In his career, Director Tobe Hooper never reached a “mainstream” Hollywood status, despite his lengthy filmography.
However, he left one of the biggest impacts on the horror genre in its storied history.
In 1974, Hooper (Jan. 25, 1943-Aug. 26, 2017) had his masterpiece “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” release to theaters. The film, loosely inspired by a true story, was controversial, to the point where it was banned and censored in countries such as England and Australia. At the same time, it has been hailed for its effectiveness in terrifying its audiences.
Since its release in the 70s, the flick has been listed as one of the greatest horror movies of all time by publications including Time Magazine, The Guardian and Total Film.
Creating the classic wasn’t easy, though. As a director Hooper pushed his cast and crew to the limits. The temperatures during filming reached more than 100 degrees and the special effects were simple because of the low budget. Hooper, though, was able to turn these shortfalls into something fantastic.
The low budget, which resulted in a real chainsaw, animal bones and real blood being used in certain cases, led to a realistic atmosphere. As a result, the movie has a gritty, dirty, grimy look to it, making the experience of watching it more intense. The same can be said for the 16mm camera the picture was shot on, which produced a grainy look.
The elements also led to the cast being under enormous pressure during filming, to the point where the movie’s lead actress Marilyn Burns’ screaming in the last third of the film was from her being so tired of the shooting process.
In the end, the extreme production that Hooper helmed paid off. All of the hardships that took place became some of the greatest strengths of “Chain Saw,” turning it into one of the most memorable films because of its realistic nature.
Along with the difficult production, though, it’s important to remember how well shot and relatively written “Massacre” was.
The filming, for example, included some takes that have been cemented in film history. These include the final scene of the film with Leatherface swinging his chainsaw wildly to the part where the character Pam is walking toward the evil house. The latter, which uses a low angle shot to make the house appear even more foreboding, was used by a professor of mine in a film class during a lecture.
It also has to be mentioned that while there are intense scenes of violence in the flick, “Massacre” doesn’t have much blood or gore on screen. Instead, the film shows just enough to give the audience an idea of what’s happening. It was an effective trick played on viewers to let them imagine what was happening on screen.
For the writing, meanwhile, Hooper (who co-wrote the picture with Kim Henkel) did two important things. One, he laid the foundation for the slasher genre, establishing now well known and heavily used tropes such as the masked slasher killing off a group one-by-one and there being a final girl. Secondly, and more importantly, the writing was very bizarre and frightening, especially in the third act.
Personally, all of these aspects under Hooper’s direction combined to make my favorite horror film of all time.
However, it wouldn’t be right to just talk about “Massacre,” because it wasn’t the only good product Hooper put out.
For example, in a collaboration, Hooper directed the Steven Spielberg produced movie “Poltergeist.” It’s been said that “Poltergeist” was actually directed mostly by Spielberg and some have tried to limit Hooper’s involvement. In the end, shades of both directors are present. To say it was all Spielberg and trying to reduce Hooper’s credit is wrong. His influence was there for sure.
What really divides audiences, though, was his follow-up “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.” The movie is a complete turn around from the first. Instead of being a low-budget slasher, the sequel is a higher budgeted dark horror comedy. While this was disappointing to fans who wanted another terrifying entry, though, upon giving it a fair shot it’s actually a fun, campy experience. This is thanks to Hooper’s direction and the casting of Dennis Hopper to play a crazed sheriff.
While his career never reached the heights of some others in the horror genre, Hooper is still rightfully remembered as one of the most influential directors in history. His passion was on display during the shoot of his most famous picture and that’s why his legacy lives on today.