'Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ director Tobe Hooper helped launch Austin’s film scene

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'Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ director Tobe Hooper helped launch Austin’s film scene

Austin-born director Tobe Hooper, best known for directing the still-incredible “Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” died Saturday at the age of 74. 

No cause of death was released from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

I mean, look at that shot. Just look at it.

Born in Austin in 1943, Hooper became interested in filmmaking after, as a child, playing with his dad’s Super 8 camera.

He was a Radio-Television-Film guy at the University of Texas and spent time in the 1960s as a professor and documentary shooter.

In 1974, he helmed “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” perhaps the most influential horror film of the late 20th century and very easily one of the best. 

Shot for $300,000 (which is about $1.57 million in 2017 dollars), “Texas Chain Saw” remains a dazzling act of filmmaking. 

With shocking violence more implied than actually seen and a low-budget look that reads as almost porn-film sleazy, “Texas Chain Saw” is still one of the scariest movies ever made. 

There is perhaps no greater tribute to the film’s galvanic power than the fact that viewers swear they saw savagery within its frames that does not actually take place. 

As Alison Macor points out in her crucial 2010 book, “Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: 30 Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas,” “Texas Chainsaw” essentially kicked off filmmaking in the the River City. 

Hooper’s career was as weird as his work. His 1979 TV adaptation of Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” was as ground-breaking for TV as “Texas Chain Saw” was for film.

In 1982, he was credited as director of “Poltergeist,” but history has always thought of that as a Steven Spielberg picture -- Spielberg was producer and co-screenwriter and reportedly did a fair amount of directing or co-directing or something. Like “Texas Chain Saw,” “Poltergeist” spawned all sorts of sequels and remakes.

In 1986, Hooper directed the broadly comic “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2.” Lots of folks found the humor therein kind of baffling -- one can learn more about this (and his other two gaga films for Cannon, “Lifeforce” and “Invaders From Mars”)  in the totally excellent documentary “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.”

The only still from "Lifeforce" I could find that did not involve nudity (uh, human nudity).

Hooper continued to work throughout the 1990s and 2000s -- a feature here, a episode of TV there. His final film was the 2013 production “Djinn,” made in the United Arab Emirates.

Contemporary directors fell over themselves on Twitter praising Hooper on Sunday, which was, perhaps needless to say, completely appropriate. Modern sci-fi and horror filmmaking is impossible to imagine without him.

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