Over the past 40 years, tobe hooper has made many people shit their pants. His 1974 classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre introduced audiences to the masked psychopath Leatherface, and his subsequent shockers, such as Salem’s Lot (1979), The Funhouse (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Lifeforce (1985) and The Toolbox Murders (2004), proved his dedication to disturbing horror hounds across the globe.
With his first feature, Eggshells (1969), finally making it to DVD (OUTIN JANUARY 2011), Bizarre talked gore and gravy with the director…
People think of you as the Godfather Of Gore, but The Texas Chain Saw Massacre didn’t have much blood in it. Does the label annoy you?
Well, you’re right. There’s only about half an ounce of blood in that film. I didn’t care about seeing a lot of mutilated bodies, I just wanted to scare people. Around the time I was making The Funhouse I began hearing the terms ‘slasher film’ and ‘splatter movie’, and people would always mention The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I think that’s partly why I decided to make The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 so incredibly gory. It was my way of saying, “Hey, this is what you thought you saw in the first film. How much can you really handle?”
Did anyone from Texas ever complain that you’d given the state a bad name?
Funnily enough, no-one did, even though when the film came out everyone thought the story was true. It says at the beginning of the movie that it all really happened and the Texas highway department got thousands of enquiries from concerned citizens when it was released. Some people believe anything a film tells them.
Should we be scared of the Deep South?
According to Deliverance and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre we should! But downtown Los Angeles is scary. The homelessness problem is so horrible that there’s cannibalism. It’s happening right now and people don’t realise it.
The characters in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre are killed like cattle in a slaughterhouse. Is the film vegetarian propaganda?
I gave up meat while making that film. In a way I thought the heart of the film was about meat; it’s about the chain of life and killing sentient beings, and it has cannibalism in it, although you have to come to that conclusion by yourself because it’s only implied. Guillermo Del Toro also gave up eating meat after seeing that movie.
What did you think of the 2003 Texas Chain Saw Massacre remake?
It didn’t have the context of the times but it was effective in its own way – in particular the scene where the group of friends approach the house and all you see is Jessica Biel’s ass. I loved that.
What’s the scariest experience you’ve had while making a film?
On Eaten Alive, in 1977, I was working with an elderly actor called Neville Brand – a highly decorated man who fought during World War II and had killed people. He was pretty violent. I’d say, “Action! Break the door down and chase the girl with a knife, Neville!” and then all hell would break loose because he wasn’t acting. Then we almost killed Neville when the effects guy poured fake blood with an iodine base over him, which basically poisoned the poor guy. And when I made a movie called Crocodile in Mexico in 2000, a scorpion fell out of a tree and bit our director of photography. He was paralysed for a while after that.
Speaking of injuries, is it true that the crew on Poltergeist were cursed?
Oh yeah – about half the crew got injured. Legs, ankles and arms were broken in accidents, and when one of our child actors, Oliver Robins, thought he had chickenpox, he and his mother got into a terrible accident on their way back from the doctor. It turned out it wasn’t chicken pox – there were fleas in the soundstage. Halfway through shooting I got a muscle spasm that pulled the ligaments away from the bone in my leg and I had to walk with a cane for the rest of the movie. Lots of weird things happened and it made me back off from directing movies with occult subject matter for a while.
Eaten Alive, The Funhouse and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were banned in the UK as ‘video nasties’...
At the time I only knew about Texas. But three banned films isn’t bad, huh? I know there was a thriving black market for Chain Saw in the UK for decades, which kind of upsets me because I didn’t get the royalties from the sales.
You spent m (£15m) on Lifeforce, the 1984 film in which a naked girl with massive breasts, from outer space, blows up London. Was it career suicide?
It was more like career murder. But I’m really proud of Lifeforce because no-one will ever be brave enough to do a movie like that again. Even now, people watch that film – with its massive budget – and think “what the hell?” But I knew that in time it’d be considered cool. Quentin Tarantino told me he went to see it many times when it first came out. It’s one of his favourites. I’m kinda happy he understood how cool it was, even back then.
What was the inspiration for your first flick, Eggshells?
It’s a psychedelic film set in a commune during the time of the Vietnam War, but it isn’t like other movies that try to explore hippiedom. When I made it the war was ever-present and I was hoping my number wouldn’t come up on the draft card. I filmed it wearing sandals and with long, hippy hair.
Finally, is there a great horror movie that you never made?
Yeah, one about Winnie Ruth Judd, who was part of The Trunk Murders in the 1930s. Winnie surgically cut up the bodies of two women and put the remains in a trunk, which she pushed into a river. When she got found out, she was sent to a mental asylum for most of her life – although she kept escaping. But right up until she died she insisted she was innocent of murder – that she’d killed in self defence. I had a script called Bleeding Hearts, which could’ve been a movie of the whole case, but it never happened. Winnie had a tragic life and I would’ve loved to have made that film.
Eggshells is out on DVD in January