8/30/2017

In Memory of Tobe Hooper, the Master of the Chainsaw

On Sunday, August 27, I woke up to the heartbreaking news of the passing if yet another master of horror, the great Tobe Hooper. He was 74.

The news hit me hard. He had, after all, made several movies that I love. Two in particular, also his two best known films, had a huge impact on me and my life: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Poltergeist  (1982).
Chain Saw, in particular, was a huge influence on my desire to get into film. I remember renting it one day and being terrified as I watched it. It is without a shadow of a doubt, the single scariest movie ever made. TCM's power lies in the horrors you do not see. Despite, there being little onscreen gore, it feels like you are seeing more than you actually do. It is intense and deeply nightmarish, an assault of both the visual and aural kind. Hooper kept a realistic feeling throughout, topped off by its gritty and dirty look.
The movie was a huge, and at times controversial, hit. It's influence can be felt to this very day, and is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest and truly scary horror movies ever made. Aside, from the obvious influence it gave birth to the iconic character of Leatherface, a simple minded, cannibalistic maniac who wore a mask made of human flesh, a clear influence of real lifer serial killer Ed Gein. The character, along with different incarnations of his family, would appear in sequels, remakes, and prequels of varying quality. But, even the best in the series never came close to matching this classic's power.
Before I start talking about Poltergeist, we are not getting into the did he or Spielberg direct the movie. It is not fair or respectful to Hooper. This is not time to get into that bullshit. Anyway, Poltergeist is, to put it bluntly, is the greatest haunted house movie ever made. Most of the times showing the ghosts in movies hurts it, but somehow despite the abundant use of special effects this classic works. It has endured and been ripped off for years because not only is it an amazing and jaw dropping experience to view but because there is a lot of heart to it. The later is something none of the ripoffs of it could ever get right.
You care and love the Freeling family. Never do they become annoying or do you wish them dead. Not even the kids come off as pains in the ass. Jo Beth Williams is one of the most ass kicking moms in horror history, and she also happens to be one of the hottest. Despite, the PG rating the movie pushes the rating with it's imagery, including a graphic face peeling scene. While, the climax filled with rotting corpses is exhilarating, fun, and scary. Actually that also sums up the whole movie. In short, it is a perfect classic in every sense of the word.
The other film of his that I absolutely adore is the bat-shit crazy Lifeforce. A box office bomb at the time, the movie has gained more and more favorable reviews and fan love. These days it is considered, and rightfully so, a cult classic and one of his best works. When, I first saw it, as a teen, I thought it was silly and just OK. Though, I was fascinated and in love with the film's beautiful and mostly nude lead Mathilda May.
Years later, as its cult status grew, I felt I needed to revisit it. When, I finally got the superior director's cut on Scream Factory's superlative Blu-ray,  and did just that. I adored the movie this time around! The characters, the score, the gore, the FX, the cast (including Patrick freaking Stewart!), the climax, everything works! It is a wild, original, fun, and sexy sci-fi horror movie. And, of course, there is May, one of the most beautiful women to ever grace genre and here giving us some of the finest nudity ever!
 
These three, in my humble opinion, are his finest work. But, they are not the only ones worth seeing. I also like his following movies:

Salem's Lot (1979)- I actually saw this quality Stephen King adaptation when it first aired on TV. The image of the floating vampire kid was seared in my memory, as it is terrifying. One of the best, if not the best, made for TV horror movies, ever.


The Funhouse (1981)- An enjoyable, likable, and, at times, scary monster meets slasher movie. Rick Baker's makeup FX work is phenomenal. The climax is nerve-jarring, and the film plays wonderfully in repeated viewings. Also, bonus points for having one of the few nude final girls in Elizabeth Berridge!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)- This sequel was panned and hated at the time of its release, but over time it has garnered its own classic status. I have always enjoyed it, but I do find it flawed. It certainly is not on the level of the first movie. That being said, it ops to be funny and bloody, instead of grim and scary. The characters and acting are great, and the lines quotable. Bill Mosley's Chop-Top outshines Leatherface, at times. And, the sexy as fuck Caroline Williams as Stretch is one of the best, and yummiest, final girls ever. I had a big crush on her and totally got, and loved, that so did Leatherface! Also, I love the ending!
Toolbox Murders (2004)- A sort of remake of the infamous late 70's slasher, this was a return to form for Hooper after countless of misfires. It drops the misogyny and sleaze of that flick and goes for a more supernatural and fun approach. In some ways it is a better film that the original, but then they are so different, that I don't think comparisons matter or make sense. If you never seen this one, be sure you do! It has some great acting by May's lovely Angela Bettis, and you can catch the gorgeous Sherri Moon Zombie in a rare non-Rob Zombie role!
I actually had the pleasure of meeting of meeting Tobe Hooper back in 1995 when he did a Fangoria Weekend of Horrors. He was promoting The Mangler. Said, King adaptation was pretty bad, but meeting him was awesome! I remember him as being a quiet and polite man. He didn't and wouldn't do a lot of conventions, so I consider myself lucky to have met him. He signed an 8x10 publicity still of the aforementioned movie, and I got a pic with him (all for free as cons tended to be back in the day).
 
And, so it is with heavy heart that I say that you will be missed Mr. Hooper. And, I thank you for the kick ass movies you made, and the influence they had and still have on my life. May you RIP.

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