At the young age of 30, Tobe Hooper directed one of the most influential films in the horror genre, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Filmed on a meager budget with a 16mm camera resulted in a final product riddled with imperfections. Splice marks in the middle of a frame, dirt ground into the reel, and visual errors throughout. Now, 40 years later, the film has undergone a huge restoration and is making its way back into theaters all summer long.
After shocking audiences The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Tobe Hooper followed up with the television adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist. While the latter was considered an even larger success, reports of Spielberg’s control issues and Hooper’s drug problem at that time still linger today. In 1986 Tobe Hooper returned to his initial achievement by co-writing, producing, and directing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2. Critics panned the film for the drastic style changes and dark comedy, but it made one thing clear; Tobe Hooper has an unconventional approach to the genre that defies expectations. Hooper’s avant-garde style has often alienated critics and horror fans alike, but his long history with the genre proves he’s a master of horror.
Some of Hooper’s oft overlooked films worth checking out:
1. Eaten Alive (1977)
A video nasty about a redneck hotel owner who feeds people to his pet crocodile, this film is more for fans of the The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2. All schlock and dark humor, to say this film is polarizing is an understatement. Robert Englund’s character introduction begins with the memorable line, “My name is Buck, and I’m here to…” Yeah. You remember the line, even if you haven’t seen the film. It came from Eaten Alive. Watch this one with a group and it’ll carve out a special place in your heart. Hooper proved his sense of humor with this feature.
2. The Funhouse (1981)
Four teenagers decide to spend the night in a carnival funhouse and wind up being stalked by a deformed man in a Frankenstein mask. As if carnivals aren’t creepy enough, right? Released in the height of slasher flicks, Hooper places many tongue-in-cheek nods to the classics early on in the film. The funhouse makes for one atmospheric setting, and the tension builds at a subtle pace. The climax follows a typical slasher formula, but the film’s killer feels more creature feature.
3. Lifeforce (1985)
Read Matt’s eloquent review as to why you need to see this film here.
4. Body Bags (1993)
An anthology film by John Carpenter, Hooper directed the final segment, “The Eye.” The story follows a minor league baseball player, played by Mark Hamill, who loses sight in one eye as a result of a car crash. He undergoes an experimental surgery where he receives a donor eye to replace his damaged one in the hopes of saving his career. Unfortunately the eye causes visions of bloodshed and violence that alters the player’s behavior, putting his wife in danger. Mark Hamill’s performance alone makes “The Eye” the best short of the bunch; his character’s descent into madness is visceral. “The Eye” is also the most gruesome and shocking short of the film. Tobe Hooper also makes a cameo in the anthology’s wraparound, “The Morgue.”
5. Toolbox Murders (2004)
A remake of the 1978 film, in which a killer slaughters tenants of a decaying apartment building when renovations begin. Hooper’s version begins with the slaying of Sheri Moon’s character, before introducing us to our main characters lead by actress Angela Bettis, who plays Nell. Nell is the film’s anchor as she tries to deduce who’s behind the grisly murders of her neighbors. The decrepit apartment building makes for a worthy atmospheric setting and Angela Bettis plays the perfect lead as the only character with a clue. Hooper plays this remake straightforward, and while it’s not without flaws, he still proves he can keep an audience on the edge of their seats decades later.
What is your favorite Tobe Hooper film? Do you plan to see The Texas Chain Saw Massacre In theaters this summer?