I caught LIFEFORCE back when it first appeared on VHS and was none too impressed with it. I’ve always avoided it as a positive example of TOBE HOOPER’s work due to my unfavorable memory of it. Then the other night it slunk into my living room via the MGM HD channel*. It happened to be the longer cut of the movie with its original HENRY MANCINI score fully intact boasting a new transfer overseen by HOOPER himself. LIFEFORCE is loony and it careens and wobbles around like a runaway bumper car. I don’t blame myself for loosing my grip and falling off of it way back when. It asks you to accept some serious absurdity particularly in the acting department but if you’re game, it’s astounding or, at the very least, refreshingly bizarre. Color me a convert; I see it now as an epic genre smorgasbord so damn nice I had to watch it twice. Oh boy, I dig the opening & closing theme…
*As an aside allow me a moment to gush over the MGM HD channel. Because I love it so much, it is sure to betray me soon so let me rave and ramble before the curtain falls and I’m hit with a sandbag. Recently on MGM HD I have witnessed bile like SUPERBEAST and MONSTER DOG transformed into strangely watchable train wrecks, the piss poor TENTACLES resurrected as a camp classic with a killer soundtrack and borderline faves like SQUIRM and THE BELIEVERS vividly revitalized. They showed the still stunning (to me) STILL OF THE NIGHT which has never made it to DVD and even the elusive PREDATOR pre-dater WITHOUT WARNING which never even crawled onto VHS!
Can you imagine a high-definition KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE? I admit that MGM-HD was incapable of changing my tune about CLIVE BARKER’S LORD OF ILLUSIONS, but I did end up with an appreciation for the scary DIAMANDA GALAS song that plays over its closing credits. If you don’t have HD just ignore me but if you do, I need to tell you to make sure you check out this channel especially considering the VINCENT PRICE-heavy schedule they’re threatening for October! Holy crap SHADOWS AND FOG is on as we speak! Try to tell me that’s not a beautiful looking movie. Gush done.
Where was I? Oh yeah, LIFEFORCE is crazy! You really have to make sure you walk into this movie using the right door. If you go by the trailer’s assertion that an ALIEN-like serpentine sci-fi horror flick is about to commence, you are sure to require a handkerchief for your multiple tears. LIFEFORCE I think is better off approached like a sweeping epic fantasy adventure that opens in heaven and closes in hell and along the way high fives a half dozen beloved sci-fi and horror devices and ends giving a big wet smooch to QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT.
It’s not a simple movie, it does not walk a simple line and yes, it can’t help coming off as semi-dopey thanks to the exaggerated earnestness of its major players. It’s a weird mix and much like riding on the back of a cartoon unicorn, you simply have to lean into the turns or you’ll be a miserable wreck. It’s all very silly but get over it and you’ll get a giant basket of candy.
Maybe if they had gone with the original title provided by the source material, COLIN WILSON’s novel “SPACE VAMPIRES,” folks could more easily accept this odd film’s extravagantly pulpy disposition. Not that we’re talking FLASH GORDON here, the learned WILSON’s metaphysical take on vampirism is a deep well masquerading as a puddle.
Forget pointy fangs and blood loss, the LIFEFORCE parasites perform in such a manner as to remind me of my first ill fated marriage to the dead and buried Latino heart throb Aunt Hector. These vamps use your soul as a sippy cup and suck out your will to live. The peaceful release of merciful death is even wickedly withheld. It turns out your dehydrated corpse must then rise to perform the same atrocity to whoever is unlucky enough to get near you and then they are compelled to go do the same. Soon the world is 28 DAYS OF THE LOCUST LATER, all screaming zombie chaos. In other words, if you ever meet somebody who seems too good to be true it’s probably because they are a giant bat demon spewed out of the tail of Haley’s Comet… but you knew that already didn’t you?
If you’ve ever entertained the notion that POLTERGEIST doesn’t quite feel like a HOOPER movie, you’ve gotta check LIFEFORCE out. If I didn’t know who was driving, I’m not sure who I’d accredit this divine madness to. Really, when people say a movie doesn’t feel like HOOPER, don’t they really mean that it doesn’t resemble THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE? I’ve said it before that TCM is a perfect storm. If it only took talent to make such a thing there’d be masterpieces growing on trees. I think it’s commendable that HOOPER doesn’t drag around a stagnant voice, with this jaunt he howls at the moon.
I mentioned QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT (AKA FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH) earlier. LIFEFORCE’s climactic vision of the destruction of London due to alien sabotage strikes strongly as taken from the same mold. As I found myself succumbing to LIFEFORCE’s fantastical grab bag of supernatural sci-fi salad I thought of the vast and necessary leap required to adore (or tolerate) HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH.
Both QUARTERMASS and HALLOWEEN 3 have a creative name in common, NIGEL KNEALE. KNEALE might rightfully tell me to blow it out of my ear but LIFEFORCE intentionally or not, bows towards him. I’d also like to out CARPENTER’s semi-unofficial (the script was authored by CARPENTER pseudonym “Martin Quartermass”) KNEALE tribute THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS as at least a spiritual sibling of LIFEFORCE with its metaphysical spine and its desire to peak behind the veil of the everyday and stare into a larger universal horror.
I’m rearing off topic I know. Let’s talk about LIFEFORCE’s cast. I would be remiss not to mention what grabbed many a viewer by the bullhorn and pulled them through this avalanche of outlandishness when it haunted eighties cable, one MATHILDA MAY. I can’t say MAY is not well cast as a cold figment capable of inspiring slobbery servitude. Carrying the duel weapons of (cough!) scant dialogue and scant attire, MAY glides straight through the sometimes overstuffed laser show like a hot knife through margarine. Haters gonna hate but it’s no easy feet to upstage an apocalypse. STEVE RAILSBACK needs less ham in his diet but has an overall convincing worminess that makes him ideal space babe fodder. PETER FIRTH is cotton candy clueless but the scenes of him running through London with gun drawn as zombies swarm are among my favorites in the film. You even get PATRICK STEWART speaking in tongues and forcing guys to make out with him. Do you need to know more than that? My favorite though may be FRANK FINLAY who I’ve never met before. Where have you been all my life FRANK? There’s a scene near the end where he dismantles in front of a blood stained skyline and it’s semi-jaw-droppy.
So’s anyway suffice to say I now dig the LIFEFORCE. Any vague shame I might feel makes me desire this everlasting gobstopper of a film even more. B-movie invasion, vampire romance, zombie contamination, mind reading, possession, insane asylums, space ships, EGON SCHEILE paintings brought to life, near constant breaking glass and lasers blasts , all natural boobs for some, unsolicited PATRICK STEWART make out sessions for others. It’s “out there” and “out there” movies are easy to rip to shreds. Personally I’m much happier getting high off of the secondary smoke that comes off the screen. Anyway, I’m chalking another one up for the HOOPER, movies don’t have to be good to be great and this one (and particularly this HD edition) is infinity times better than I recall.