Q&A: Tobe Hooper

The Hollywood director discusses shooting movies in the U.A.E., what scares him these days, and (almost) hints at his new book

By Matt Ross
Apr 03, 2011

If it weren’t for Tobe Hooper, the umpteenth Saw film probably wouldn’t be doing the rounds at movie theaters, and Leatherface would never have become one of the most iconic monsters in cinema history.

With The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper became one of the founding fathers of the horror genre, and paved the way for every slasher movie since. In the U.A.E. to direct the supernatural thriller Djinn, he spares a few minutes before filming begins.

What made Djinn stand out from other offers you’ve received?
It’s the best screenplay that I’ve read in many years, and it was much more of what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s more of a metaphysical thriller, laced with extremely good characters.

How did you go about updating the idea of the djinn?
It’s been illuminating. Believe me, it’s more than folklore. I started with the internet, and I started with Google Earth,  getting as much information as possible. Then, the preparation came around and I started visiting places. I started talking to a lot of people, both within the production and outside of it. I’ll be shooting on an ancient territory, a place that’s basically in ruins because the djinn had moved the human beings out.

Did you find that people were willing to talk about it?
It’s in the Quran that God created men and he created djinn. So they’re in parallel worlds, and you actually can’t be a believer in one thing without believing in the other. So there was no reluctance. In fact, I found the contrary.

Were you given some guidelines to keep you from offending any cultural sensibilities?
I should say that I have done my very best in integrating into the culture. But yes, I had guidelines. You can’t just parachute into a new culture or place without having someone help you. I’m a very sensitive person.

How have you changed as a filmmaker since the days of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
A lot of films that I’ve seen made, particularly for the commercial market, in the U.S. have become more-or-less action films. Quite a lot of them anyway. There are a few films where a story is actually told. I take film as seriously as I did in the beginning, and I love it as much. It’s just that the world has changed. I’m not crystallized – I’m aware of that and so I change with the world. At least, I do my best.

So horror has become very glossy and commercialized?
Oh yeah, absolutely. And also the films in the beginning of horror have created great works – archetypes – that people now follow. They think there are certain things that you have to do, and that you need to do. I feel like all those rules should be broken because, if they’re not, you don’t have a new place to travel to.

Have you seen many of the kinds of movies we’re talking about?
Well I’ve seen some of them. But, you know, they’ve become so formulated for me that I certainly don’t see them all. I see new things that come out that I consider to be horror.

Is it harder to scare people?
It’s much harder to scare people in the conventional way. When I made Chainsaw, people jumped and screamed. Poltergeist, they were still screaming in the theater. Now they’ve seen everything, they’ve totally had their appetites filled, and the reactions aren’t as new now because they’re not in some kind of psychological context.

What scares you these days?
The thing that scares me is what goes on in my head as I respond to what’s happening in the world. But also the things that slip through the cracks and come into dreams sometimes. I find that I’m still discovering new things about myself, and new things that are disturbing. With regards to horror, CNN provides us with quite a lot. But I find personalized, emotional experiences can be quite terrifying and scary. Because of things that you discover with people. What’s behind the behavior? What’s the motive? What’s the agenda? On the surface you can’t always see that.

So are you thinking up ideas for horror stories as you walk around each day?
I’ve always seen things as movies. My father was in the hotel business and we were always surrounded by movies, so the movie theater was my babysitter. So I actually learned how to move around inside the grammar of cinema before I learned how to speak. But yes, that is an everyday – every-moment – part of my life.

You see movies everywhere you go?
All the time. I mean, most ideas that come to me, I process them – how could this become a movie? The happenings in my life have been extremely movie-like, and I have a book coming out in a few months that I wrote called Midnight Movie. I wrote it with Alan Goldsher … [tails off] … sorry, as I’m talking to you I’m looking out at the set. Even now I’m thinking about this movie.

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