Tobe Hooper – Part 1
Tobe Hooper (born January 25, 1943) is an American film director and screenwriter, best known for his work in the horror film genre. His works include the cult classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), along with its first sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986); the three-time Emmy-nominated Stephen King film adaptation Salem’s Lot (1979); and the three-time Academy Award-nominated, Steven Spielberg-produced Poltergeist (1982).
Hooper was born in Austin, Texas, the son of Lois Belle (née Crosby) and Norman William Ray Hooper, who owned a theater in San Angelo. He first became interested in filmmaking when he used his father’s 8 mm camera at age 9. Hooper took Radio-Television-Film classes at the University of Texas at Austin and studied drama in Dallas under Baruch Lumet.
Hooper spent the 1960s as a college professor and documentary cameraman. His short film The Heisters (1965) was invited to be entered in the short subject category for an Oscar, but was not finished in time for the competition that year. In 1969, Hooper co-wrote and directed Eggshells, a film about a group of hippies in a commune house having to deal with the presence of a possible supernatural force. Eggshells did not receive a theatrical release, but did win Hooper several awards, including the Atlanta Film Festival Award, when the film played around different colleges. Hooper had shot over 60 documentaries, commercials, and short films before making The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
In 1974, he organized a small cast composed of college teachers and students, and with Kim Henkel, on a budget of $60,000 (which eventually rose to $70,000, though some reports say up to $120,000) made The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Hooper claims to have come up with the idea for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre while standing in the hardware section of a crowded store. While thinking of a way to get through the crowd, he spotted chainsaws for sale. However the origins have always been linked to stories surrounding notorious serial killer Ed Gein. The highly successful film changed the horror film industry and landed Hooper in Hollywood. Media reports of audiences throwing up and storming out of theaters showing the film swept the nation. Hooper wanted an MPAA PG rating for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as there was no PG-13 at the time. Despite having no sex or sexual situations, no drug use, no hard profanity, and a low level of graphic violence, the film received an R rating. The MPAA cited the film’s intense tone as reason enough to issue the R rating.
Hooper was hired by Marty Rustam to direct his first Hollywood film, Eaten Alive (1977). Hooper and Henkel re-wrote most of Rustam and Alvin Fast’s script to fit their own desires. Eaten Alive starred Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, William Finley, and Marilyn Burns, who played the lead role in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Some critics noted that Hooper tried to recreate Chainsaw, but did not succeed in terms of intensity. The main reason for this was that Hooper felt the producers were compromising his vision by exerting control over the film. As a result of this, Hooper left the set with three weeks of principal photography remaining. After Hooper’s departure, Carolyn Jones, and the editor, Michael Brown, reportedly finished directing the final weeks of the film.
Richard Kobritz, producer of the suspenseful and acclaimed John Carpenter telefilm, Someone’s Watching Me! (1978), handpicked Hooper to direct an adaptation of Stephen King’s vampire novel ‘Salem’s Lot. The novel had been a bestseller and had been in development for some time, with Hooper briefly attached under producer William Friedkin’s supervision in 1977. Salem’s Lot (1979) became Hooper’s most polished and mainstream film to date. The telefilm was well-received by critics and fans alike, and is generally thought of as a genre classic.
In 1981, Hooper directed the film, The Funhouse. The story involved four teenage friends who decide to spend the night in the funhouse of a sleazy traveling carnival. The film opened to modest box office receipts and received mainly positive reviews. Hooper had a shooting schedule similar in length to Salem’s Lot, but nowhere near the same budget. One of the most praised aspects of the film was its visually stylish cinematography.
In 1982, Hooper directed Poltergeist for MGM, with Steven Spielberg serving as co-writer with Michael Grais and Mark Victor, and co-producer with Frank Marshall. It quickly became one of the top ten highest grossing films of the year. In addition to this, Hooper was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Director. As a result of the film’s critical and commercial success, it seemed that Hooper would be propelled into Hollywood’s A-list of directors. However, some industry insiders in Hollywood viewed the film as more of a Spielberg-directed film than a Hooper-directed film, despite Hooper’s claims that he directed the film and did “half the storyboards himself”.