Despite a career of ups and downs, a number of Tobe Hooper’s films have stood the test of time as firm cult favourites. “Lifeforce” is certainly one of these, a big budget curiosity that wasn’t particularly well received on its original release back in 1985, but which some fans have come to look on with a growing affection. His next outing after his 1982 Spielberg collaboration “Poltergeist”, the film saw Hooper choosing to adapt Colin Wilson’s novel “The Space Vampires”, and was an undeniably ambitious affair, mixing science fiction and horror to apocalyptic effect, with a script co-written by Dan O’Bannon of “Alien” and “Return of the Living Dead”.
The film has been given a new lease of life by Arrow Video, and is available now in region 2 Blu Ray and special Steelbook editions with a brand new restoration of the print supervised by Hooper himself. Including both the theatrical (101 minutes) and international (116 minutes) cuts of the film, the release boasts an exhaustive list of extras that cover pretty much everything any fan could ever want to know, packing in a variety of commentaries, interviews, behind the scenes featurettes and more.
The film opens with a space mission headed up by US astronaut Col. Tom Carlsen (creepy looking character actor Steve Railsback, who later did a fine job in “Ed Gein”) finding a strange, gigantic spacecraft inside Halley’s Comet. Within the ship they find three naked humanoids, two male and one female, in a state of suspended animation, and decide to take them back to earth for study. Unfortunately, something sinister happens on the way home, and the mission shuttle is found in orbit with the crew all desiccated, though the humanoids are still intact and are whisked to a research facility in London. Soon after arriving, the woman (Mathilda May) wakes up and drains the life from all and sundry before heading for the countryside, leaving behind her a collection of dried up corpses that reanimate and start spreading a dreadful zombie plague in the city. The only hope lies with mission survivor Carlsen, who seems to have developed some kind of psychic bond with the woman, teaming with a military investigator to try and track her down.
In so, so many ways, “Lifeforce” is just mind blowing. It’s really quite hard to recall such a far-out big budget commercial release, even during the crazy days of the 1980s, from its wacky concept (perhaps it seemed more sensible in the book?) through to the outlandish plot twists and tangential directions it heads off in, the stilted acting, the hilariously wooden script and more. The film heaps on the unpredictable strangeness throughout, keeping the viewer in a constant state of entertained disbelief, and its many excesses add up to a sublimely imaginative and high camp experience. There’s never been another film quite like it, and it’s easy to see why it’s attained such a cult following over the years, as though it’d be hard to argue it as a good or terribly well-made film, it’s amazingly creative, and has a sense of adventurous fun throughout.
While Hooper’s direction is nowhere near as tight and focused as it was with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, the film has more than enough going on to hold the interest, and some fantastic set pieces help to keep things moving through some of its slower and less coherent passages. The special effects also give the film a real boost and are still pretty impressive, at least in terms of their scale and look, and it’s always a kick to see such detailed and nicely crafted old school models being used, giving things a real charm lacking in most modern CGI laden affairs. It would of course be remiss not to mention arguably the film’s main asset, namely Mathilda May, who spends most of the running time wandering around naked in scenes that are probably worth the price admission on their own.
It’s definitely great to see “Lifeforce” being made available again, especially in such a fine looking print, the Blu Ray image being of a very high and sharp quality indeed. Well worth revisiting or discovering for the first time, it’s one of the more interesting entries on Tobe Hooper’s CV and another fine release from Arrow.
Tobe Hooper (director) / Colin Wilson (novel “The Space Vampires”), Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby (screenplay)
CAST: Steve Railsback … Col. Tom Carlsen
Peter Firth … Col. Colin Caine
Frank Finlay … Dr. Hans Fallada
Mathilda May … Space Girl
Patrick Stewart … Dr. Armstrong
Michael Gothard … Dr. Bukovsky
Nicholas Ball … Roger Derebridge