Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Lifeforce - review

1985 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

This was another one that wasn't really on my radar. It was only seeing it chosen by Dominic Brunt (Director of Before Dawn) as one of the headlines for the 2014 Leeds Zombie Film Festival that put it on. Having now watched it I'm still a tad uncertain. Sure the final fifteen minutes, depicting a ravaged London overrun with snarling cannibalistic monsters is zombie all the way and the victims of the space vampires are for the most part unwitting slaves incapable of imposing their own will on their actions. But, it's energy vampires. Both Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback), the only survivor of the ill-fated deep space explorer and Dr. Bukovsky (Michael Gothard) chief medical scientist of the European Space Agency and Thanatologist (the study of death) say so, and it is really all about three intelligent bat like creatures camouflaged as pretty wee things who are sat at the top of the food chain.

The first fifteen minutes or so are pure eighties space indulgence. The HMS Churchill out in the deep beyond on a mission to explore Halley's Comet discovers a hundred and fifty mile ancient space relic in its tip. Inside as well as the desiccated remnants of hundreds of human size space bats they find three perfectly preserved and perfectly naked humans caught in some kind of suspended animation and decide to bring them back on board.

The lead naked, and that's a word I'll be saying a lot, space person, is played by Mathilda May and as I'm watching the splendid new Arrow Blu-ray transfer of the original 116 minute cut, which is fifteen minutes longer than the theatrical cut the US audience had to watch there's an awful lot of it; not that I'm complaining. Brought back to Earth by the US Columbia which finds the HMS Churchill gutted and burnt out and the crew dead, it doesn't take long for those investigating the disaster to realise it might have something to do with honey lips and perhaps they're in a spot of trouble. Finally alone with a young doctor sparks fly, both metaphorically as lips meet lips, and literally  her first victim has his lifeforce zapped out of him before moving, naked, through the complex like an electric maelstrom escaping out into the wider world.

The young naked space girl with ulterior motives beguiling poor innocent men who just can't say no when presented with a willing bosom is a trope that's been done to death. It's a good, neigh, great excuse to show copious flesh with a semi-legitimate excuse, though in this case I'm not quite sure whether to applaud director Tobe Hooper or not, for the audaciously long time it takes for him to decide she should cover up. While Lifeforce doesn't go down the Species road making this trope the be all and end all of the film it does make up a large part of the story, and to be honest when if does decide to stray playing with alien possession it does unravel a little becoming unnecessarily convoluted and complicated, almost making one think it might have been better if they had.

There's a lot going on with the space vampires and while it's possibly all a bit over contrived it's fun, thought out and for the most part cohesive. They're energy vampires capable of draining the lifeforce from people. They can beguile people, making them fall so deeply in love, both spiritually and sexually, that they can't resist and they can also transfer their consciousness / soul / being into another person assuming motor control and suppressing the host's will. Also while they don't always drain all the lifeforce from a person when they do, leaving them a dehydrated lifeless husk, they do also leave a nasty surprise.

Two hours is the magic number in several ways. Firstly it's a two hour alarm call that springs the mini-vamps / zompires back to life, pulse racing with an insatiable hunger for some lifeforce of their own, else they'll explode. Secondly should they drain the next victim before they pop, they've only another two hours until they need to feed again. This idea of brainless primal hunger, the constant need to feed and the exponential spread of the disease is zombie all the way. These zompires, especially during the last fifteen or so minutes certainly look the part snarling goring their way through the streets of London and the effect as they leap on cars and chase the view remaining survivors also certainly looks zombie and they're a good enough fit in my mind. And let's not forget writer Dan O'Bannon's next film was The Return of the Living Dead, so this is a man well versed in the genre.

A solid script if a little convoluted and farcical, Lifeforce is a good film though not a great one and for such an over the top premise I felt it perhaps played it all a little safe. Peter Firth leads a strong cast who do well with what they've been given, and one can't help watch Patrick Stewart being wrestled to the floor and later orally explode with blood, without a wry smile. The pacing is good for a long film, and there's never a dull moment but it just as we too were coming near  the two hour mark and the finale, I felt it just hadn't elevated my heart rate to the to the same level as those on screen. A fun hokey sci-fi, tame-horror with a lot of nakedness that will leave a smile on your face, if nothing more, 6/10.



  1. Those drained husks are a delight, as is the copious amount of nudity on display. It always tickles me a little bit that this was a major big budget theatrical release back in the day. Would a major studio release ever be so audacious now as to have so much arguably gratuitous flesh on display? The overblown execution combined with such a patently B-movie premise always amuses me.

    Watching Lifeforce, I always get the sense that Cannon handed Hooper a blank check, and he just went apeshit making what by rights should probably have been a low budget drive-in movie with an absurd surfeit of resources. I feel like he probably thinks he got one over on somebody.

    BTW, sorry about the deleted comment. I had a typo. :)

    1. Ha, totally. There must be have been those on set that suggested maybe a little covering up a lot earlier and there's no way anyone would get away with it today (a pity).

      Another one of those films you're just glad / amazed got made.