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Rest in peace Tobe Hooper, who made chain saws terrifying

The director of horror classics "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" and "Poltergeist" dies at age 74. Filmmakers from all genres go online to mourn him.

Premiere Of New Line's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" - Arrivals
Tobe Hooper arrives at the premiere of New Line's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in 2006 .
Getty Images

Tobe Hooper, director of "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" and "Poltergeist," among other horror classics, died Saturday at age 74, Variety reported. He was mourned online by many fans as well as many of his famous fellow filmmakers.

The making of "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" in 1974 has passed into horror-movie legend. Hooper was inspired in part by Wisconsin murderer and grave robber Ed Gein, and in part, he said, by the brutality and violence he was seeing on the nightly news. The real monster in the world, Hooper thought, was man, and in creepy cannibal Leatherface he personified that monster once and for all.

There's a great story about Hooper settling on a chain saw as his title accessory after finding himself in the hardware section of a crowded store, musing on the best way to speed through the crowd. 

"I looked down and there was a rack of chain saws in front of me for sale," Hooper told Interview magazine.  "I said, 'If I start the saw, those people would just part. They would get out of my way.'" Thankfully for the shoppers, he didn't -- but the idea created the film's iconic weapon.

In that same interview, Hooper noted that the film's chain saw was fully operational, he could only afford one, and he let star Gunnar Hansen use it unimpeded until Hansen fell and almost cut himself -- at which point the filmmakers wisely decided to disable it except for certain scenes. The film also used real animal carcasses, and in some cases, actual human skeletons.

"It was less expensive to get real human skeletons from India than to buy plastic reproductions," Hooper told Interview.

That was part of the allure of "Texas Chain Saw," which was written about hilariously and often by John Bloom, aka drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs, a true "Chain Saw" disciple. It felt real and unscripted, and star Marilyn Burns truly earned her title as moviedom's best (and first?) scream queen. You did not know what was going to happen, what terror lay around the bend. Horror movies today have expensive special effects and polished scripts, but they don't quite operate on that ragged edge of the unknown as Hooper's film did.

In a 1996 Joe Bob Briggs column, Bloom tackled the question of whatever slicker, more modern horror films are scarier than "Texas Chain Saw Massacre," and gives the only possible answer.

"Nope," Bloom as Briggs wrote. "No way, Jose. You take somebody to see Saw who hasn't ever seen it before, and you'll know what I mean when I say: Saw is still the king."

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