The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Tobe Hooper

Tobe Hooper

tobe hooper

Tragedy struck the horror community last week when director Tobe Hooper passed away. We’ve lost many icons recently, including Wes Craven (almost exactly two years ago), and George Romero earlier this year, and Hooper’s another major loss. I have a nice memory of Hooper, having been present at the Fantasia Film Festival where he unveiled the 4K restoration of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (followed by a 35mm screening of the sequel), and received a lifetime achievement award.

It was a bittersweet moment, as compared to his contemporaries, Hooper never got much respect. TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is considered a touchstone, as is POLTERGEIST, but the rumours surrounding the production of the latter, specifically that it was ghost directed by Steven Spielberg, hurt his cachet. This wasn’t helped by a trilogy of movies for Cannon Films that all flopped quite badly, even though each is pretty good. After that he became more of a direct-to-video guy, but in recent years, a new generation of horror auteurs (like Eli Roth) called on him to finally be recognized on his own merits.

His Best Work

This is a tough one. POLTERGEIST is, without a doubt, my favorite film of his. It was one of the first horror movies I ever saw, and it helped spark my love of film. Thirty-five years later, the movie works magnificently well, making the (actually not bad) remake a particularly bad idea, as the original is so well-regarded. That said, is it Hooper’s work? Many just automatically assume Spielberg directed it, and it certainly seems to have his sensibility, and at first, Spielberg took so much credit the DGA investigated whether he had taken over the film. Spielberg has apologized and tried to set the record straight over-and-over since then, but it can’t be denied that Hooper’s career suffered, and they’ll always be an asterisk next to that one in his filmography.

texas chainsaw massacre

But, Hooper is the one and only auteur of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and it remains one of the most influential horror movies if its time. Leatherface is a indelible icon, and the whole movie has a grungy, almost snuff-look that, despite actually being quite tame in terms of gore, makes it a creepy ride forty plus years later. Too bad Hollywood can’t stop remaking/sequelizing it. Of them all, only Hooper’s own sequel holds up.

His Most Underrated Film

LIFEFORCE was Hooper’s follow-up to POLTERGEIST, and came with one of the biggest budgets Cannon had ever devoted to a film, $25 million, perhaps not a smart move given this is basically a big-budget Hammer flick about “space vampires” (which was the original title). The movie was a disaster and is much-mocked, but I dunno, it’s a really fun little flick with a great supporting performance from Frank Finlay, and the gorgeous Mathilda May. Too bad the leads, Steve Railsback and Peter Firth, aren’t that great. Apparently Michael Caine was the original choice for the action-hero part played by Firth, and he would have probably had the presence a movie like this really needed to go up a notch above campy fun. Still, it’s very enjoyable.

His Most Overrated Film
invaders from mars

Hooper made a lot of poor films - it’s a fact that even he probably wouldn’t deny - but I doubt any were truly overrated. The only one that comes close is his INVADERS FROM MARS remake, which has turned into a bit of a cult classic, but also suffers from a few poor performances that are tough to overlook. Still, the movie is beautifully designed, and the pace never lets up, so even if it’s not quite as good as its fans say, it’s still a minor gem.

His Most Badass Moment

As a kid, one of the POLTERGEIST scenes that freaked me out is when one of the paranormal investigators peels his face off in the mirror, and it’s a moment that makes me think Hooper wasn’t just there to call “action” and “cut”, as the fx work seems more his sensibility than Spielberg’s. I suppose in the end the movie was a real collaboration, with neither really deserving all the kudos, but bits like this make me think Hooper was way more involved than he’s given credit for.

His Five Best Films


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It’s a shame Hooper never really bounced back from LIFEFORCE/INVADERS FROM MARS being such big flops, as he clearly had talent, he probably just needed classier material. Even still, many of his films hold up pretty well all these years later, and he’ll always have a spot in the pantheon of great horror directors.

Source: JoBlo.com



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