Tobe Hooper, ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ and ‘Poltergeist’ Director, Dies at 74

Mandatory Credit: Photo by BEI/REX/Shutterstock (432336p)Tobe
BEI/REX/Shutterstock

Tobe Hooper, the horror director best known for helming “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “Poltergeist,” died Saturday in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 74.

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office said it was reported as a natural death.

The 1974 “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” became one of the most influential horror films of all time for its realistic approach and deranged vision. Shot for less than $300,000, it tells the story of a group of unfortunate friends who encounter a group of cannibals on their way to visit an old homestead. Though it was banned in several countries for violence, it was one of the most profitable independent films of the 1970s in the U.S. The character of Leatherface was loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein.

Hooper also directed the 1986 sequel “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” which took a more comedic approach, as part of his Cannon Films deal.

The 1982 “Poltergeist,” written and produced by Steven Spielberg, also became a classic of the genre. The story of a family coping with a house haunted by unruly ghosts starred JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson. The film was a box office success for MGM and became the eighth-highest grossing film of the year.

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After “Poltergeist,” Hooper directed two movies for Cannon Films, “Lifeforce” and “Invaders from Mars,” a remake of the 1953 alien movie.

His 1979 CBS miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling novel “Salem’s Lot” is considered by many fans to be a high-water mark in televisual horror. Combining the intrigue of a nighttime soap opera with the gothic atmosphere of a classic horror film, the two-part program was eventually reedited and released theatrically throughout Europe.

He continued working in television and film throughout the 1990s and 2000s, but none of the films had the impact of his early works. His last film, the 2013 “Djinn,” was set in the United Arab Emirates and produced by Image Nation. His other more recent works included “Toolbox Murders,” “Mortuary” and two episodes of “Masters of Horror.”

Among his other works was the music video for Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself.” In 2011 he co-authored a post-modern horror novel titled “Midnight Movie” in which he himself appeared as the main character.

Willard Tobe Hooper was born in Austin, Texas and taught college before starting out in documentaries.

He is survived by a son.

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  1. John says:

    PLEASE CORRECT: “Willard Tobe Hooper” ? Most sources wrote that his birth name was William Tobe Hooper…

    • Tom Ranwell says:

      Those other sources are all lazily using Wikipedia, which in this case is wrong. Hooper’s actual birth name was, in fact, Willard. This was confirmed by the LA County Coroner’s office.

  2. JP says:

    TCM is the finest horror film ever made, a masterpiece of editing, sound and camera placement. Varierty forgot his second film Eaten Alive, also a well done film. Horror is popular once more but the 70s and 80s produced the best of the genre. Risk taking films like William Lustig’s Maniac, the original Friday the 13th, Lucio Fulci and his infamous films The Beyond, Gates Of Hell, House By The Cemetary. The slasjet boom, Halloween, Happy Birthday To Me, The Prowler, Pieces.. The zombie films, Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, Fulci’s Zombie, the numerous Italian zombie films, Dario Argento’s Susperia, Deep Red.. Miss the days of horror thrills at the old run down neighboorhood movie house

  3. My regards go out to the Hooper family, may he rest in peace. I have heard the rumors of a stylish adaptation of the classic tale of murder & mayhem ( HELTER SKELTER ) is in the works for its 50th anniversary. With an all – star cast, featuring multiple producers ( QUENTIN TARINTINO, ROB ZOMBIE, etc.) It is such a shame that Tobe, amongst other late great producers will not have their hands in this.

  4. Ryan James Nijakowski says:

    One person from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre film production has died each year for the past three years. In 2015 it was Marilyn Burns who played the surviving victim, last year it was Gunnar Hanson who played Leatherface, and now the director of the film has died.

    It’s sad that three of the most iconic horror directors have recently passed away. Wes Craven, George A. Romero, Jonathan Demme, and now Tobe Hooper. They all made their imprint on cinema, spawned what are now considered traditional Halloween costumes, and they’ve significantly contributed to the language of our culture. The term “boogie man” has for the most part been retired and replaced with “Freddy Kruger”. The characters “Leatherface” and “Buffalo Bill” have become cherished stereotypes of criminal psychopathy and sociopathy. Even those who’ve never seen the movies understand the implications of names Leatherface and Buffalo Bill when they are spoken. (Just like everyone, especially in a hospital, knows what “Nurse Ratched” means.) And beyond that, peoples say “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again” at least several times a month either light-heartedly as a joke or as a way of declaring ones own emotional detachment from and another person’s personal dilemma in a given situation. And because of Poltergeist (1982), when a person finishes a project or task, usually after household chores or after a much needed meditation, a art of someone somewhere is saying “This house is clean” with great hubris.

