Interview: Tobe Hooper on the Making of LIFEFORCE

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The LIFEFORCE love continues with this vintage Tobe Hooper interview!

In 2008, this writer was freelancing for noted daily newspaper The Toronto Star (hey, Ernest Hemingway wrote for them too!). Legendary horror filmmaker Tobe Hooper was in town appearing at a local fan convention and my editor at the paper asked if I could interview him about – guess what – the making of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE.

As much of a fan of TCM I was and am (who isn’t), asking Hooper a wealth of tired questions he’d been asked zillions of times for the past 35 years didn’t appeal to me at all.

I was a major Hooper fan, but TCM was lower on my list than SALEM’S LOT or EATEN ALIVE or even the ballistic TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2.

My all-time greatest Hooper joint was in fact LIFEFORCE. That’s the film I really wanted to talk about.

So I used TCM as my ticket to ride and, once I was granted access to Oz’s palace (really, Hooper’s modest hotel room), I sat down and discussed what I wanted to discuss (touching on his signature ‘saw flick just enough to pen the piece I was being paid to scribble).

So then, in lieu of our massive LIFEFORCE love-in posted earlier today, let us lay this interview with the great (and so gentle, accommodating and kind) Tobe Hooper on you.

Here’s Tobe on LIFEFORCE.Enjoy!

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SHOCK: I’ve always been curious how you, a Texan tried and true, ended up working for that eccentric Israeli duo Golan and Globus on those three incredible Cannon pictures…

HOOPER: The bottom line was really simple: it was one of the first really big paying jobs offered to any director for a packaged deal, ever. It just didn’t make any sense not to do it, really. And also, Menahem (Golan) and Yoram (Globus) just loved movies…absolutely loved them, so it was a pleasure.

SHOCK: Have you seen that crazy rock musical Golan directed, THE APPLE?

HOOPER: Oh, yeah! Yeah! That thing!

SHOCK: Not a good movie at all, but man, you’re right…there’s a real love of cinema there.

HOOPER: Yeah, a total love of cinema. He was also a real showman, maybe one of the last great ones. Now, things were really corporate at Cannon by the time I got there but, you know, I could go into their office and in 90 seconds, get a green light to do a movie based on a pitch. No intermediate development of script or anything. They’d ask me “Tobe, when can we have this on screen?” and I must say that I really liked that…

SHOCK: A bit reckless, perhaps….

HOOPER: Oh yes, certainly, they were more than a little bit reckless…

SHOCK: So your first picture for Cannon was LIFEFORCE. Did that film have a bigger budget than POLTERGEIST?

HOOPER: Yes, it was like 25 million, which was a lot for back then…

SHOCK: Was that intimidating at all, with that kind of money at stake?

HOOPER: Not at all. It was totally awesome. It was a step up. We had London rebuilt on the back lot with all the tubing’s for the flames and a hell of a lot of extras. It was magnificent.

SHOCK: Now, I’ve always been aware at how dividing LIFEFORCE is; critics and audiences either love it or hate it. I’ve yet to see a middle ground…

HOOPER: Yeah, I haven’t either…

SHOCK: Right. So what are your thoughts on the reception it received?

HOOPER: Well, I mean at that point, everyone was really developing the idea that the value of a movie is based on the opening weekend’s gross. You know, that whole summer blockbuster phenomenon? Well, it had already started. Anyway, I went to first screening and was terrified by the reaction so I went back to trim it and then it came out and well, the response wasn’t fantastic. Probably if we had just called it SPACE VAMPIRES, stuck with (author) Colin Wilson’s title, it would have placed it in the proper context to appreciate it.

SHOCK: Were you stung by some of the negative reviews?

HOOPER: A little bit, yes. But afterwards, I just tucked it in the back of my mind and moved on to INVADERS FROM MARS and just tried to forget about it. At that point it wasn’t available on tape or anything so the only way you could watch it was to go to the theater and see it there. So I watched it a bunch of times and the end result was that I decided that sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t and I just let it go. Lately however, I think differently. I was in a relationship recently that went really, really bad. So the evening of the termination of this relationship, I went home, not in a great frame of mind at all, and turned on the TV and lo and behold LIFEFORCE came on. I watched it again and thought…wow…this is one of my favorite films.

SHOCK: There’s no other film like it. It really is something special…

HOOPER: It is. And you know, after this woman and I broke up I realized that LIFEFORCE is really about a relationship between a man and a woman. And when I say that it’s one of my favorite films, I don’t mean out of the ones I made…I mean it’s one of my favorite films, period.

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SHOCK: Let’s talk about one of the main reasons so many teenage boys in the 80’s loved LIFEFORCE: Mathilda May…

HOOPER: Ohhhh, Mathilda!

SHOCK: My God man, how did you find her?

HOOPER: Well, because it was a large budget, girls flew in from all over London to audition. Some casting agent found this girl in Paris and said “Tobe, you have to see her. She’s a ballerina, she’s 17 and I think she’s right for the part. So we brought her over and I screen tested her and I was like, woah…it was this perfect look, she couldn’t have been better…I wanted her to have a kind of replicant feeling, you know like in BLADE RUNNER, but I think she was better than the replicants. And none of them went down to their natural costumes. After 117 shooting days, the lack of costume was her costume.

SHOCK: I first saw the film in the shortened American version, with the incredible Michael Kamen music mixed with the Henry Mancini stuff and I have to admit that I think it’s a better cut…

HOOPER: After a while, I started liking the shorter version better too…it’s tighter.

SHOCK: Was the film taken out of your hands and re-scored?

HOOPER: Not at all. I chose Kamen myself, I went through the entire process. James Horner was originally supposed to score the film and Ennio Morricone wanted to do it. Originally I was like, “Why on earth would Ennio Morricone want to do this?” and then, years later, I saw BUGSY and thought, “ahhh, wow, I get it”. It would have been a very different picture if he had done it. Still, Hank (Mancini) did a great job.