Lifeforce (1985)

Rating:

WALKING IN SPACE

Main Cast: Steve Railsback, Peter Firth

Director: Tobe Hooper

Nominations are still coming in thick and fast for ideas for properties to adapt into an original live streamed musical entertainment on my new VickiTube streaming service.  After the little accident we had preparing for a musical version of The Towering Inferno we are eliminating 70s disaster films from contention.  It’s too bad; I would have been sensational in the Olivia deHavilland role in The Swarm (although the part would have had to be de-aged due to my ever youthful appearance) or in the Paul Newman role in When Time Ran Out (although we would have had to re-conceive the part slightly to make it a true leading lady role as an excuse to wear an absolutely exquisite evening gown when being lowered into the volcano). 

American Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs were very popular with viewers in Ohio and Pennsylvania but both of these titles have already been musicalized and we would have had quite a battle with the rights holders adapting them to best show off my many musical talents.  Currently the most popular choice is Event Horizon which does offer up some simply splendid opportunities for zero gravity tap numbers.  I’m having my in-house composer, Mr. Tyson, begin work on my second act showstopper power ballad Libera Te Tuteme Ex Inferis.  His first draft was really quite good, but I do think it could use more cowbell in the orchestration.

While my talented staff continues to plan this centerpiece effort for our spring season offerings, I continue with the weekly grind of my morning show, The View with Vicki.  We’ve turned our attention this past week to important topics in domestic politics such as the political affiliations of various brands of soda pop and the fashion choices of Dr. Jill Biden.  It’s just so exciting to engage in such meaningful and important commentary on these momentous issues of our time. 

Virtually Vicki, in which I am digitally composited into classic films in order to spice them up with a little MNM flair, also continues to draw large crowds of viewers that can easily be reckoned by the dozens.  This next week I am replacing Kevin Kline in the 1980s film version of The Pirates of Penzance as The Pirate Queen who has the most charming little tap routine over the gravestones to Come Friends Who Plough the Sea.

I was so tuckered out following this afternoon’s production meetings that I simply had to withdraw into the home theater for a little peace and quiet, a rather festive bottle of bourbon, and a film.  Having not perused the offerings on Amazon Prime for a while, I scrolled through selections and stopped on the 1985 film Lifeforce.  I vaguely recalled having seen the film some decades ago but could remember little about it other than something about outer space and something about vampirism, so I decided to give it a whirl.  I figured it could serve as research for the Event Horizon project as space horror as a genre is rather sparse.  I ended up being entertained, but not necessarily in the ways the film makers might have wished.

Lifeforce was Tobe Hooper’s follow up to his monster hit Poltergeist which he made in collaboration with Steven Spielberg (some claim that Spielberg was the true director of that film).  Cannon films, under the auspices of Golan and Globus, the Israeli would-be film moguls of the 80s (best known for an output that rarely rose above cheap looking trash), apparently handed Hooper a bunch of cash and a novel called The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson and told him to indulge himself.  He took the money, went over schedule and over budget, and returned a piece of schlock about naked space vampires which went on to bomb at the box office.  After watching this particular piece of cheese, that has fallen off the resumes of a number of notable actors, it wasn’t hard to see why.

The year is 1986 and Halley’s comet has returned for its usual swing past the earth (remember Lifeforce was made in 1984 and released in 1985).  The exploratory spacecraft Churchill, a joint British/American mission, goes to the comet to see what’s up.  While there, they find a mysterious alien craft, apparently derelict, hiding near the comet’s head.  Exploring the craft reveals a lot of dead humanoid bats and three glass coffins containing beautiful naked people (two men and a woman).  Skip forward… the Churchill is found drifting and burnt out, the crew dead but with naked people in glass coffins still on board. 

The naked space people are brought back to earth to be studied by Dr. Fallada (Frank Finlay) in his super-secret lab in London.  He’s working together with Colonel Caine of the British army (Peter Firth) and then they bring in the commander of the American crew on the Churchill, Colonel Carlsen (Steve Railsback) who somehow survived the disaster that killed the rest of the crew and got out in an escape pod. 

It soon becomes apparent that the naked space aliens are actually naked space vampires who drain not blood, but the lifeforce from their victims, leaving them desiccated zombies.  Eventually, for very unclear reasons, we end up at an insane asylum run by Patrick Stewart, and the entire population of London degenerates into a zombie horde with their life forces creating a pillar of blue energy jetting forth from the roof of St. Paul’s.  (I’m not making this up you know).  The film does eventually come to an end, but not before naked space vampire sex and impalement.

I really don’t know what to say about Lifeforce.  It’s one of those must be seen to be believed epics.  The screenplay (Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby) is a mess, jumping from place to place in both locale and in logic, nothing like O’Bannon’s economical screenplay for the classic of the space horror genre Alien.  Colin Wilson, the author of the original novel, couldn’t make heads or tails of it either and disavowed the film.  Tobe Hooper’s direction has its moments. 

There are some beautifully composed shots and some downright eerie moments, especially in the sequence where the space vampires are first discovered in the alien craft.  But much of Lifeforce, once it becomes earthbound, is just silly with no scares and attempts at comic relief falling flat.   John Dykstra, one of cinema’s visual effects geniuses, has a field day in general and his alien craft and some of the effects of transformation and energy are brilliant.  And then there’s shots of a burning London that are so obviously a cheap model that they feel like they wandered in from some other film. 

The performances are serviceable, but not memorable.  Frank Finlay rolls his eyes and waves his pompadour as a mad scientist should.  Patrick Stewart writhes and screams in his death scene.  Peter Firth is relatively restrained as the main protagonist.  Steve Railsback, an excellent actor who never had the career he deserved, likely due to appearances in subpar films such as this, brings a seriousness and intensity to his role and you can almost believe the changes he must go through to maintain his plot function.  Of our heroine, Mathilda May as the chief naked space vampire, she was obviously cast for the two enormous talents in the center of her chest and not on any other particular abilities.

Go ahead and watch Lifeforce if you want some cheap entertainment.  But I’d pour a couple of stiff bourbons to get you through the more ludicrous moments.

Desiccated humanoid bat.  Multiple desiccated humans.  Destroyed radio.  Gratuitous naked soldier.  Multiple gratuitous naked space vampires. Helicopter grabbing. Ancient weapon of destruction. Defeated British special forces.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction.

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