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R.I.P. Tobe Hooper


William Tobe Hooper, director of such classic horror movies as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist, The Funhouse, and Lifeforce, passed away on August 26th. He was 74.

That Tobe Hooper and George A. Romero should die in the same year, almost within a month of each other, is eerie yet also morbidly fitting. The two directors each marked the transition of the horror movie from its Golden Age to the dark, gory pictures of the 1970s. Both directors recreated existing tropes into new, dark forms that have since become iconic: Romero had the zombie, and Hooper had the cannibal. While both directors made many movies with differing plots and attitudes, they each had one work that completely changed the rules forever: Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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More cogently to us at Invisible Oranges, however, Hooper mirrored Romero in that his influence on extreme music cannot be understated. Obviously, there are overt homages, most notably Mortician’s Hacked Up For Barbecue, Sodom’s “The Saw Is The Law,” and The Ramones’ “Chainsaw.” But more important was Hooper’s reimagining of the chainsaw, hitherto a tool exclusively used for logging, as a weapon of horror, a cacophonous machine of death tearing through flesh and bone with equal aplomb.

Think about how many hundreds of metal songs and albums involve chainsaws: “Whore to a Chainsaw,” “Chainsaw Gutsfuck,” Christcrushing Hammerchainsaw, and so on, ad infinitum. Without Tobe Hooper, would we ever have had Corpsegrinder’s magnificent “FIRE UP THE CHAINSAAAAAAWWW” chorus on “Kill or Become?” Hooper has even changed the way metal fans talk about the genre. It doesn’t take much of a leap to understand why we describe the Boss HM-2 as having a chainsaw sound. Because of Tobe Hooper’s innovation, the roar of a chainsaw at full throttle has forever become linked with violence, gore, and death.

Every tool needs a wielder, and in his iconic killer Leatherface, Hooper crafted a new template for a horror villain. Previous killers, such as Peeping Tom or Norman Bates, were scary because they looked like us; they could be anyone, anywhere. Realism was what drove the horror. Leatherface, however, was something that in any just world would not exist: 300 lumbering pounds of pure cannibalistic evil, wearing a mask crafted from the faces of his victims. He was technically human, but he wasn’t “anyone.”

Death metal has long crafted villains who are human but not “human,” completely amoral monsters whose sole purpose is to torture, violate, disfigure, and kill. Look at the cover of any album on Comatose Music or Sevared Records. Listen to “Stripped, Raped, and Strangled” again: “all they know is I love to kill!” By elevating his killer from the crowd Hooper moved horror into a new level of monstrosity.

Leatherface didn’t work alone: Hooper not only created a new breed of cannibal, but cemented the trope of cannibal clan, a “family” of demented killers void of empathy, glorifying death and the inversion of the “civilized order.” Indeed, what to me truly cements Hooper in the metal world was his attitude. Hooper claimed that Texas Chainsaw Massacre was “the ultimate meat movie,” and likened his cannibal clan to the various stages of the meat process: the hitcher, Leatherface, and the father represented rancher, butcher, and cook.

This inversion of the food chain, with humans as the prey rather than the predator, has in its own subtle way made an indelible impact on extreme metal. Cattle Decapitation is obviously the biggest benefactor, but virtually every metal song about cannibalism or the degradation of the human beast owes a debt to this train of thought (check out Goemagot’s “From Man To Meat” or Jungle Rot’s “Paralyzed Prey” for just two examples out of many).

And so, it is with a heavy heart that the metal community bids farewell another one of its major cinematic influences. Fare thee well, Mr. Hooper, and let us all hope that your grave is left… undisturbed.

Be sure to post your favorite chainsaw-related metal songs in the comments.

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