Thoughts from the ledge remembers the legacy of Tobe Hooper


This week’s installment of Thoughts from the Ledge is going to be a very different albeit sad one.  I would like to pay homage to the late, great, director Tobe Hooper.

So, sit back, grab your favorite beverage and let’s raise a glass to toast a horror legend.

Son of Texas

Tobe Hooper was born in Austin, Texas. According to IMDB, during the 60s he spent time teaching college and working as a documentary cameraman. Those experiences came in handy when he was creating his masterpiece,The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Variety states that he passed away at his home in Sherman Oaks, California. At present, the cause of death is unknown. The director is survived by his son, William Tony Hooper.

The Tribute

For this particular piece, I would like to concentrate on five movies of his that marked my formative years and fueled my passion for the horror genre. How can you condense the life work of an artist who clearly has a plethora of material to choose from?

At seventy-four years of age, he had amassed a filmography of over five decades of movie making. That is an impressive body of work. During the nineties, he turned his attention to the smaller screen and did several guest directing turns on shows like Dark Skies and Masters of Horror.

The List

Tobe Hooper – Courtesy of Vortex

I’ve Got You Under My Skin or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre

In 1974, horror history was made with the advent of Hooper’s breakthrough The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They say write what you know and Tobe managed to incorporate his experiences as a documentary camera person to the test. Shot in a realistic, hand held style, this film was way ahead of its time.

The budget on the movie was typical of independent filmmaking back then. Hooper spent $300,000 and turned in a tour de force that still resonates with horror audiences today. We all know the familiar story. College aged friends on a road trip meet creepy local cannibals. What could possibly go wrong? This flick is like a PSA telling people what not to do if they happen upon a seemingly abandoned house in the wilderness.

Some of the scenes were graphic enough to make patrons walk out of the theater. This film may be forty-three years old but it is still relevant and holds up well with today’s audiences. From the meat hook scene to Marilyn Burns crawling around on a human bone laden floor, TCM is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

The hand-held camera style obviously a holdover from Hooper’s documentary stint is so effective it makes viewers feel as if they are experiencing everything with the characters. This only serves to up the terror quotient. It is the type of film that will stick with you years after you see it.

Tobe Hooper – Courtesy of Warner Brothers Television

Welcome to Salem’s Lot

Now, Tobe was playing in Stephen King’s backyard with this little effort in 1979. I remember watching this tv movie and it was truly an event. Featuring James Mason, David Soul and Lance Kerwin, the story revolves around writer Ben Mears and a horror movie loving kid Mark Petrie who discover that their town is crawling with vampires.

What made this effort truly terrifying was the potent combination of King’s prose with Hooper’s direction. The audience went on the journey with Ben and Mark. This film was psychological horror at its best. We truly wonder if Mark was delusional or was there some truth to the Nosferatu legend?

One of the creepiest scenes that has stayed with me almost forty years later is when Mark is visited by his friend, Danny who is now one of the undead. I can still hear his fingernails scraping against the window. A random geeky fact, according to Behind the Couch, “The shots of the boy floating outside the window were filmed backwards by Hooper to lend them an eerie and strange feel and the scene is accompanied by a haunting and foreboding score of whining strings and thumping piano.”

Tobe Hooper – Courtesy of Universal Pictures, Mace Neufeld Productions

Let’s Go Play in the Funhouse

More from Texas Chainsaw Massacre

This particular film has a special significance for me. My friends and I went to see it opening night in 1981, the theater was jam packed and I had the best time with the screaming crowd. Good memories for a horrific flick.

Once again, four crazy kids smoke some weed and get this awesome idea to spend the night in a fun house. Really? Who hasn’t done that in their lifetime? This seems like a legit plan. Of course, things are going to go awry and they are going to get stalked by a deformed guy sporting a Frankenstein mask.

While the plot points are schlocky, Hooper’s innate comfort with the genre generates some memorable moments. If you get the chance to see this film, I do recommend it.

Space Vampires Suck the Lifeforce Out of You

Lifeforce is an interesting premise. A crew of a space shuttle finds something unusual in a comet. It turns out to be humanoids in coffin like structures, it’s weird but just go with it. The female survives and she ends up sucking the life out of her victims turning them into zombies.

This creature is more like a succubus than a vampire. While this reads like a ’50s B movie and plays out like one, the acting is solid and Hooper’s direction is on point. As for the script, Dan O’Bannon of Alien fame penned it. The way the lifeforce gets propelled from the body makes it even more disturbing.

via Cannon Films

Invaders from Mars

Hooper directs this remake of a film from 1953.  Another Dan O’Bannon special, the story centers on a young boy named David Gardner played by Karen Black’s son, Hunter Carson, who witnesses a spaceship landing. Subsequently, his parents and the townsfolk get taken over by alien life forms.

No one believes David except for the school nurse Linda Magnusson played by Karen Black. Together they enlist the US Marine Corps to help them fight the unwanted extraterrestrials. If you have never seen this one before make a point to do so. The Faculty is a descendant of this wonderful little sci-fi/horror B movie.

The Legacy

For those of you that question why I didn’t include Poltergeist, I wanted to focus on some other films in his body of work. What makes Tobe Hooper’s death particularly sad is it comes on the heels of George Romero. Both of these men were legends in the horror community. Hooper will be incredibly missed.

At least we have the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and all his other efforts on celluloid. Every time you view a found footage flick, Hooper’s legacy is in place. Some of the best times I had as a teenager were watching Tobe Hooper films. Rest in peace, Mr. Hooper, Godspeed.

Next: Thoughts from the ledge on American International Pictures

Do you have a favorite Tobe Hooper film? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. We want to hear from you!