‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Director Tobe Hooper Dies at 74

‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Director Tobe Hooper Dies at 74

The last few years have hit horror fans nearly as hard as they’ve hit comedy ones.  First was A Nightmare on Elm Street director Wes Craven’s unexpected death in 2015.  Then came splatter icon Herschell Gordon Lewis, the “Godfather of Gore,” in 2016.  Just last month, Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero — who single-handedly brought zombies to the forefront of popular culture — after an aggressive bout of lung cancer.

Now another horror icon has left us.  Tobe Hooper, best known for breathing life into the iconic Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has died of natural causes at the age of 74.

It is impossible to understate just how influential Tobe Hooper was to the horror genre.  Long before Wes Craven  hit the scene, he was the face of movie-house nightmares.  Although John Carpenter is widely attributed with creating the Slasher Film, he merely perfectly the formula Hooper laid down half a decade before Michael Meyers stalked through the American heartland.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a new, far more nihilistic kind of horror film.  Despite what its visceral title might suggest, it emphasized the psychological terror of its victims above their physical endangerment.  Their torment was punishment come down from above (or, perhaps, riven up from below) seemingly at random: a generation of would-be movie stars cut down — in this case literally — for nothing worse than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Director Tobe Hooper Dies at 74

It tapped into a social anxiety that was brimming underneath the increasingly modern, seemingly ideal American landscape of the 1970’s: modernized industry.  As technology and society moved forward — replacing old, inefficient positions with vastly more efficient machinery — entire populations were left behind.  In the very heart of Texas, one family of generational butchers — trained only in the slaughter and mutilation of animals — was expunged from the payrolls of corporate America, and given no outlet for their singular talents aside from happenstance passerby’s from out of town.

Not only that, but it presented a far more vicious brand of violence than had been seen stateside before.  Norman Bates used a knife.  Others opted for guns or other quick means of dispatchment.  Not so with Leatherface.  If you were lucky, you were bludgeoned with a hammer.  More often than not, however, you were ripped apart with his chainsaw — bloodily and in the unflinching sight of the camera — and strung up on meat hooks to bleed out, afterwards cooked, eaten and your remains worn as ghastly clothing.

‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Director Tobe Hooper Dies at 74

Although the credit often — and unfairly — goes to producer Stephen Spielberg, Hooper was also responsible for directing 1982’s Poltergeist.  Although often derided by genre gatekeepers for being too kid-friendly — too in-ine with Spielberg’s more accessible filmography — it has endured as a horrific institution in the minds of movie-goers for good reason.

Poltergeist is the perfect entry level movie for would-be fans of the genre.  Its childish appeal isn’t some shortcoming that films of the genre ought to avoid, but welcoming hooks that lure the unindoctrinated in with a false sense of security before ripping the carpet out from under them in its disproportionately grizzly climax.  Watching a man rip his own face off in a mirror, or caskets full of cascading corpses explode out of the ground, are arresting images that no child soon forgets, while the relatable characters and more innocent dressings make it perfectly palatable for even the most skittish viewer.

‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Director Tobe Hooper Dies at 74

While never as successful as its forebear, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, made more than a decade later, was a bizarre, experimental film that showed the director’s willingness to shake up established formulas and try something different: something sorely lacking in the overly corporate film industry of today.  And though the majority of his other works aren’t as widely celebrated, they are all expertly-crafted tales of suspense and terror that shouldn’t be missed.

Horror novelist and director Clive Barker — responsible for movies like Hellraiser and Candyman — offered up a heartrending eulogy to his friend and colleague.  Taking to Twitter in the immediate wake of Hooper’s death, he opined that while “the chainsaw is now quiet, […] it will forever be heard.”

Goodbye, Mr. Hooper.


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