Tobe Hooper’s unforgettable 1985 horror/science-fiction movie LIFEFORCE has been in the news a lot recently. Based on the 1976 novel SPACE VAMPIRES by Colin Wilson, the film recently received a stunning blu-ray release through Arrow Video in the UK and Scream in the US (more about that in a moment), but it also hit the headlines when it was announced that a new TV series is in development based on the original Wilson novel. Sadly, mere days after the TV deal was announced, Colin Wilson passed away at the age of 82.
For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, check out the brief synopsis, watch the trailer, then click the link below for my thoughts.
A mission to investigate Halley’s Comet discovers an alien spacecraft. After a deadly confrontation, the aliens travel to Earth, where their seductive leader begins a terrifying campaign to drain the life force of everyone she encounters. Her victims, in turn, continue the cycle, and soon the entire planet is in mortal danger.
Where to begin? Lifeforce is crazy – a supremely odd film. There’s chaotic story-telling, outrageous acting, copious nudity, some excellent special effects and makeup… it’s a film which, for me, is truly greater than the sum of its parts. At times nonsensical and cringe-worthy, it’s a B-movie with a blockbuster budget (for the time). Thing is, it’s also wonderful fun.
Those of you of a certain age will no doubt remember Cannon Films. For a period of time in the 1980’s Cannon produced a huge number of movies and made (then lost) a fortune in the process. The Cannon logo became synonymous with a breed of films reminiscent of AIP B-movies of the 1950’s – dodgy scripts, laughable special effects, questionable acting. And yet, in the same way as those magical black and white B movies, Cannon films were often incredibly watchable.
Lifeforce was directed by Tobe Hooper and was his first film after the massive success of POLTERGEIST. Budgeted at $25 million, it boasted an impressive array of talent both behind and in front of the camera. The cast includes Steve Railsback, Patrick Stewart, Nicholas Ball and Frank Finlay. The script was written by Dan O’Bannon (ALIEN), special effects by John Dykstra (STAR WARS), music by Henry Mancini (PINK PANTHER)… need I go on?
Actually, I do. Because there are two aspects of Lifeforce I haven’t mentioned, and they’re part of the reason why I’ll always hold this movie dear. First, the last quarter of the movie is magnificent. It veers unexpectedly into zombie movie territory and the scenes of chaos on the streets of London are excellent, like a bizarre collision of 28 DAYS LATER and QUATERMASS. Second, Mathilda May. Ms May plays the aforementioned seductive leader of the aliens, and though you might think my mentioning her is a cheap excuse to talk about nudity and include a picture or two, you’d be wrong. Okay, so I’m happy to talk about nudity and include a picture, but there’s more to it than that. She gives an impressively unabashed performance here, often fully naked, and it’s well worth listening to her interview if you can get hold of the special edition, because it’s clear it wasn’t as comfortable an experience as she made it look. More than anything else, though, Ms May has, understandably, come to personify this film to a large extent. Ask anyone about Lifeforce who remembers it first time around, and they’ll more than likely end up talking about the beautiful leader of the space vampires!
As usual I’ve said very little about the film itself, and to an extent that’s been intentional. Watching Lifeforce is an experience like no other, and once seen, it’s hard to forget. It’s definitely worth shelling out for the recent Arrow/Scream blu-ray release I mentioned, because as well as two version of the film (the truncated US cut and the vastly superior International edit), the set includes an enormous amount of additional material, much of it specially shot for this release.
Lifeforce is a very strange movie. It didn’t recoup Cannon’s massive investment at the time, nor did it do particularly well with the critics. But as I said, it’s a huge amount of fun to watch and I’d very much recommend you check it out.