comes to mind next when you hear Tobe Hooper’s name is Poltergeist.
Spielberg penned, and Oscar nominated, this should be talked about as a great achievement for the director but is often laid solely at Spielberg’s feet.
There’s been much discussion and debate over who directed Poltergeist. The idea that Hooper worked with Spielberg in a similar manner to Irvin Kershner and George Lucas on The Empire Strikes Back is often dismissed.
The heart of the debate being that could the mind behind the film about a family of cannibals armed with chainsaws really have directed Poltergeist?
Tobe Hooper was an extremely talented director.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is incredible; it’s a powerful, harrowing and kinetic experience.
To a certain degree, Hooper fell victim to the brutal genius of his second film and the hulking, armed-with-a-chainsaw shadow it cast.
While the standout films of his career are The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, there are other gems, including Eaten Alive, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and The Toolbox Murders.
Eaten Alive is a film about a failing hotel and the owner’s pet crocodile. You don’t really need much more than that – it’s great.
One possible reason for Tobe Hooper not receiving the plaudits he deserves is that he always seemed to produce the opposite film to the one people expected.
A prime example of this is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. It’s bizarre film and I both despise and admire it.
It’s a very different animal to the first film.
A black comedy where yuppies get chainsawed while Oingo Boingo plays in the background (“No One Lives Forever”).
As a black comedy, it’s good. But if you go in expecting something in the vein of the first film, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
And therein lies the problem.
You can’t watch the sequel without comparing it to the original. Despite Dennis Hopper fighting Leatherface with chainsaws.
Tobe Hooper gives the audience the opposite of their expectations.
The last film I want to highlight is The Toolbox Murders, one of the last films Hooper directed.
I’ll put my hands up, it’s not a classic, but it has the grittiness of his early work and typifies the output that made up the majority of Hooper’s career.
He worked with minimal budgets and created solid horror fare.
You can tell that The Toolbox Murders is made by a director who knows how to put together an effective horror film.
It isn’t ground-breaking, but the grit and tension are there and, simply put, it’s a well-crafted horror.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the true cinematic greats (not just in horror), which is so powerful that filmmakers are still drawn to it, almost half a century after it was made.
Quite an achievement.
It felt almost fitting that in the 2018 Academy Awards, which saw Jordan Peele take the stage with a win for Best Original Screenplay for a powerful, searing horror film, Tobe Hooper was missed out from the In Memoriam section.
Relatively ignored by the mainstream but adored by horror fans the world over.
There’s only one Tobe Hooper.
By Ed Hartland
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