Back to IndieWire

Tobe Hooper’s Best Films: An IndieWire Tribute to ‘Texas Chainsaw,’ ‘Poltergeist,’ and More

The director's oeuvre extended far beyond his two biggest hits, from a seminal Stephen King adaptation to one of MTV's most iconic videos.

Tobe Hooper


Horror legend Tobe Hooper passed away on August 26, and many artists who were influenced by his style have paid tribute to the visionary director. With a legacy that goes far deeper than his two biggest and most brilliant films — “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “Poltergeist” — IndieWire’s editors and critics took time to analyze his finest works, hoping to lead genre fans to some under-seen gems they might have missed.

“Eggshells” (1969)

Tobe Hooper’s psychedelic 1969 debut was lost for years, but recently found new life as a cult film with restoration screenings. The movie is a far cry from the intense horror elements with which Hooper’s most closely associated, but lays the groundwork for the subversive cultural commentary and disjointed storytelling effects found in more brutal terms with “Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” “Eggshells” is a freewheeling hippie chronicle about a bunch of free love kids, including a mute character with slapstick charm who gets into a sword fight with himself and then discovers some abstract source of trippy enlightenment in the basement. Laced with documentary footage of street protests and a jubilant pop soundtrack, this Austin-produced feature is a beguiling artifact of a counterculture at once celebrating its freedoms and destroying its sanity from the inside out, a theme that Hooper would later explore in more terrifying terms. — EK

“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974)

If you’ve never seen “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” know that it isn’t just great — it’s great in ways you wouldn’t expect. Tobe Hooper’s genre-launching classic is rough around the edges by necessity rather than by design, with a barebones aesthetic that only makes Leatherface’s murderous antics feel more real and unsettling. Other slashers have been as scary, but not even “Halloween” or “A Nightmare on Elm Street” came across as being real in the same way. Now that Hooper has passed, the film’s tagline — “Who will survive, and what will be left of them?” — has somehow become more poignant. He may no longer be with us, but he’s survived by a legacy that will only continue to grow. — MN

“Salem’s Lot” (1979)

Stephen King is tricky to adapt, but Hooper succeeded in this miniseries by letting the characters take center stage. An early, dense King novel about the tapestry of a small town perverted by the darkness of an old-school vampyre, the inhabitants of Jerusalem’s Lot felt relatable and innocent. With some indelible imagery and scary set pieces (that bedroom window scene is an all-timer), it holds up incredibly well because of sturdy, classic horror filmmaking. It’s still hard to believe that this nasty treat first aired on CBS in prime time. — WE

Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” music video (1981)

An early MTV staple when the nascent cable channel was first introducing the world to music videos. Hooper’s seminal video showed the narrative possibilities of the format, but also its playful tongue-in-cheek nature as Billy Idol performs his hit song a top an industrial roof while a group of zombie-like creatures scale the walls to join him. Using the set of a LA-based play (the punk rock themed “The Sport Of My Mad Mad Mother”), Hooper brought a cinematic sensibility using the “Blade Runner”-meets-Méliès post-apocalyptic painted backdrops to their fullest. There were also bold flourishes: the opening image of Idol and super-imposed zombies, the singer’s voyeuristic point-of-view of scenes of domestic horror as he rides the freight elevator, and the quick cuts of him belting out “sweat, sweat, sweat” building toward the climatic image of dancing zombies going nuts. — COF

“Poltergeist” (1982)

More than 30 years have passed since “Poltergeist” first started ruining childhoods (the clown scene alone must be responsible for a billion dollars in therapy sessions), but we’re still not entirely sure who deserves credit for directing it. Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t really matter who was behind the camera, or what motivated writer-producer Steven Spielberg to shoot so much of the film himself (was he trying to skirt DGA bylaws? trying to compensate for Hooper’s supposed drug problem? both? neither?) — all that matters is that this traumatizing fright-fest dragged haunted house stories into the modern age kicking and screaming. Between the fizzling television set in the Freeling’s living room, the evil portal looking in Carol Anne’s bedroom closet, and the overeagerness with which Tangina Barrons declares “this house is clean,” the movie convinced generations of kids — and their parents — to be terrified of their own homes. The film’s Amblin polish makes it difficult to associate “Poltergeist” with the guy who created “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” but the contrast between he and Spielberg only underlines the inimitable nature of Hooper’s genius, which Spielberg found easier to override than to mimic. — DE

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” (1986)

One of the strangest sequels ever made, Hooper directed the second chapter of the series 12 years after his career-making first installment. Hooper went maximalist with an inflated budget, and everything is big: rivers of blood flow, intricate sets are covered in grease and grime, and the whole cast turns it up to 11, anchored by an insane turn from Dennis Hopper as a chainsaw-wielding cop. Mixing grim humor from the vile, cannibalistic Sawyer family with bizarre and graphic violence, “TCM2” has remained a cult classic ever since its debut, thanks to Hooper’s freewheeling vision of what Leatherface’s world could be. — WE

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Film and tagged ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox