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"Texas Chain Saw Massacre" Director Tobe Hooper Dies At 74

The horror filmmaker behind the hugely influential classic also directed 1982's Poltergeist.

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Tobe Hooper, the director and co-writer of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, died Aug. 26 at 74. His cause of death has not been announced.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was one of the earliest entries into the slasher genre and a major influence on the slasher films that followed — and horror as a whole. In the character of Leatherface, Hooper helped create the hulking, masked, mute killer. And in his heroine Sally, played by Marilyn Burns, Hooper laid out the characteristics of the Final Girl, the lone survivor of a slasher as identified by film theorist Carol Clover. Clover's book Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film featured Leatherface on the cover.

Aside from Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hooper's best known film was Poltergeist, the 1982 haunted house classic. Over the years, however, there has been some debate over how much of the movie Hooper actually directed and how much credit is owed to producer and co-screenwriter Steven Spielberg, who would have directed Poltergeist if not for a clause in his E.T. contract that barred him from directing another film at the time. After some ambiguous comments about his involvement in the movie, Spielberg clarified his role in an open letter to Hooper in the Hollywood Reporter, writing, "Through the screenplay you accepted a vision of this very intense movie from the start, and as the director, you delivered the goods."

Even so, Hooper's distinctive style and perspective is on clear display in his other films, notably the 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Twelve years after the original, Hooper brought back Leatherface — and a more dynamic, very '80s Final Girl in the character of Caroline Williams' Stretch. Hooper amped up the dark humor of the first movie — something he felt most critics had missed — and delivered a gruesome comedy that reinvented what the slasher sequel could be. Franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Child's Play soon followed suit with sequels that also leaned in to the comedy and the camp.

Hooper's other films include the 1979 TV movie adaptation of 'Salem's Lot, and cult favorites like 1981's The Funhouse and 1985's Lifeforce. He also directed episodes of horror anthology series Freddy's Nightmares, Tales From the Crypt, and, most recently, Masters of Horror. Perhaps Hooper's most surprising credit is the music video to Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself."

As news of Hooper's death spreads, his contemporaries and those who followed are speaking out about his legacy and the way Texas Chain Saw Massacre left an indelible impression on horror. The Exorcist director William Friedkin called Hooper's film "the most terrifying film ever." And John Carpenter, whose Halloween is another foundational film in the slasher genre, noted that Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a "seminal work in horror cinema." Both directors praised Hooper's kindness.

Hooper is survived by one son.

CORRECTION

Tobe Hooper had one son. A previous version of this article misstated his number of children.

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