Tobe Hooper, ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ director, dies at 74

By Robert Jablon and Jake Coyle / Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Tobe Hooper, the horror-movie pioneer whose low-budget sensation “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” took a buzz saw to audiences with its brutally frightful vision, has died. He was 74.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office on Sunday said Hooper died Saturday in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles. It was reported as a natural death.

Along with contemporaries like George Romero and John Carpenter, Hooper crafted some of the scariest nightmares that ever haunted moviegoers. Hooper directed 1982’s “Poltergeist” from a script by Steven Spielberg, and helmed the well-regarded 1979 miniseries “Salem’s Lot,” from Stephen King’s novel.

Hooper was a little-known filmmaker of documentaries and TV commercials when he made his most famous work: 1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” He made it for less than $300,000 in his native Texas, and yet it became one the most influential films in horror: a slasher film landmark.

Marketed as based on a true story, “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is about a group of friends who encounter a family of cannibals in Central Texas. The central villain, Leatherface (played by Gunnar Hansen) was loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein, but the tale was otherwise fiction. Hooper, whose inspiration struck while looking at chain saws in a department store, considered the film a political one — a kind of shock to ’70s malaise. The film’s cannibals are out of work, their slaughterhouse jobs having been replaced by technology.

“I had never seen anything like it and I wanted to see it myself,” said Hooper in 2014. “That was a driving force and my ability to pull the energy up out of myself to work that damn hard as I wanted to see it. the movie, I mean, as a finished picture. The energies are making a decision at a point.”

The film was controversial. Several countries banned it, though the independent film — aided by its gory reputation and lightning fast word-of-mouth — grossed $30.8 million, playing for eight years in drive-ins and theaters. Still, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” wasn’t as explicitly grisly as it was reputed to be; much of its humor-sprinkled horror was summoned by the filmmaking and the buzz of one terrifying power tool.

Carpenter, the “Halloween” director, on Sunday called it “a seminal work in horror cinema.” William Friedkin, director of “The Exorcist,” recalled Hooper as “a kind, warm-hearted man who made the most terrifying film ever.”

“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” wasn’t received too kindly by critics. Harper’s, for one, called it “a vile little piece of sick crap.” Roger Ebert said it was “without any apparent purpose, unless the creation of disgust and fright is a purpose.” But its renown steadily grew, and many appreciated its harrowing craft, comparing it to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Pyscho” (which also took inspiration from Ed Gein). “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” was selected to the Director’s Fortnight of the 1975 Cannes Film Festival. Later, it would become part of the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

“Poltergeist” was Hooper’s other horror classic, though it sprung from the mind of Steven Spielberg, who also produced it. Made with a much larger budget of $10 million, “Poltergeist” is about young parents (Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams) whose suburban dream house is haunted by the graveyard it was built on.

Hooper also directed a more comic sequel to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” in 1986. A poorly received but profitable remake followed in 2003. Numerous spinoffs have also been produced, most recently a prequel titled “Leatherface” to be released in September.

Hooper’s last film as director was 2013’s “Djinn,” a supernatural thriller set in the United Arab Emirates.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

A house fire seriously injured two people Friday evening, June 14, in Edmonds, Washington. (Courtesy of South County Fire.)
1 killed, 1 with life-threatening injuries in Edmonds house fire

South County Fire crews pulled the man and woman from the burning home around 6 p.m. Friday, near 224th Street SW and 72nd Place W.

Melinda Grenier serves patrons at her coffee truck called Hay Girl Coffee during the third annual Arlington Pride event in Arlington, Washington on Sunday, June 2, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Hidden costs, delays crush hopeful food truck owners in Snohomish County

Melinda Grenier followed her dream to open Hay Girl Coffee. Thousands in fees later, it has cost her more than she bargained for.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

Lynnwood
New Jersey auto group purchases Lynnwood Lexus dealership land

Holman, which owns Lexus of Seattle in Lynnwood, bought property on which the dealership resides.

Marvin Arellano (Photo provided)
Family: ‘Manic episode’ preceded trooper shooting man on I-5 near Everett

“It’s very, very unfortunate how he was portrayed in his final moments,” Gilbert Arellano said. “He was just such a good person.”

Two visitors comb the beach at Kayak Point Regional County Park on Friday, June 14, 2024, in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Kayak Point reopens ahead of schedule

The county’s most popular park reopened Friday.

Grauates throw their caps in the air at the end of Arlington High School graduation at Angel of the Winds Arena on Thursday, June 13, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘So worth it’: Snohomish County graduates step into their futures

Alyssa Acosta, who is Harvard-bound, was one of thousands to walk the stage at Angel of the Winds Arena this month to get high school diplomas.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.