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Though he worked in the horror and dark fantasy genres for decades, writer and director Tobe Hooper made significant contributions to the genre with just two films: "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974) and "Poltergeist" (1982).Though produced under very different circumstances - the former was an ultra-low-budget exploitation potboiler while the latter was a major studio spectacular - both films were major commercial successes that reflected the zeitgeist of their day. Surprisingly, neither had quite the salutary effect on Hooper's career as one might have expected. Following "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," Hooper had trouble finding his Hollywood footing with "Eaten Alive" (1977) and "The Funhouse" (1981), before being handed the reigns to "Poltergeist" by producer Steven Spielberg. But that proved to be more of a burden than a blessing, particularly after the film released and became a huge success; several cast members and crew claimed that Spielberg was the true director of the film, having exerted creative control over Hooper. Subsequently dismissed, Hooper entered into a disastrous period, directing three straight flops for Cannon Pictures after signing an ill-fated deal. With his feature directing career in tatters, he found new life on the small screen, directing made-for-television horror movies as well as episodes of "Nowhere Man" (UPN, 1995-96), "Dark Skies" (NBC, 1996-97) and "Masters of Horror" (Showtime, 2005-07). A popular artist who once changed the face of horror, Hooper devolved into a struggling, work-for-hire director who nonetheless maintained a high-level of craftsmanship in all of his work. Tobe Hooper died in Sherman Oaks, California on August 26, 2017. He was 74.
Born on Jan. 25, 1943 in Austin, TX, Hooper was raised by his father, Norman, who owned a theater in San Angelo, and his mother, Lois. He took his first strides toward becoming a filmmaker at nine years old after discovering his father's 8mm camera, which he used to make his own movies. By the time he was a teenager, Hooper had completed "The Abyss" (1959), his first short film with sound. With a number of shorts soon to follow, Hooper's childhood hobby soon became a job when he broke into professional filmmaking as a commercial and industrial film director. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Hooper worked steadily as a documentary filmmaker, churning out some 60-odd films in that time. In 1968, he gained considerable exposure for directing a documentary on the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary for PBS. Turning to narrative feature filmmaking, Hooper directed the Hippie-themed "Eggshells (An American Freak Odyssey)" (1969), a supernatural movie about the decline of the peace movement that gained attention after winning an award at the Atlanta Film Festival, but ultimately failed to find a theatrical release.
Hooper turned up before the camera as a supporting player in "The Windsplitter" (1971), another period piece in the "Easy Rider" (1969) vein, before returning to making documentaries and industrial films. But he soon made his breakthrough with "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974), which garnered him both celebrity and a great degree of notoriety while completely changing the face of horror movies. One of the key works in 1970s horror cinema, the film was a grueling exercise in nightmarish terror. A group of hapless and notably unpleasant teens run astray of a degenerate family of unemployed slaughterhouse workers with a taste for tourists. Despite its notoriously evocative title, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" served its thrills with very little blood. Even those who dismissed it as sadistic exploitation had to concede that Hooper had crafted a compelling film. The washed out colors contributed to its raw documentary feel while the overactive camera became an active participant in the mayhem. Generally noted for its emotional intensity and unsettling nihilism, the grisly work of art received praise from critics for its jet black satire of class and familial relations. Produced on location in Texas for an exceedingly modest $155,000, the film reportedly grossed as much as $50 million. Due to the vagaries of distribution practices, Hooper received only a fraction of his contractual share of the profits. Nonetheless, he had made a name for himself and prepared the way for what he thought would be a lucrative Hollywood career.
Despite the overwhelming success of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," Hooper entered a period of creative frustration. He completed his next film, "Eaten Alive" (1977), but the producers changed the shape of his conception by recutting the film. Hooper was subsequently fired from his next two feature assignments "The Dark" (1979) and "Venom" (1981). In between these twin disappointments, he enjoyed his most trouble-free Hollywood project: a two-part, four-hour TV miniseries based on Stephen King's modern day vampire tale "Salem's Lot" (CBS, 1979). Many fans of the horror novelist considered Hooper's version among the best King adaptations. The miniseries was re-edited and released theatrically in Europe. He next directed "The Funhouse" (1981), a stylish concession to the slasher movie craze which he helped initiate about four teenagers trapped in said funhouse and hunted down by a deranged killer. But like "Eaten Alive" before it, the movie fell victim to studio interference.
Hooper's fortunes seemed to change when he was hired by Steven Spielberg to helm the big-budget horror feature "Poltergeist" (1982), which Spielberg had written and was set to produce. Set in a decidedly Spielbergian suburb, the supernatural thriller told the story of a family (headed by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) who discover that that their house is possessed by spirits after their youngest daughter (Heather O'Rourke) begins communicating with them through the television. But when she gets kidnapped by the ghosts, the parents hire a spiritualist (Zelda Rubenstein) to cleanse their home and find their daughter. A crowd-pleasing, visual effects-laden spectacle that was typical of the top-grossing genre product of the early 1980s, "Poltergeist" brought the ghost story into the modern blockbuster era. Despite its resounding commercial, critical and cultural success, Hooper was dismissed by some as not being the film's true auteur, thanks to quotes from several cast and crew members that suggested Spielberg had a heavy hand in the creative direction of the film. Other cast and crew came to Hooper's defense, while Spielberg himself printed a letter in The Hollywood Reporter affirming Hooper as the director, as well as their "rather unique, creative relationship." But the damage had been done. The success of the film should have catapulted Hooper's career, but instead led to years of torment and mediocrity.
