Tobe Hooper, the director of horror classics like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist, died Saturday in Sherman Oaks, California at the age of 74.
The Los Angeles County Coroner confirmed Hooper’s death to Variety. No cause of death was provided.
While teaching college and making documentaries and TV commercials in his native Austin, Texas, Hooper gathered a cast of his students and fellow teachers to create a low-budget, Ed Gein-inspired horror film about a group of teenagers tormented by a family of cannibals and the chainsaw-wielding “Leatherface.”
Hooper told Interview in 2014 of the horror film, “I was in a department store around the holidays, thinking, ‘I just can’t wait to get out of this department store.’ This must have been in 1972 or 1973. There were thousands of people in there, and I was weaving through them to get out, and I found myself in the hardware department. I looked down and there was a rack of chain saws in front of me for sale. I said, ‘If I start the saw, those people would just part. They would get out of my way.’ That birthed the idea of the chain saw. Obviously I didn’t do that at the time.”
The result was 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, one of the most influential horror films of all time, a forefather of the American slasher film and a box office success, even though it was banned in countries like the United Kingdom.
“It was banned for 25 years. But, you know, there’s relatively little blood in the film,” Hooper said of his method of letting the audience imagine the gore that’s happening off-screen. Hooper also played a role on the film’s cutting edge soundtrack.
Twelve years later, the director helmed a sequel to the film, 1986’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2. The cult film eventually sprouted a horror franchise that totaled eight films, including the upcoming prequel Leatherface.
The success of Texas Chain Saw Massacre allowed Hooper to direct horror films with a larger budget, including the 1976 crocodile horror film Eaten Alive, The Funhouse and a TV miniseries based on Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.
In 1982, Hooper was hired to direct a film written by Spielberg, who was contractually unable to make the movie while helming his own E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. Poltergeist, the story of a family and their very haunted house, became a high water mark for Hollywood horror and another hit for Hooper, even though the director’s actual contributions on that film have been called into question. Like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist spawned a franchise of sequels and reboots.
Hooper continued to make horror films over the ensuing decades, including Life Force, remakes of Invaders From Mars and The Toolbox Murders and an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mangler. Hooper also directed Billy Idol’s video for “Dancing With Myself.” His last film was 2013’s Djinn, a supernatural horror movie made in the United Arab Emirates.
“Very sad to hear of the passing of Tobe Hooper, another master of horror. He conjured some truly shattering, unforgettable moments in film,” Edgar Wright tweeted.
The Exorcist director William Friedkin tweeted, “Tobe Hooper, a kind, warm-hearted man
who made the most terrifying film ever.
A good friend I will never forget.” John Carpenter wrote, “Tobe Hooper directed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a seminal work in horror cinema. He was a kind, decent man and my friend. A sad day.”