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Remembering The Late, Great Tobe Hooper’s 5 Best Horror Movies

The last few years have not been kind to the horror auteurs of the ’70s and ’80s. In under two years, we have lost three of the greats: Wes Craven, George A. Romero, and now Tobe Hooper, who died at the age of 74 on Saturday.

While Hooper lacked the longevity of his aforementioned peers—his last noteworthy achievement arrived in 1986—he managed to make eight films in the 12 years of his creative prime, and most are fondly remembered by horror fans all over the world. With that in mind, here’s a countdown of the director’s five greatest triumphs, all of which were crucial in shaping one of the genre’s greatest periods.

 

5. Poltergeist

Although this paranormal ’80s favourite was based on an original idea and script by Steven Spielberg, the celebrated director was forced to bring Hooper on board when contractual obligations to another studio prevented him from directing the film himself. According to legend, Spielberg still ghost-directed much of the film, but Poltergeist nonetheless offers an intriguing preview of the chaotic action and flamboyant visual flourishes Hooper would unleash three years later in Lifeforce.

 

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2

One of Hooper’s most misunderstood films, this belated sequel to his signature 1974 classic—which arrived 12 years after its predecessor—threw fans for a loop with its bizarre sense of humour. However, three decades later, the film stands as one of Hooper’s most atmospheric and expertly crafted efforts. If anything, the comedy creates a false sense of comfort, making the film’s shocks genuinely unsettling. Check out our review of Scream Factory’s recent Blu-ray release.

 

3. Salem’s Lot

Recently landing in eighth place on our list of the 10 greatest Stephen King adaptations, Salem’s Lot was Hooper’s first attempt to go Hollywood. Navigating the limitations and advantages of the TV mini-series format, he created a horror epic both sprawling and restrained. While much of the drama unfolds in a straightforward, realistic manner that’s uncharacteristic of Hooper’s surreal sensibility, the moments of real vampire horror are downright nightmare inducing.

 

2. Lifeforce

The first film in Hooper’s fruitful partnership with cult film mavens Cannon Films, Lifeforce is one of the company’s most unhinged efforts—and that’s no small feat. Feeling completely liberated by the success of Poltergeist, the director made a science fiction-horror hybrid that alienated casual fans, but dazzled anyone with an insatiable appetite for genre movie excess. In the eyes of some, this anything goes space saga prematurely derailed Hooper’s career in Hollywood, but it also gave him a rare opportunity to tap the furthest reaches of his cinematic id.

 

1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

One of the most iconic and unsettling horror movies of all time, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre started as a low budget oddity made by unknowns, but through the sheer force of its creative vision, it became a certified classic. Those tempted to dismiss this as a generic slasher film should take the time to watch Hollywood’s clumsy remake and prequel, both of which fail to capture even a trace of this film’s apocalyptic impact. Hooper recognized that horror was a reliable way to reach an audience, but his vision of humanity in decline goes far beyond genre.

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