[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 9 – Lifeforce (1985)

Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May
Screenplay: Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby
101 mins. Rated R.

In the years following Poltergeist, Tobe Hooper had made films in two diversely different horror categories. He’d done a more family-central Amblin horror and he’d done graphic and extreme horror with a satirical edge with films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Eaten Alive. When discussing Lifeforce, it’s important to note that viewers aware of Hooper had to be questioning which route he would take this time around. The reason I’d never seen Lifeforce was quite simple. The film wasn’t as widely available in my small town. I’d never seen it at the video stores, and after seeing it, I realize there was no way to get a version of this for television without some heavy blurring.

The crew of the Space Shuttle Churchill, on a mission to study Halley’s comet, find a gargantuan spacecraft hidden in the coma. Onboard the ship are dozens of dead bats—like creatures and three humanoids in suspended animation. When the bodies arrive on Earth, the female awakens and begins consuming the lifeforce of anyone in her path. Now, military agents must partner with Churchill’s sole survivor to stop her.

Lifeforce is unlike anything previously created by Tobe Hooper. Gone are the grimy locations of TCM and The Funhouse, this is a sleek and gorgeously constructed vision that dares to find out what Hooper would make if Hammer Horror hired him. He embraces the low-level sleazy nudity of Hammer’s oeuvre and expands the scope bigger than anything he’d made at that point, short of perhaps his miniseries work on Salem’s Lot, but even that was a more somber and calculating affair. Lifeforce opens up on the stars and spends its entire run time dreaming of a world filled with scope and terror on an apocalyptic level. He tackles vampiric zombie aliens and finds a way to reinvent the mythos of previously established creatures, making them fresh once again.

I’m also a little partial to incredible practical creature effects. The rest of the film could be a boring trash heap but if the effects are exciting and unique, you can still earn some credit here. Thankfully, Lifeforce is an elegantly produced bit of extravaganza. The desiccated remains of the victims as they attempt to reclaim their lifeforce from the living look absolutely incredible, so lifelike and realistic.

The screenplay, by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby, is based on the novel The Space Vampires. This would make Lifeforce the concluding chapter of an unofficial space trilogy from O’Bannon, following Dark Star and Alien, and each one seems to filter similar ideas through the lens of a different director, like a science fiction cheesecloth. There are some significant alterations from the source material, and author Colin Wilson was not a fan at all.

I was mostly impressed with the cast. You might look upon Mathilda May (The Jackal, The Player) and think that her performance was nothing more than a bunch of nudity and walking around, but I would argue that she does more with simply body movements and face-acting than a lot of other actresses could bring to the table. Peter Firth (Pearl Harbor, Amistad), as Colonel Colin Caine, seems to match Hooper’s wanting of a Hammer Horror-style film, and he carries the film well.

Unfortunately, Firth isn’t the lead, Steve Railsback (The Devil’s Rejects, Scissors) is. Railsback plays Carlsen, the survivor of the Churchill, but his performance doesn’t really work here, as if he’s asleep at the wheel through most of the narrative.

Cannon Films was a few box office bombs away from closing but thank goodness they had faith in Hooper’s vision. They gave him a sizable budget and let him run over schedule, and the result is an incredibly well-executed vision, one of Hooper’s best. While Hooper and George A. Romero never seemed to get budgets worthy of their ideas, it’s films like this that showcase all that they can do when trusted to deliver. We need more studios to have faith in their directors like this.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter’s Body Bags, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler, click here.

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