Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tobe Hooper's LIFEFORCE (1985)

I probably hadn't watched LIFEFORCE since I sold off my special edition laserdisc a few years ago so watching it in the middle of the day yesterday was a real treat. The intro narration by John Larroquette – a nod to Tobe Hooper's TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE – was a nice touch that I'd somehow forgotten. Was this something that was in the special edition but not the theatrical release?

Having never read Colin Wilson's THE SPACE VAMPIRES I'm not sure how much of Dan O'Bannon's script (where did this guy go?) is drawn from the book but the flick is a doozy of over-the-top 80s sci-fi/horror. An international space mission discovers "something" in the tail of Halley's Comet. Upon further exploration the astronauts (featuring many Future Dead of Outer Space and led by Steve Railsback, the poor man's Tommy Lee Jones) discover large, bat-like creatures that have become desiccated over hundreds (?) perhaps thousands (?) of years. The exceptions? Three naked humanoids including the brother of Mick Jagger and the lovely, nearly perfectly-shaped Mathilda May making her big-screen debut as "Space Girl", a role forever etched on the minds of horny men everywhere that have had the luxury of enjoying this whacked out flick.

The bodies are brought back to the ship but all is not well. Carlson (Railsback) falls under the spell of Space Girl and the burned out, abandoned shuttle returns to Earth still carrying the alien forms. The humanoids are brought to a Space Research Center in the UK where various scientists and government types debate what to do with the seemingly lifeless, but perfectly preserved "corpses". Things kick into high gear once we discover that the aliens are not dead at all but "space vampires" who need to suck the lifeforce from humans every couple hours in order to maintain their existence. Once sucked dry, the humans become energy-sucking monsters, too. Without energy to feed upon the vampires become like their bat brethren in the comet and – in wonderfully pre-CGI fashion – explode in a cloud of dried skin, brittle bone and organ dust.

With May's naked Space Girl out wandering through London turning innocent victims into energy-sucking monsters it's up to Carlson (who escaped from the shuttle before the blaze consumed it), SAS officer Caine (Peter Firth) and the death-obsessed Dr. Fallada (Frank Finlay) to find her and stop the mayhem that's turning London into a nightmarish apocalypse that may only be saved by a cleansing nuclear strike.

LIFEFORCE was Hooper's first film since the public relations disaster that was POLTERGEIST, the Spielberg-produced mainstream horror blockbuster that was frequently credited to the big-time director. Despite Spielberg's protestations, many people unfairly give him credit for POLTERGEIST's blend of horror and family strife and credit Hooper with being little more than a glorified assistant.

Whatever the truth, LIFEFORCE is a stunning tour de force from the TCM director and his best film besides that groundbreaking classic. Even at nearly two hours long, Hooper keeps the tension ratcheted up and delivers an apocalyptic vision of military rule, quarantine and a city under siege from its own populace that is as good as anything seen in the "zombie" genre. Released the same summer as George Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD Hooper takes advantage of what was certainly a bigger budget and John Dykstra's visual effects to create a superbly entertaining horror epic.

At the time, the film looked like a major return to form for Hooper after the POLTERGEIST fiasco and his firing from the Klaus Kinski/Oliver Reed snake-in-a-flat kidnapping tale VENOM. Unfortunately, his next film was the ill-advised remake of INVADERS FROM MARS and an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle with a highly-publicized but unsatisfying return to the world of Leatherface and Co. with TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 made some – including me – wonder if he'd ever regain the form shown in his best work.

Buy LIFEFORCE at Amazon.com.


Cinema Suicide said...

You know what? This movie just doesn't get enough love. I try and pimp it to everyone cruising the horror section at the record store I work at but they never bite. I think I saw this when I was, like, 13 and Mathilda May still haunts my dreams to this day. And Railsback makes out with Captain Picard for crying out loud!

If anything, it should be viewed for it's American take on some very familiar Hammer Horror themes.

Great review, man. If you have some time, take a swing by my blog: http://www.cinema-suicide.com

Dan said...

Bryan: Thanks for the comment and I'm glad to see LIFEFORCE getting some much deserved love out there! And you're right... it's very similar in theme to some of the Quatermass flicks.

Just checked out your blog and I'm bookmarking it immediately. I'll pimp it here at the blog soon. Very enjoyable and I love the header!

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

I love Lifeforce... and Venom... and TC2. I guess I'm just a Hooper lover.

Dan said...

Nothing wrong with being a Hooper lover -- I'm a big fan of VENOM, the original CHAINSAW, LIFEFORCE and POLTERGEIST and who can forget THE FUNHOUSE (a cable classic if ever there was one). I still haven't seen his TOOLBOX MURDERS remake.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

Funhouse is fantastic! I think I probably like Poltergeist as much as you like TC2. You really should check out Hooper's Toolbox remake. Call me crazy, but I actually enjoyed it more than the original.

Dan said...

That recommendation is good enough for me... I had it on my DVR at one point but I can probably rent it from NetFlix.