Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tribute: Tobe Hooper (1943-2017)

I am deeply saddened this morning to report the death of horror film director, and icon, Tobe Hooper (1943 - 2017).

For me, Hooper is indisputably one of the five most significant auteurs of modern horror cinema (1970's to present)  alongside the likes of Wes Craven, John Carpenter, George Romero, and David Cronenberg.  

Now, Craven, Romero, and Hooper have all left this mortal coil.

But Tobe Hooper, in particular, has always broken my heart, because -- even up until weeks before his death -- the director was never given the credit he deserved by either the industry or some film writers, and fans. 

The "Steven Spielberg directed Poltergeist [1982])" meme always held back his reputation, I feel, unfairly. 

Some of the evidence to support the assertion that Hooper didn't direct Poltergeist are the result of misinterpretation of photos, or the mistaken belief that Hooper never directed a movie as strong as the 1982 horror film, so he couldn't have been responsible for it.

Yet Hooper also directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973), Salem's Lot (1978), The Funhouse (1981), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II (1986) and the cult-hit Lifeforce (1985).  A case can be made for the brilliance of any or all those pictures.

A tribute to a deceased artist is likely not the best or most appropriate place to re-litigate an old, ugly matter, however.

Rather, it is a place to appreciate the artistry of a maestro. And that is exactly what I feel Hooper was: a master.  

His horror films always felt dangerous; always felt edgy, and Hooper's understanding of film grammar was second to none. Unappreciated by the industry, and by film writers in his life, I hope these people will seriously, upon his passing, make an effort to re-evaluate his work, and consider Hooper's place in film and horror history.

I will end this tribute with a few short words that capture perfectly the nature of Hooper's underappreciated cinematic genius. 

These words are from L.M Kit Carson (Film Comment: "Saw Thru," July/August 1986, pages 9-12).

"Hooper was a new deal - simply this; no deal. Hooper was a scare-director who was methodically unsafe, who the audience (You) finally just couldn't trust...He'd go too far, then go farther...and go farther again, and kick it again...then get in an extra kick, then it's over...then one more kick...No deal, friend."

Or as I like to say, just watch the final act of Poltergeist. No deal, friend.

So here's to the great Tobe Hooper, the "no deal" horror director whose films terrified and inspired a generation of movie-goers.


  1. It's a sad loss. Hooper was an underappreciated talent and so unpredictable. I also hope people start to come around and give him the respect he deserves.

    I agree with you, John. His horror films felt dangerous and edgy. With Hollywood so built on formula and playing it safe, you never knew what to expect from him.

    Nice tribute, and thank you for all the writing you've given to Hooper over the years. I know I wouldn't be as big of a fan of his without it.

  2. John, thoughtful tribute to Tobe Hooper. Spielberg's mere producer connection to Poltergeist did truly rob Hooper's credit due. Hooper's direction of Stephen King's Salem's Lot(1978) miniseries is still one of my favorite horror films ever.


  3. Even if Hooper had died in 1976, he still would be important. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most ripped off, and often ineptly ripped off, movies ever made. Manly later directors often acknowledge what the movie meant to them, but nobody has ever come close to capturing that movie's vibe. The feeling of being chased, trapped, and tortured has never been bettered; one could say that that kind of film-making is actually traumatic to the personnel, so perhaps it's for the best that it's not attempted more often.