Happy Birthday Tobe Hooper – 69

Today, January 25, marks a great day for horror fans, today sixty-nine years ago, Tobe Hooper was brought into this world in Austin, Texas. A fitting start for a man’s who’s biggest achievement would end up being the director behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While TCM may be the most famous of the films directed by Hooper, or perhaps Poltergeist, it was far from the last entry we’d see, and I’d like to take a moment to look back through the horror filmography of a great man.

Tobe Hooper’s first time behind the directors chair may be listed as Eggshells in 1969, a hippy era epic about a dope-smoking sexaholic poet, but Hooper had been into film-making since using his fathers 8 mm camera at the age of nine.

It would be five years later when Hooper got the chance to directed a film based on the killings of real life serial killer Ed Gein. The original working titles of the film were ” Leather Face” and “Head Cheese”, until financier Bill Parsley suggested they change the name of the film to ” The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, a title that has been carried down throughout generations. With a budget of less than $300,000, Chainsaw is a brutal masterpiece that set the new standards for horror during the mid-seventies, and would be influence a lot of future horror directors to come.

After Chainsaw was finished, it would be two years before Hooper once again took to the directors chair, this time with a well done, yet forgettable film about a redneck hotel owner who feeds his unlucky victims to his pet alligator, called Eaten Alive. Eaten Alive is a fun trump through the backwoods, and stars a young Robert Englund, seven years before he rose to horror fame with his character Freddy Krueger. Another two years go by, and it’s time for Hooper to try his luck at a tv-mini series, the chilling adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, which to today still runs shivers down my spine.

With the eighties came the fun amusement park slasher, The Funhouse, about a group of teens stalked and killed by a man in a Frankenstein mask. A year later in ’82 Hooper would get the chance to work with the already legendary Steven Spielberg, on a little film about a family’s battle against spiritual forces, Poltergeist. While there’s still questions asked today about how involved Spielberg really was with the film, it’s still Hooper’s name in the directors seat, and one of his better movies.

It would be three years before hearing from Hooper again, when he returned with his interesting, to say the least, film about space vampires in london, Lifeforce. Lifeforce is an underrated gem, full of fun, boobs, and a pre-Star Trek Patrick Stewart. The next year would see Hooper remaking the ’53 sci-fi about a kid stopping an alien invasion that has taken control of his parents, Invaders From Mars.

Hooper would also return to direct the sequel to his popular Texas Chainsaw Massacre the same year as Invaders From Mars, which would go on to gain it’s own cult following. The sequel would star Dennis Hopper as Lefty, a police lieutenant with a blood lust to bring down the murderous Sawyer family. The film would also star Bill Moseley as Chop Top, an over the top, humorous new addiction to the Sawyer family, dreamed up straight from the hippy era. While Texas Chainsaw Massacre was played as a straight forward horror film, Part 2 would be played as a horror comedy, which many fans of the original didn’t seem to like.

The nineties would come to show the worse of Hooper’s films, including The Mangler, a film about  a laundry folding machine possessed by a demon. While reuniting Hooper and Robert Englund, there is just little redeemable about the film. Hooper would work with Brad Dourif, a new favorite of horror fans for his recent role as Charlies Lee Ray, and Chucky, in Child’s Play, on a film called Spontaneous Combustion, about a young man with  psychokinetic powers. Hooper would also be one of the many directors to work on made for tv anthology film Body Bags, along side John Carpenter. Hooper’s segment “Eye”, about a man who receives a experimental eye transplant. Shortly after though, he starts to have visions of killing women, and having sex with the bodies. He seeks out the doctor to find out about the donor, who turns out to have been a serial killer. It’s like that episode of the Simpsons all over again.

The Mangler wouldn’t be Hooper’s only time working with Robert Englund in the nineties though, as he would star in his film Night Terrors the same year, about a a young girl traveling to Cairo to visit her father, and getting caught up in a cult. Night Terrors is an odd film, you’ll either love it or hate it.

It would be five years, and the start of a new millennium, before he would once again return to direct horror, this time in the painfully hard to watch, Crocodile. Things have been looking bleak for the once great master of horror, as it’s been forever since he pumped out some solid gold, and people were starting to ask if maybe he had lost it.

The answer would come in a remake of the ’78 film, The Toolbox Murders. TTM would return to the slasher roots that Hooper had once come out of, and filled with plenty of gore, some genuine scares, and some great characters, TTM was the best thing to be seen out of Hooper in years, and not a minute to soon.

But maybe it was just luck that The Toolbox Murders turned out the way it did, as his next film, Mortuary would be a film riddled with bad acting, terrible dialog, and more plot holes than one could count.  Hooper would also be involved in the Masters Of Horror series, making two episodes, the great Dance Of The Dead, and the worse of the series, The Damned Thing.

It’s been six years since we’ve seen anything From Tobe Hooper, and with his newest film  set to come out come out this year, Djinn, the story of a couple who find out their house has been built on the site of malevolent beings ( See Poltergeist), everyone is wondering, will this be a return to the Hooper we once saw and loved, or will this just be another flop?


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