Tobe Hooper: 7 scary greats he directed after 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'

Director Tobe Hooper (left) on the set of <i>Invaders From Mars</i>, 1986. (Photo: Everett Collection)
Director Tobe Hooper (left) on the set of Invaders From Mars, 1986. (Photo: Everett Collection)

Just over a month after Night of the Living Dead auteur George A. Romero passed away, the horror cinema world lost another of its greats with yesterday’s death of Tobe Hooper. The 74-year-old filmmaker achieved genre immortality with 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which took inspiration from the cannibalistic crimes of real-life psycho Ed Gein and, in the process, inspired the nightmares of generations of moviegoers (and moviemakers). More than four decades later, it’s still often cited as horror cinema’s all-time best, a backwoods classic of such delirious deviance and menace that it invariably cast a long shadow over everything Hooper subsequently made.

While Hooper never quite lived up to that peerless film, his canon includes other stellar efforts that shouldn’t be ignored. Especially in the decade immediately following Chainsaw, he was responsible for a series of scary works that spawned plenty of sleepless nights. He left us too soon, but his ominous output lives on, as evidenced by the seven great movies below, which he made after his seminal Leatherface saga. [Note: the following videos are NSFW]

Eaten Alive (1976)
For his follow-up to Chainsaw, Hooper re-teamed with screenwriter Kim Henkel for this down-and-dirty exploitation film that puts a premium on demented behavior and gruesome kills. Its story concerns wacko Judd (Neville Brand), proprietor of rural Texas’ Starlight Hotel, whose surrounding swamp is home to Judd’s pet crocodile — a creature that doesn’t offer much hospitality to the establishment’s guests. Gleeful grindhouse mayhem follows, energized by Hooper’s trademark sense of gory humor.

Salem’s Lot (1979)
Hooper went in a totally different direction for his 1979 TV mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling vampire novel. Gone is his work’s prior sense of southern-fried madness, replaced with a cool, chilling northern haunted-house atmosphere that’s perfectly suited for this story about a writer (David Soul) and town dealing with the arrival of a mysterious antiques dealer (James Mason) and his undead business partner. The result is a Nosferatu-inspired gem, with a specter-at-the-window scene that stands as one of the era’s most chilling.

The Funhouse (1981)
The Funhouse was Hooper’s first big-studio project (released by Universal), and it’s a slow-burn monster-slasher affair of feverish style. Hooper’s tale follows four teens who decide to spend a night in a traveling carnival’s funhouse, only to witness a murder committed by a deformed fiend — and, then, to become that slaughterer’s next targets. It’s a routine set-up that Hooper drenches in decaying-Americana grime and bloodshed, and closes with one of the most haunting shots of his career.

Poltergeist (1982)
For decades, debate has raged as to whether Hooper (who’s credited with directing it) or Steven Spielberg (who was the producer and credited co-screenwriter) helmed 1982’s supernatural hit. While recent evidence suggests it was the E.T. filmmaker manning the camera — no surprise, given that his artistic fingerprints are all over it — Hooper’s contributions to Poltergeist are also ever-present, not least of which in the gooey skeletons that eventually make their way above ground during the haunted-house action’s finale. We call it a draw, and say any Hooper fan should see it at once.

There are strange movies, there are off-the-wall movies, and then there are movies like Lifeforce, which almost redefines the phrase “out there.” The first of his three contracted pictures for schlockmeisters Cannon Films, it’s an adaptation of a novel called The Space Vampires that’s about nude space vampires discovered aboard a ship hidden in Halley’s Comet, who feed off of humans’ life force. Gorgeously shot, well acted (especially by Peter Firth, Patrick Stewart, and a generally unclothed Mathilda May), and completely ludicrous, it’s a large-scale whatsit that has to be seen to be believed.

Invaders From Mars
A remake of the 1953 science-fiction film of the same name, Hooper’s 1986 effort is a genre film aimed squarely at kids, and while it doesn’t always work, its extreme tonal shifts — from campy comedy to corny creature craziness — give it a uniquely odd flavor. From its visual schema to its cartoonish gags, it’s a hallucinogenic vision of adolescent anxiety, social conformity, and icky nastiness, all revolving around a boy (Hunter Carson) who discovers that his town is being overtaken by disgusting Martians.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre didn’t need a sequel, but it got a good one anyway with Hooper’s maniacally loony, and altogether stellar, 1986 follow-up. Diving full-bore into dark comedy territory, it concerns a radio DJ (Caroline Williams) who becomes a target of Leatherface’s clan (including Bill Moseley’s Chop Top) — as well as an object of affection for the chainsaw-wielder himself. Meanwhile, Dennis Hopper’s sheriff, the uncle of the original film’s Sally and Franklin, hunts for the murderers. Buzzing, shrieking lunacy is the order of the day, pitched at a gonzo frequency so far removed from that of its predecessor that it functions as a freakish opposite-end-of-the-spectrum blast of power-tooling insanity.

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