by Emily Reuben
On Saturday August 26, legendary horror director Tobe Hooper died of natural causes. Hooper is best known for directing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist.
During the 60s, Hooper worked as both a college professor and documentary cameraman until he decided to direct his own works. This culminated in his 1965 short The Heisters which generated buzz about winning the short subject award.
Hooper’s most infamous film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974 causing massive controversy. The film focuses on a group of friends that have a nasty run in with a family of murderous cannibals. The film exaggeratedly marketed itself as a “real story”, basing the film’s main antagonist, Leatherface, on the real life serial killer Ed Gein. Produced for less than $300,000 and featuring unknown actors, Hooper had difficulty finding distributor willing to take a chance on the film. Eventually, Bryanston Pictures bought distribution rights and the film was released on October 1974. Due to the gruesome nature of the film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was banned in multiple countries immediately following the release. Despite this, Hooper’s film made over $30 million. The following year Hooper directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
These low budget films sparked an entire franchise. After the first two films, a third film, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, was directed by Jeff Burr in 1990. Other films in the franchise include Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006), Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013), and an upcoming addition to the franchise called Leatherface is slated for release sometime this year. Outside the realm of movies, the franchise has also produced one of the first horror video games on the Atari 2600, which was highly controversial in that it allowed players to kill as Leatherface. Additionally, there is an unreleased short film, a comic series, a book, and a novel that all fall under the Texas Chainsaw Massacre umbrella.
Hooper also directed Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed Poltergeist in 1982. The plot focuses on a family that is haunted by evil spirits that possess the family’s youngest daughter. Hooper was chosen by Spielberg to direct the project based on his work on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film was nominated for three academy awards and his been highly praised by critics and fans alike. To further emphasize the success of Poltergeist, the Chicago Film Critics Association named Poltergeist the 20th scariest movie ever created.
Poltergeist also sparked a franchise after its release. Poltergeist II: The Other Side released in 1986, followed by a third movie, Poltergeist III, in 1988. A television series, Poltergeist: The Legacy ran from 1996 to 99. Finally, a remake of the original film titled Poltergeist was recently released in 2015.
Hooper’s works have cemented him as one of the most influential horror directors of all time. He popularized the advertising tactic of making films that are “based on a true story” and helped breathe life into the horror genre by showing that big budgets aren’t necessary to make great films.