Sad news this Sunday morning – Tobe Hooper, acclaimed horror director and a part of the Masters of Horror, passed away at the age of 74 Saturday night according to the Los Angeles County Coroner. The cause of death is not presently known.
Hooper originally began his career as a professor before venturing out into creating films, casting a slew of students for his opus The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974 and following up an experimental horror picture called Eggshells.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would come to be Hooper’s big breakthrough into directing, although at the time it was a controversial display of violence, exploitation, and fetishism. He followed this up with Eaten Alive in 1976, featuring a similarly demented killer at the forefront but with one absurd addition – he keeps a pet crocodile.
Hooper was picked up to helm the CBS TV film Salem’s Lot, a miniseries adapting the titular Stephen King vampire novel. Running a little over three hours long sans commercials, the film did well on television and has remained a cult classic over time.
Then came The Funhouse in 1981, a classic slasher film that emphasized the “fun” of the title, with an entertaining fairground as its main attraction and a villain that garnered more than a little sympathy, in a Frankensteinian sense.
And finally, in 1982, Hooper got his biggest break yet – a chance to direct the Spielberg-written-and-produced Poltergeist. Though rumors and speculations about the level of direction Hooper had during filming would ultimately mar his involvement in the film, Poltergeist managed to scare the pants off of most kids and adults when it hit theaters, and it also marked a glory period for Hooper in the ’80s – he went on to direct hits Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars before following up his original Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a sequel in 1986.
The ’80s were also a huge time for television anthologies, and Hooper helped direct episodes of Tales from the Crypt, Amazing Stories, and Freddy’s Nightmares during a lull in filmmaking. In 1993, he returned to film to direct Night Terrors and part of anthology film Body Bags, then adapted another Stephen King story to cinema with The Mangler (see Blood and Black Rum Podcast’s recent episode).
In 2004, Hooper again found himself taking on horror projects with Toolbox Murders and Mortuary. While these films never took hold, it primed Hooper to direct two Showtime Masters of Horror episodes, and then his final film Djinn in 2013.
Hooper’s success in the horror genre is difficult to ignore, and his work on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist specifically influenced countless other directors, from the hillbilly antics of slasher films in the ’80s to Rob Zombie’s pseudo-follow-up House of 1000 Corpses. Hooper’s presence defined an era of the genre, and he will be missed by legions of fans.