Tobe Hooper, the legendary horror director of such classics as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, passed away Saturday in Sherman Oaks, CA, at the age of 74. Cause of death is not yet known, although the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office reported it as a natural death.
The influence of his 1974 feature, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was especially pervasive in the horror world, but also the world of independent film in general. Like Night of the Living Dead from a few years earlier, it smashed through cinematic boundaries of “good taste,” bringing new levels of gore to mass audiences while also becoming one of the most successful independent films of the ‘70s. The story of a group of young people who become waylaid by a sadistic band of Texas cannibals (including the famous Leatherface), it ushered in a new era of horror extremism that would proliferate throughout the grindhouse theater circuit in the ‘70s, before the rise of home video in the ‘80s. Hooper eventually did return to the concept with the divisive Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 in 1986.
1982’s Poltergeist was another high-water mark for Hooper, who directed under the (reportedly very watchful) eye of Steven Spielberg. Regardless of who actually performed the lion’s share of direction, the collaboration produced dynamite results—Poltergeist is one of the best pure horror movies of the 1980’s, alive with genuine chills, disturbing practical effects and plenty of heart. The story of a family (Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams) under siege by spirits who steal away their young daughter, it remains an indisputable classic of the genre.
Outside those most famous successes, Hooper worked on many projects both within and outside the horror genre, notably directing one of the best early Stephen King adaptations in the 1979 TV versions of Salem’s Lot. We also have to put in a plug for the zany 1985 sci-fi horror film Lifeforce, whose largely nude psychic vampire antagonist really has to be seen to be believed.
Hooper is survived by his two sons.