Austin, Texas, 1946.
Studied film at the University of Texas.
Directed commercials and music videos, including "Dancing with
Myself," for Billy Idol; director of TV series'
Perversions of Science
(2000); assistant director, University of Texas film school.
William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (+ sc, pr, composer)
Eaten Alive (+ composer)
Salem's Lot: The Movie ; Salem's Lot (TV miniseries); The Dark (replaced by John Cardos)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2 (+ composer); Invaders from Mars
Spontaneous Combustion (+ sc)
I'm Dangerous Tonight (for TV)
Tobe Hooper's Night Terrors ; John Carpenter Presents Body Bags ( Body Bags ) (for TV, + ro as morgue worker)
The Mangler (+ sc)
Perversions of Science (for HBO)
The Apartment Complex (for Showtime)
Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors (doc) (ro as himself)
Sleepwalkers (Garris) (ro as forensic technician)
" The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ," interview with Marc Savlov, in Austin Chronicle , 2 November 1998.
Simpson, Mike, "The Horror Genre: Texas Chainsaw Massacre ," in Filmmakers Newsletter , vol. 8, no. 10, August 1975.
Williams, Tony. " The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ," in Movie , no. 25, Winter 1977/78.
Sharrett, Christopher, "The Idea of Apocalypse in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ," in Planks of Reason , Barry Keith Grant, editor, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1984.
Brottman, Mikita, "Once upon a Time in Texas: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as Inverted Fairytale," in Necronomicon: The Journal of Horror and Erotic Cinema, Book One , edited by Andy Black, London, 1996.
Freeland, Cynthia, " The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ," in The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror , Colorado, 2000.
* * *
Tobe Hooper's career as a director began at the ripe old age of three, when he went around shooting footage with his family's 8mm camera. While growing up, Hooper continued to make films, and spent as much time as he could watching movies in the Austin, Texas, theatre managed by his father. "My entire filmic vocabulary came from those days," he once noted. "It became a way of life, a way of looking at things."Hooper's first production, Eggshells (1969), took place in a haunted commune toward the end of the Vietnam conflict, and garnered very little attention. "There was a poltergeist in the house, but it was treated subtly. The effects got lost in the statement of the film, so it primarily played at art houses. It only got about fifty play dates." Judging from Eggshells and another early effort, The Heisters (1963), no one could have predicted the attention and storm of controversy that would accompany Hooper's next effort, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
Inspired by the real-life story of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein (as was Psycho before it, and The Silence of the Lambs years later), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre —co-written by Hooper and Kim Henkel, and made on a budget of only $140,000—generated heated debate over the aesthetic merits and potentially negative social effects of modern horror cinema. The story, which begins with some voice-over by a young (and then unknown) John Laroquette, tells of five teenagers on a road trip who have the misfortune of bunking down next to an all-male family of cannibalistic ex-slaughterhouse workers. Without a doubt, the most memorable baddie is Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen in the role of a lifetime), he of the eponymous chainsaw and gruesome visage. Upon viewing this intense film, with its relentless pace and documentary pretensions, critic Rex Reed declared it one of the most frightening movies ever made. Immediately, the Museum of Modern Art purchased a print for its permanent collection, and the film was honored in the "Director's Fortnight" at Cannes. The accolades continued to pour in—the prestigious London Film Festival went so far as to name The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Outstanding Film of the Year in 1974. Eventually grossing close to $31 million at U.S. box offices, and spawning three sequels, Hooper's labor of love stood for a time as one of the most profitable independent films in motion picture history.
Having earned name recognition and a bevy of devoted fans, Hooper's next effort, Eaten Alive (1976; also co-written by Henkel) was a disappointment, despite its promising cast. Known by turns as Death Trap , Horror Hotel , Starlight Slaughter , and Murder on the Bayou , the film stars Neville Brand (Al Capone in the original Untouchables television series) as a psychotic innkeeper with a penchant for murdering guests and feeding them to his pet alligator. Robert Englund, who would go on to make it big as Freddy Krueger in Wes Craven's immensely popular Nightmare on Elm Street series, had a bit part. On the one hand, Eaten Alive seemed too much like Texas Chainsaw Massacre for its own good, with its showcasing of random acts of gratuitous violence; on the other hand, it lacked all of the former movie's grim humor and agonizing tension.
Three years later, Hooper had his second success, this time on television, with Salem's Lot —a faithful, albeit understated, rendition of Stephen King's atmospheric vampire novel (James Mason co-stars). The most uncanny scene has infected youngster Danny Glick (Brad Savage) floating outside a friend's window, tapping on the pane and pleading with him to open it. Returning to the big screen in 1981, Hooper directed The Funhouse , an underrated horror tale about four adolescents who spend the night at a carnival funhouse, only to be stalked by a disfigured killer. Based on an early novel by Dean Koontz (who wrote it under a pseudonym), the film was quickly dismissed by both reviewers and fans of the genre, though in retrospect, its self-reflexivity makes it years ahead of its time.
1982 saw Hooper's biggest commercial success, the Steven Spielberg-penned and -produced haunted house film, Poltergeist . Made on a budget that dwarfed anything he had worked with before (approximately $11 million), Hooper did an excellent job of evoking a creepy atmosphere and utilizing cutting–edge special effects technology. Although criticized for being a little too polished (quite a change from Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre days!), Poltergeist was a huge hit, grossing upwards of $76 million, and spawning two sequels plus a network television show. Sadly, the original film's notoriety has increased since its release, due to the deaths of co-stars Dominique Dunne (murdered by her boyfriend shortly after it opened) and Heather O'Rourke, the little girl with the phone (from intestinal sterosis) six years later.
An inexplicable unevenness has plagued Hooper throughout his career, as is testified to by his work in the 1980s. After Poltergeist came the science fiction-horror hybrid Lifeforce —a thorougly average effort at combining vampires, aliens, and female nudity. Next came the very dark, very gory, and surprisingly intelligent horror comedy, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2 (1986), starring Dennis Hopper as a former Texas Ranger seeking revenge for the chainsaw murder of his brother. A disappointing big-budget remake of the 1953 sci-fi classic Invaders from Mars followed. Since then, Hooper has moved back and forth between the big and small screen; highlights include the pilot for a popular television series, Nowhere Man (1995), starring Bruce Greenwood as a documentary photographer whose whole life is seemingly erased in the course of one evening. An original, talented, and unpredictable director, Tobe Hooper's contributions to the horror genre are many, and his developing projects are eagerly anticipated.