Tobe Hooper directed several memorable horror movies over the course of his career. Though he’s best known for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper’s eclectic filmography included Poltergeist, Salem’s Lot, and ‘hillbilly’ horror Eaten Alive. To say that his 1985 movie, Lifeforce, might be his most bizarre would be an understatement. Based on a novel called Space Vampires, Lifeforce failed at the box office and confounded critics. Now, nearly 35 years since its release, is Lifeforce due for a critical re-appraisal? Or is it just a bad movie?
During a joint American-British space mission, the crew of the Churchill discover a large derelict spaceship hidden in Halley’s Comet. Within the ship’s hull, the crew finds dead bat-like creatures and three humanoids preserved in suspended animation – two men and a woman. When the Churchill returns to Earth, a rescue team finds the crew dead but its sleeping aliens still perfectly intact. When the female alien – a cosmic vampire – awakens, she escapes a research facility, plunging London in chaos.
Lifeforce Must Be Seen To Be Believed
Trust me, the above synopsis doesn’t do the slightest bit of justice to Lifeforce. Simply put, Lifeforce is a bizarre movie that only gets stranger at it goes on. This is a movie about ‘space vampires’ who suck the ‘lifeforce’ out of people. In turn, their victims turn into mummified ‘vampires’ or zombies – it’s not clear. And the alien vampires can transfer their ‘lifeforce’ into other people. Though I’m not completely clear on this next one, the male ‘space vampires’ may also be able to change their appearance. However, Hooper and Lifeforce’s story seem disinterested in the male vampires. They intermittently appear and disappear when it’s convenient.
I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but someone literally made this stuff up.
Whether Lifeforce’s problem is a convoluted story or chucks of plot cut out is hard to pinpoint. Either way the result is a movie that seems to make up the rules as it goes along. This is the kind of movie where you swear you missed something, rewind a scene, only to discover that, no, you really didn’t miss anything. Things inexplicably escalate from a ‘naked lady space vampire’ walking the streets of London to the city plunged into chaos. Wth such disjointed storytelling, Lifeforce requires a lot of inane expository dialogue. Oh and the climax involves the space vampire and another character naked, embracing, and shooting energy through the ceiling of St Paul’s Cathedral. I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but someone literally made this stuff up.
Lifeforce May Be Strange, But It Looks Good
Yes, Lifeforce is a bizarrely incomprehensible movie. And Hooper struggles to settle on a consistent tone. The movie’s score and opening narration, for example, sound like something out of an old Flash Gordon serial reel. Yet the production values suggest Hooper was aiming for Alien. In spite of all these problems, you know what Lifeforce is not? Boring. In fact, there’s a wild energy to the movie, which may in part stem from trying to figure what Hooper’s going to do next. Once you start watching, it’s actually hard to stop.
Once you start watching, it’s actually hard to stop.
Fortunately, Academy Award winning special effects artist John Dykstra delivers also some impressive creatures. Lifeforce’s emaciated ‘zombies’ still look good, even for a 1985 movie. A scene in which a young Patrick Stewart spews out blood from his body doesn’t make much sense, but it’s some impressive visual magic. Lifeforce is a strange movie, but it looks good in every respect. Clearly, there was some money backing this production.
The Ultimate Feminine Presence
Early in his career, Steve Railsback impressed playing Charles Manson in the television miniseries, Helter Skelter. But I guess you can only do so much with the material you’re given. And Railsback goes with the flow, chewing the scenery. It’s hard to really blame him. He has some unbelievable ‘out of left field’ dialogue that probably wouldn’t go over well regardless of delivery. French actress, Mathilda May, credited only as ‘Space Girl’, spends most of her screentime naked. Not much else is asked of her. According to one choice line of dialogue she is the ‘ultimate feminine presence’. The rest of the cast is fine – British accents tend to make everything sound better anyways.
Lifeforce An Unforgettable Viewing Experience
Technically, Lifeforce is a good illustration of awful storytelling. If several scenes were indeed edited from the theatrical cut, I’m not convinced adding them back into the movie would help. Nonetheless, Lifeforce is a visually impressive movie with good practical effects. There’s also something endearing about a big budget movie willing to take chances and be delightfully strange. Fans of weird and idiosyncratic movies will enjoy Lifeforce.