How Tobe Hooper Changed Film Forever

Director Tobe Hooper, who passed away Saturday in Sherman Oaks, California, at age 74, was considered a master of the horror genre. His filmography includes such classic hits as Poltergeist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The cause of his death is currently unknown, according to the Los Angeles County coroner.

Movie lovers and filmmakers have been mourning the influential Hooper on social media, just as they did after the recent passing of Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero.

Best known for introducing the fictional chainsaw-wielding Leatherface in 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper helped pave the way for independent filmmakers by putting together his debut film himself.

The director taught school at the University of Texas at Austin and was a cameraman for documentary films. He found investors to put in some $300,000 for a little horror movie about traveling friends who find themselves the victims of a murderous family in Texas.

Hooper was then off with a cast and crew to make his film.

Filming primarily took place in and around a farmhouse near Round Rock, Texas. Needing to keep costs low, Hooper pushed for the film to be made as quickly as possible. In weather that ranged from 95 to 100 degrees, the cast and crew filmed seven days a week, sometimes for 16 hours a day or more.

Released in 1974, the 16mm-shot movie hit a nerve with American audiences. Perhaps it was his deep knowledge of film or his desire to make a bold statement with his first picture but Hooper created a horror movie that completely changed the genre. It had a level of realism that was equal parts uncomfortable and brilliant.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ belongs in a select company (with ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Last House on the Left’) of films that are really a lot better than the genre requires, wrote the late film critic Roger Ebert in his original review for The Chicago Sun-Times.

Hooper’s film would go on to become one of the most profitable movies of the 1970s earning over $30 million during its initial run. The grindhouse flick still plays around the country, too.

It would also spawn a franchise that continues to this day. Hooper made a subversive and comedic sequel in 1986, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which was followed by sequels in 1990 and 1994 the latter of which starred a young Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger. Remakes followed in 2003, 2005, and even 2013 and a new prequel movie entitled Leatherface is scheduled for release this October. Hooper is credited as a producer on that film.

Hooper stated many times that the controversial Massacre was his statement about social unrest in the country in the ’70s. Fed up with government scandals and the media’s gory coverage of violence, the director created his movie as a statement of how lost America had become culturally.

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We were out of gas in the country at the time, and it boiled up out of those times. It’s all true, the content of the film, actually. People were put out of jobs, they were out of gas at the gas station, Hooper told The AV Club in 2000 when asked whether the film made political and social statements.

Hooper’s later career never quite equalled his early success, but he continued to work in the horror genre, creating some hit films like 1982’s Poltergeist. He also directed the 1979 miniseries Salem’s Lot and the pilot episode of Freddy’s Nightmares, in which he directed another horror genre icon: Freddy Krueger.

“He’ll always be one of the best filmmakers who ever lived.”

Hooper’s impact on the industry will always be felt. Texas Chainsaw was proof anybody could make a film as long as he or she had the heart, determination, and work ethic. Hooper was one of the first people to prove Hollywood gatekeepers didn’t matter.

His do-it-yourself style helped launch the dreams of countless others. “Drive” director Nicolas Winding-Refn has said “Massacre” made him want to be a filmmaker, while “Clerks” director Kevin Smith said Hooper’s story helped encourage later independent filmmakers like himself. He wrote on Facebook on Sunday, in part, “His DIY … moxie to make movies at all inspired me as a 23-year-old who wanted to make ‘Clerks.’ While my first film wasn’t a horror movie … I was terrified nonetheless about spending 27 grand on credit cards when I was dirt poor. But Tobe’s work made the prospect of making a movie with no money when I’d never done something like that before less scary. He proved you didn’t need lots of money or studio backing to make a flick so to me, Tobe will always be one of the best filmmakers who ever lived.”

(photo credit, article image: Lionel Allorge, Wikimedia)

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