    RIP, gentleman! You know more than ever what will happen if you don’t.👻💀👻💀

    John Carpenter is his generation of filmmakers only remaining master of horror. The new wave of Horror filmmaking started in 1999 with The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project, and The Others the following year. The past decade and a half, the genre experimented with the devices of Torture and Gore and the result was the Saw franchise. Gore and Torture as the only gimmicks resulted in predictable storytelling with no real depth or substance. Then it was Paranormal Activity that possessed the secret formula. Gore was out and Paranormal and this change brought us the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, the Insidious franchise, The Conjuring franchise, the Annabelle franchise. With Television and Streaming in its new golden age and their programming quality at the highest its ever been, programs like True Blood, American Horror Story, and Stranger Things have shown to be just as successful and relevant. I the past twelve months, Horror has dominated both the small screen and the big screen. Three 2017 films so far have been critically acclaimed: Get Out, Annabelle: Creation, & Stephen King’s It. Darren Aronofsky’s film “Mother” is likely to become the fourth once it premieres.

    The current generation’s reigning masters of horror are M. Night Shyamalan, James Wan, The Duffer Brothers, David Fincher, and Andy Muschietti, and Ryan Murphy. It’s a fact!!!

    • Charles says:

      “John Carpenter is his generation of filmmakers only remaining master of horror.”
      There’s also Sam Raimi, William Friedkin, David Cronenberg, Brian de Palma and Dario Argento.

      “The current generation’s reigning masters of horror…” should also include Eli Roth, Daniel F. Sandberg, Mike Flanagan and Fede Alvarez.

  5. Richard Thomas says:

    When I was a kid, ” Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was considered verboten, forbidden, shocking. Only “The Exorcist” rivalled it for horror film reputation. I’ve since seen “Chainsaw” many, many times throughout my lifetime and am always amazed – amazed at the camerawork, the characterization shorthand, the way the tension builds and is sustained.
    “Poltergeist” enriched his reputation and he stayed working at what he loved for the next 35 years. A singular talent, a visionary voice, he helped advance the way cinema took off in the true golden age, the 1970’s. God bless you, brother.

  6. Chris says:

    I’d say RIP, like some others, but really, that’s not a nice thing to say…

    …it wouldn’t make for a very good movie if it was peaceful. Sayonara Tobe. You are a legend.

  7. Phillip Ayling says:

    He was the rare person in the film biz who had some original thoughts and brought them to the screen. RIP

  8. Alex Meyer says:

    RIP.

  9. Len says:

    Tobe Hooper’s genius idea was taking documentary techniques and doing horror with it. That made “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” so effective. It looked and felt real, not stylized and artsy. He was far ahead of his time.

  10. Larry White says:

    Good movies..rip

  11. Je Vizzusi says:

    The day Poltergeist was released I sat in a jammed packed Santa Cruz theater among high schoolers galore. It took a week for me to get my hearing back from the high pitched screams of the young audience.

    I was amazed at his timing, his unforgettable shots, the amazing lighting and effects.

    Forever, I would have to convince folks this was a Tobe Hooper Film and not directed by Spielberg!

    RIP ..

    • Len says:

      Je Vizzusi, according to some crew people it was directed – at least to a significant degree – by Spielberg. And it looks and feels very much like a Spielberg film, not like a film by the director of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, so I believe it. Still a good film!

  12. Pam says:

    Tobe was a genius person and his ideas he had became great things he will be missed rest in peace my friend.

  13. KB says:

    Man when I was a kid, Texas Chainsaw Massacre scared the hell out of me. But it also helped me overcome my fear of horror movies, and embrace them instead. Thank you Tobe ! May you rest in peace !

  14. Ian Cochran says:

    RIP, anyway 2017 has not been a kind year for filmmakers, Jonathan Demme, George A. Romero, The director of Rocky and The Karate Kid, and now him which is some hard hits on a scale for filmmakers in general.

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