Tobe Hooper (1943 - 2017)
I was seven years old when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released in the UK. I used to regularly look at the movie listings in the Evening Standard each Thursday and ruminate upon the lurid posters for the latest releases. My young imagination would frequently run riot at what I saw, fuelled further by the inference of the tag lines. And the UK poster for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre left me utterly terrified. The horrors I conjured up in my mind. It is only in recent years that I learnt that the film was deemed too controversial by the head of the British Board of Film Censorship as it was known back then. Chief film examiner Stephen Murphy felt the films focus on “abnormal psychology” made it unsuitable for even an X certificate. Thus, the movie was denied a rating which amounted to a de facto ban. However, due to a legal loophole, the BBFC decision could be vetoed by local authorities and the Greater London Council granted the movie a rating and so the film was shown in London.
To this day The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains a terrifying cinematic ordeal to watch. There is a tangible air of disquiet which develops into unbearable tension that is cloying and suffocating. The squalor of the old Hardesty family homestead is vivid and final act of the movie where Marilyn Burns is terrorised by Leatherface and his siblings is utterly gruelling. Her relentless screaming is extremely disconcerting and when the film finally ends the viewer is left drained and bewildered after its relentless ninety minute assault on one’s senses. It is paradoxical that something so intense as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre could be written and directed from someone as softly spoken and thoughtful as Tobe Hooper.
Hooper had a talent for creating tension, depicting dysfunctional families and capturing credible human foibles. It’s all there to see in such movies as Funhouse, Poltergeist and the TV miniseries Salem’s Lot. The latter remains a milestone in Stephen King adaptations and the scene where Danny Glick comes to Mark Petrie's window and asks to be let in, still bothers me to this day. And even the movies he made that failed at the box office, still remain curiously interesting. Lifeforce had an incredibly troubled production, yet remains a gloriously engaging mess, filled with insane dialogue and ghoulish bursts of horror. Such was the talent of Tobe Hooper. Even on a bad day his creative talent eclipsed that of many of his peers. Up and coming film makers should take note and ensure they are familiar with his legacy because he altered the genre forever.