Dissatisfied by the scripts he was receiving, Hooper opted to helm the music video "Dancing With Myself" (1984) for Brit rocker Billy Idol. Also that year, he entered into an ill-fated three picture deal with Cannon Pictures, which resulted in a series of flops and virtually ended his career as a big-budget filmmaker. The first - the lavishly produced "Lifeforce" (1985) - was a tongue-in-cheek evocation of Great Britain's Hammer horror series and the apocalyptic "Quatermass" films. Though satiric in its approach, the sci-fi horror never connected with audiences. Next up was a well-appointed remake of the 1953 sci-fi classic "Invaders from Mars" (1986). Reviewers deemed it pleasant, albeit pointless, while audiences steered clear and led to box office disappointment. Hoping that lightning would strike twice, Hooper shepherded "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2" (1986) to the screen with unfortunately disappointing results. Focusing more on mindless gore than genuine suspense, the second "Chainsaw" film was reviled by fans and failed to help restore his reputation. Hooper's next outing, "Spontaneous Combustion" (1989), barely made it into the multiplexes before finding its true home on a video store shelf. Meanwhile, the Israeli-lensed "Tobe Hooper's Night Terrors," an erotic horror flick shot in 1992, failed to receive an American release before arriving in the U.K. straight-to-video in 1994.
Returning to Stephen King country for "The Mangler" (1995), Hooper suffered both critical and commercial neglect in this poorly received horror flick starring Robert Englund as a professional launderer in possession of an evil laundry press. Fortunately television came to the rescue and offered Hooper a creative avenue. Having already directed for the small screen with "Salem's Lot" and "I'm Dangerous Tonight" (USA Network, 1990), he began directing episodes of horror and dark fantasy shows like "Nowhere Man" (UPN, 1995-96) and the UFO drama "Dark Skies" (NBC, 1996-97). After helming the suspenseful cable dark comedy "The Apartment Complex" (Showtime, 1999), Hooper returned to features with "Crocodile" (2000), a straight-to-video thriller about eight teens getting systematically eaten by a giant croc that was later shown on the USA Network. Meanwhile, Hooper directed the pilot episode of the Steven Spielberg-produced sci-fi miniseries, "Taken" (Sci Fi, 2002), before serving as the producer on the remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003) and the prequel "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" (2006). Returning to television, he directed two episodes of the short-lived series, "Masters of Horror" (Showtime, 2005-07). Horror remake "Toolbox Murders" (2004) and zombie thriller "Mortuary" (2005) preceded a lengthy fallow period broken only by "Djinn" (2013), a supernatural thriller filmed in the United Arab Emirates that went unreleased following its premiere at a film festival in Abu Dhabi. Tobe Hooper died on August 26, 2017 at his home in Sherman Oaks, California. He was 74.
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Made first short (with sound), "The Abyss"
Directed short entitled "Heisters"
Directed a PBS documentary on the folk trio, "Peter, Paul, and Mary"; first produced effort
Feature debut as producer, director and screenwriter, "Eggshells (An American Freak Odyssey)", a story about the decline of the peace movement; won award at the Atlanta Film Festival but failed to find a distributor
Directed award-winning short film, "Down Friday Street"
Feature acting debut, "The Windsplitter"
Gained notoriety by directing, producing, co-writing (with Kim Hendel), and score composer (with Wayne Bell) the horror/exploitation classic, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"; produced on a budget of $155,000, went on to reputedly gross $50 million (reports vary considerably) but, due to complications with distribution, its maker received only a fraction of his contractual share
Completed second feature "Eaten Alive/Death Trap/Legend of the Bayou/Horror Hotel/Starlight Slaughter" (directed; wrote story; composed score), had extreme creative differences with the producers who recut the film
Fired as the helmer of a feature entitled "The Dark"; replaced by John Bud Carlos
Made TV directing debut with the well-received Stephen King miniseries adaptation "Salem's Lot"
Fired as helmer of horror feature "Venom"; replaced by Piers Haggard
Experienced extreme creative differences with producers of "The Funhouse" which he directed
Helmed first big-budget studio feature, "Poltergeist" produced by Steven Spielberg; feature rumored to have been actually co-directed by the overpowering auteur
Signed a three-picture deal with Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus of Cannon Films
First credit as a modelmaker, also provided music, co-produced, and directed, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2", a gory yet satirical sequel to his 1974 landmark
TV series directing debut, "Amazing Stories"
Directed the pilot episode ("No More Mr. Nice Guy") for the syndicated horror anthology series "Freddy's Nightmares"
First screenwriting collaboration with visual effects artist ("Lifeforce" 1985; "The Mangler" 1995) cum writing partner Stephen Brooks, "Spontaneous Combustion" (also directed), released direct-to-video; they also co-scripted "The Mangler" (1995)
Made TV-movie directing debut with "I'm Dangerous Tonight"
Directed first TV special, "Haunted Lives . . . True Ghost Stories" for CBS
Directed a segment ("Eye") for the omnibus Showtime telefilm "John Carpenter Presents Body Bags" (also acted)
Directed the pilot for UPN's "Nowhere Man", a cultish suspense series
Signed an exclusive multi-year development deal with Walt Disney TV to create, produce and direct series, movies and miniseries through his Amberson Films
Credited as special visual effects creator on the UPN special "Real Ghosts II" (also directed)
Helmed the two-hour pilot/series premiere of the NBC period sci-fi thriller "Dark Skies"
Directed the "Beyond the Sky" episode of Steven Spielberg's miniseries "Taken" (Sci-fi)
Directed horror remake "Toolbox Murders"
Helmed zombie thriller "Mortuary"
Made final directorial effort with the United Arab Emirates-set "Djinn"