Posted on Friday, November 13th, 2015 by Blake Harris
Space Vampires + Nudity – Coherent Plot = How Did This Get Made?!?!
Nobody sets out to make a bad movie. But the truth is, it happens all the time. And every time it does, there’s a fun misadventure or cautionary tale that led to its creation. This is that story for the 1985 summer shlock buster Lifeforce.
How Did This Get Made is a companion to the podcast How Did This Get Made with Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael which focuses on movies so bad they are amazing. This regular feature is written by Blake J. Harris, who you might know as the writer of the book Console Wars, soon to be a motion picture produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. You can listen to the Lifeforce edition of the HDTGM podcast here.
Synopsis: After a space shuttle mission to investigate Halley’s comet goes awry, a malicious race of space vampires arrive in London to suck the energy—or “lifeforce”—out of the city’s unsuspecting population, unleashing a zombie plague.
Tagline: The Cinematic Sci-Fi event of the Eighties
The story of how Lifeforce was made both begins and ends with a massacre. And, along the way, there occur horrors physical, psychological and philosophical. But it’s not all bad, not even close. It’s a carousel of wows and pows that help explain why Lifeforce did not turn out to be “the cinematic sci-fi event of the eighties.”
Below is a narrative about what happened, as told through select archival material…
In the winter of 1972, an aspiring filmmaker named Tobe Hooper found himself inside of a crowded department store. It was the holiday season, the busy season, and after several minutes of Christmastime claustrophobia, Hooper became quite eager to remove himself from the situation. But leaving the store proved no easy feat—not with the flood of elbows and shoulders thwarting his exit—and so eventually, stifled and spun around, he wound up in the hardware department. And there, right below his very eyes, he noticed a rack filled with potential solutions: chainsaws.
If I grab one of those saws and start it up, Hooper thought, then that mob of people would have to part. With a revving chainsaw, they’d have to get out of my way! It was a fantastic thought, though obviously an unrealistic one. But nevertheless, the sordid notion stuck with him. Not only during his drive home later that day, but soon it blossomed into a chainsaw-wielding villain named Leatherface and, from there, a beautifully grotesque movie that would launch Tobe Hooper’s career…
CUT TO: Two Years Later
Part 1: Who Will Survive and What Will be Left of Them?
On November 16, 1974, a couple hundred people showed up at the Empire Theatre in San Francisco to attend a highly anticipated sneak preview. As was customary at the time, the film to be shown at this “sneak” could not be formally announced in advance, but rumor strongly suggested that the theatre would be playing The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. That, however, is not the film that was screened…
SNEAK “CHAINSAW” IN ON “PELHAM”
Angry Patrons Raise Issue of Unadvertised Infliction of Disgust
San Francisco Chronicle (November 19, 1974)
United Artists’ “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” has an R rating. So does Bryanston’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” But that doesn’t mean they always appeal to the same audience…
…On hand from City Hall was Peter Bagatellos, an aide to supervisor Peter Tamaras. Threatening a lawsuit, Bagatellos asserted, “There’s a good lawsuit here for intentional inflicting of mental disturbances. People were vomiting.”
Throughout the final months of 1974, stories like these began popping up around the country. Horror movies had, of course, come and gone before, but there just seemed to be something uniquely disturbing, despicable and dazzling about Tobe Hooper’s shoestring-budget slasher film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And shortly after its release, the national perception of this film quickly changed—elevating from a queasy curiosity to the must-see-movie of a decade—largely pushed to this point by influential film critic Rex Reed who called it the most terrifying film he had ever seen.
“[It] makes Psycho look like a nursery rhyme,” Reed further elaborated, “and The Exorcist look like a comedy.”
When it comes to the film business, there are all sorts of ways to measure success. Box office figures, ancillary rights deals, return on investment, etc. etc. But what, we might wonder, does any of this mean to the director and his career? Is it the box office numbers that provide peace of mind? Is it the reviews that drive his ego forward? Or is it the film—the piece of art itself—that can only ever truly satiate the creator’s soul? Who can say? There’s no true way to know. But one meaningful way to measure the coordinates of one’s career is by answering this question: What’s next?
With The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper proved he could direct. He had talent, he had vision and he had that rare rugged ability to survive the making of an independent film. This was all evidenced in those 83 minutes on screen. And now, because of that, Hooper had plenty of options for what to do next.
Some of what he chose to make in the following years was well received (like the miniseries Salem’s Lot) whereas other projects were not so much (such as Eaten Alive). But regardless of how one felt about his work throughout the rest of the seventies, it’s safe to say that nothing came close to matching the magic of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Heading into the eighties, one couldn’t help but ask the dreaded question: Was “horror guru” Tobe Hooper actually just a one-hit wonder?
But any doubts about Hooper’s future were likely instantly erased in December of 1980. That’s because that’s MGM tapped Tobe Hooper to direct a high-budget horror film that would be produced by Stephen Spielberg. A project with great potential called Poltergeist.