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.

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Amanda By Night
Amanda By Night(@amanda-by-night)
11 years ago

I saw this movie at the American Cinematheque a few years ago and Tobe Hooper was there for a Q&A. I think pretty much everyone who raised their hand said, “I first saw this when I was 13 and I just want to say THANK YOU for making this movie!” Mathilda had quite the impact on the young male audience. It was pretty funny (in a good way) to hear all those guys.

11 years ago

Ah, LIFEFORCE, what a Glorious Mess of a movie you are! I can’t agree with you on Railsback’s performance here being anything but execrable, but luckily the rest of the movie’s awesome madness completely overwhelms his “acting.” I just picture Tobe Hooper sitting there, with a huge budget and no rules, and cackling maniacally as he throws every fucking thing he can think of at the screen on a coke-fueled creative binge of David Lee Rothic proportions!
Also, after watching (and enjoying) several of Hooper’s post-TCM flicks, I am ready to tell everyone who keeps saying movie X or Y is “completely unlike the Tobe Hooper we know and love” to just STFU. You’re right that TCM was a perfect storm–but what people don’t seem to realize is, if you look at Hooper’s other flicks (take EATEN ALIVE, LIFEFORCE, and TCM2, just to name a few), it quickly becomes clear that TCM is the odd movie out. The rest of his flicks are just shot through with this comic booky, over the top, blue-and-red gel MADNESS that actually coheres into a recognizable and consistent directorial style. His MASTERS OF HORROR entries and the TOOLBOX MURDERS remake fit in perfectly with this. In short, the film most UNLIKE Hooper’s unified directorial style is…TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE!
So I suggest we just get over that fact and enjoy Hooper’s other output on the appropriate terms. 😉

11 years ago

I Netflixed “Lifeforce” recently, having not seen it since I rented it shortly after our first VHS rental joint opened.  I recall they had about ten tapes to start off with and I think that my choices were down to “Love at First Bite”, “Hair” and “Lifeforce”.
So, yeah, it’s a nutso film.  However, I must admit that there was some decent humor in the dry British approach to dealing with a space-vampire apocalypse.

11 years ago

I’ve read this blog for a long time, but this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to comment.  When I was about 10 or 11 (1986-87ish), my brother and sister-in-law would come to babysit every Friday night and bring a stash of horror films, which basically shaped my taste in films to this day.  Lifeforce was the only one I couldn’t watch all the way through – the scene where the old woman explodes into dust was just that little bit too much for my young mind to handle and I had to get them to turn it off.  I’m a bit ashamed to admit that to this day I’ve still never seen it all the way through, and it’s only now, after reading this post, that I’ve discovered that Tobe Hooper was the man responsible for scaring the absolute shit out of me.  Well done that man!

11 years ago

Lifeforce sticks in my mind as the second time in my life that I witnessed a woman’s bush in a movie; the first was Monique Gabrielle as Tracey in Bachelor Party. So between Monique and Matilda, women have been ruined for me.  Of course, my brother then found a bunch of hard core VHS tapes and the horror of late 70’s / early 80’s porno was far greater than anything Tobe Hooper could deliver.

11 years ago

I can’t say it traumatized me as a kid, but the first teaser trailer for Lifeforce startled a skidmark into my skivvies. I can’t find it on YouTube, but it is an elegantly simple shot of the deep space beyond Earth’s curvature coupled with the thrumming of spaceship engines as some unusual alien craft creeps into view from the top of the screen. Then… something unexpected happens given that setup.  I won’t spoil it for the uninitiated, but it is brilliant. Seek it out if you can and report back on your own reactions.

11 years ago

I love Lifeforce! It’s fascinated me ever since I was a kid and read the description in TV Guide which was something like, “Naked space vampires terrorize London”.
I just wrote a blog about Tobe Hooper and his failure of a career and it includes a link to some Behind the Scenes footage of “Lifeforce”! Check it out:

11 years ago

I’ve been a sucker for Lifeforce since I first saw it many years ago.  Despite all of its flaws and Steve Railsback’s obvious inadequacies as a leading man, it definitely left its imprint on my young psyche…although I think Mathilda May had a lot to do with that.
Coincidently enough, I just recently saw Invaders from Mars for the first time in decades and was struck by its similarities to Lifeforce. They were released a year apart and both have that same EC Comics campy feel about them (probably due in large part to Dan O’Bannon’s involvement in both films).  Unfortunately they were both big budget flops, too.

11 years ago

Saw this the night it opened in my town. I was ten or 11. The naked chick was awsome, then stupid, then dumb. Man the total frickin’ nutsoid destruction, that was something else. In fact, that was the first time shit like that went down in a horror film that I could remember, at least convincingly. It’s been done many times lately in disaster and war films, but the whole thrashing mass, and occasional whirling tornado of death, that was something else in ’85. If I were Hooper, I doubt I would have done anything different. BTW saw Mortuary today, pretty decent.