TOBE HOOPER is well known for creating one of the most frightening and influential horror films of all time. I personally found THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE so fiercely disturbing upon my first viewing that I was left feeling queasy for hours afterward. I’m not kidding; just ask my little brother who suffers from the same post-TCM-stress disorder. Years later when we were older we thought its sequel THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 would be a breeze but then our doorbell rang during the nightmare opening scene and we realized we were both too freaked out to answer it. HOOPER rightfully will always be strongly connected to his cherished masterpiece but I’m truly a huge fan of his entire creative output. Maybe there are a couple misfires but that can be said for any artist. He did things differently and I think his unexpected counter-intuitive viewpoint is exactly what made his work so fascinating and effective. He never took the obvious path. Here are some of my favorite TOBE HOOPER memories. Like many horror fans, I am forever indebted to the man for his incomparable contributions…
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1979) As stated above, TCM rocked my world. It felt so chaotic and feral and purely unsafe and I think it slapped the idea that goodness will always prevail right out of my head. The house (at least on the outside) resembled my family’s earliest home and reminded me of my very first memories of the world. How could such things happen there? More importantly, why did I think it was a good idea to eat fried seafood out of a Styrofoam container on an aluminum TV tray while watching this rented VHS? I had to go lie down afterwards. It was like having a hangover at age 13.
SALEM’S LOT (1979) The TV film that launched a million kindertraumas. I’ll never forget having to go to bed after seeing that smiling demon float through the window. I couldn’t have been more terrified if it happened to me and it felt like it had. Those kids were my age. That looked like my room. This scene has lost exactly zero of its power. It remains one of the most purely eerie visions ever created. Chills.
THE FUNHOUSE (1981) I adore this movie and it’s one that I think gets better with every view. Amy Harper (the incredible ELIZABETH BERRIDGE) is so much deeper than your average final girl. She’s actually more like the usual cynical sidekick that goes looking for trouble and finds it. She wants to break free from her parental restraints and then feels completely lost and vulnerable when she does. It’s really a brilliant film about the horrors of growing up and leaving childhood behind. There’s one scene in which Amy looks out of the funhouse she’s trapped in and can see her parents looking for her but she can’t make contact and it’s heartbreakingly similar to Dorothy seeing Auntie Em in a crystal ball in THE WIZARD OF OZ. It’s one of my favorite moments in all of horror and it’s so brilliantly underplayed. I wrote a longer review way back HERE and it’s one of my favorite posts just because I remember how much fun I had writing it. And don’t get me started on just how delicious this movie is on a purely visual level; I could look at it all day.
POLTERGEIST (1982) I don’t care how much is SPIELBERG and how much is HOOPER. There’s nothing wrong with collaboration, all that matters is the end result. On the way back from the movie theater after seeing this perfect slice of cinema heaven my friends and I decided to cut through a graveyard. This was either the best or worst idea ever and I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t return home with a streak of grey on my 14-year-old head. This movie is as much fun as it is genuinely terrifying and that damn clown doll can haunt you at any age.
EATEN ALIVE (1977) I somehow didn’t get around to EATEN ALIVE until I was in college and maybe that’s good thing. I think its consistent weirdness would have thrown me off as a kid. As an adult I really admire how this film feels so much like a nightmare you can’t wake up from. Full gushing review HERE.
LIFEFORCE (1985) I saw this crazy sci-fi horror mash up when it first came out and it flew directly over my head. I had no idea what was going on. But later in life when I decided to check it out in HD it just opened up completely for me and I was in love. Check out my change of heart HERE.
THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (2004) Talk about underrated! This remake in name only is one of my favorite horror films of its time period and I think it’s nearly right up there with HOOPER’s finest. Full love letter HERE.
And let me say HOOPER was very reliable in delivering on the small screen as well. Besides gifting us with the aforementioned unforgettable miniseries SALEM’S LOT, he also handed over excellent episodic work to FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES (1988 “No More Mr. Nice Guy”), old pal SPIELERG’s TAKEN (2002 “Beyond the Sky”), buddy JOHN CARPENTER’s BODY BAGS (1993 “Eye”) and my personal favorite, THE OTHERS (2000 “Souls on Board”) just to name a few.
In closing, I love TOBE HOOPER. I will always love TOBE HOOPER. I wish I could properly explain how much. I think a lot of people very rudely wanted him to somehow repeat the watershed magic that was CHAINSAW and that’s just greedily asking for the impossible. CHAINSAW is a once in a lifetime perfect storm. I commend HOOPER for exploring uncharted territory no matter the result and I think as the years go on we all will more fully realize how fantastic his post TCM work actually is. I keep reading how HOOPER’s favorite drink was Dr. Pepper. How fitting that he would enjoy something known for it’s against the norm uniqueness.How fitting that he’d have no interest in the more popular conformist colas. Our man HOOPER was a Pepper! Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?