In Memoriam: Tobe Hooper, 1943 – 2017

Poltergeist (1982) might be the first movie I saw as a child that frightened me and kept me coming back for more, because of the wondrous, supernatural elements and the unknown. As an adult with two kids, there are fewer times that I relive or think about moments from my youth, and the passing of Tobe Hooper, director of Poltergeist, makes me instantly remember the impact this particular film had on the following years of my childhood.

I watched every Nightmare on Elm Street, sought after creepy Tales from the Crypt and Tales from the Darkside, and ventured into The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, all while staying up at very late hours to do so. The bright lights and bursts of energy helped the imagery of Poltergeist stand out, while the eerie feeling that presented during night scenes created an uncontrollable anticipation of what was to come. Equally so, the cast of characters expressed their own sense of marvel at the events laid out, as everyone tried to figure out what was happening in the haunted house.

And who can forget the creepy clown doll? If there was ever a reason to look under the bed or make sure the closet door was shut, this was one of those moments. I remember Poltergeist being the first time I ever truly looked at a snow screen on a TV and felt uneasy. It’s hard to forget a little girl, played by Heather O’Rourke, putting her hands onto that screen, and saying with certainty, “They’re here.”

This paranormal element, discussed as the “TV people,” generated an incredible fascination with what was living inside the television. As the movie progressed, the realization that the TV people were possibly everywhere in the house made me wonder what kind of people they were – good or bad? It’s a lingering question, as those investigating the house seem to show the same feelings I was feeling as I watched it: curious and possibly a little freaked out. Hooper’s ability to direct and translate such feelings from the screen to a young boy impacted the future of what TV shows and movies I wanted to watch. Arguably his greatest work, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was a film I watched much later and scared me in a completely different way. I believe this speaks to Hooper’s ability to direct; two films, two distinct impacts – one inquisitively scary, and the other running at you with a chainsaw, terrifying.

It’s an amazing thing to understand the impact of something and not realize it sooner. Hooper’s death makes me remember how much I adored Poltergeist, and that I’d forgotten. It has been quite some time since I’ve seen the film, possibly too busy attempting to find TV and film inspired by this haunted film. I do have the tendency to watch things again and again, until I need a break, so perhaps, it’s time to revisit the ghostly home, yearn for that spooky feeling, and hold on tight to avoid being pulled into the closet.

Rest in peace.

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