John’s Horror Corner: Lifeforce (1985), Tobe Hooper’s big budget naked space vampire epic.
MY CALL: People often discuss this epic film for its nudity (and not much else) and I consider that a shame. It’s excellent, features strong acting and an elaborate story, and including great concepts and special effects. I’d recommend it to all horror fans, new and old, critical and horror-hound alike. MORE MOVIES LIKE Lifeforce: For life-draining horror films featuring excellent effects and interesting stories, I’d highly recommend Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988).
Director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, Poltergeist, Funhouse) is a horror master! Many know of Steven Spielberg’s heavy-handed involvement in Poltergeist and thus question Hooper’s contribution as a director. True. Spielberg is awesome and the family-urgency was likely a product of his influence. But have these Poltergeist nay-sayers even seen Lifeforce!?!?! Get ready for an AMAZING experience!
An investigative space mission is graced with the discovery of the millennium! The astronauts unexpectedly encounter a 150-mile-long space vessel during an exploratory mission of Hailey’s Comet. The influence of H. R. Giger is undeniable as the vessel’s interior has an organic motif, as if the explorers were entering the anatomy (even the womb) of a leviathan being—much as in Poltergeist (1982; late in the film) or Alien/Aliens (1979, 1986). The spaceship’s inhabitants are all deceased, and they resemble bat people. You may be thinking “Holy shit! Are we really only 6 minutes into the running time?” The answer is YES. This film has a LOT to offer and it wastes none of your time!
While most of the bat-like inhabitants are long dead, the explorers find three preserved, naked, uncannily human lifeforms in stasis chambers—two men, and a woman. Then…something mysterious happens and the mission returns home with zero contact for thirty days. So what happened on that ship that returned with no living crew members? It’s not as obvious as you may think.
It’s not until mid-story that Colonel Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback; Alligator II: The Mutation, Barb Wire, Ed Gein), who was on the original exploratory mission, is recovered as the sole mission survivor in an escape pod to inform the military that an alien vessel was encountered…and what happened on that ship. He comes back a changed man, and the only hope of hunting down the escaped female who is now wandering the streets of London and draining its inhabitants.
Our interstellar succubus (Mathilda May; The Jackal) is beyond stunning, supernaturally manipulative, and clearly is on some sort of life-draining mission of her own. Her abilities infect our sexual weaknesses as well as our subconscious desires. So much so that a grown man might feel compelled to kiss Patrick Stewart (Green Room, Dune).
For 1985 the special effects are fantastic!!! Utilizing Star Wars-like rotoscoping for space scenes and Ghostbusters-style ectoplasm for supernatural life-sucking effects, you almost forget this film is over 30 years old. The life-drained bodies are desiccated husks and the zombie-esque animatronics of their movement is impressive.
Not only are the effects genuinely fantastic, but the concepts are as well. Classical vampire notions like the charming gaze, life-draining, telepathic links, and shapeshifting are clearly present, although cleverly modified. When the astronauts first enter the alien spaceship, it feels “strangely familiar” and when Tom sees the preserved female (Mathilda May) he seems to be entranced. And one can’t argue here, Mathilda May has entrancing boobs and a serious enthusiasm for kissing. Most men would be powerless.
The first 20 minutes of this film are more substantial than most entire horror films. I know…you’re thinking “really, John, but all the nudity.” But you’d be wrong. This film remains something special even if there was not a nipple to be seen.
Most interesting to me is how this 1985 movie, in the early HIV/AIDS era, captured the raw pansexuality of the vampire. Much as Anne Rice’s Lestat, even a withered male husk can allure another man to his charm. Although the “kiss” is admittedly more distant when male-to-male than when Mathilda tongue-wrangles her drained prey, infectious male-male kissing (or, at least, its implication) is quite frequent. It seems that Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound (1988) were influenced by the exquisite life-draining effects, which set the bar high.
The final segment erupts into an epidemic owing much to Dawn of the Dead (1978), with London immersed in a contagious essence-feeding maelstrom. The effects are consistently high quality and the bat monster is awesome, but the gore doesn’t properly kick in until this third act.
This excellent horror film has my 100% backing. I may have fallen in love with it as a teenager (understandably for the boobs, at that age), but now I would love it if there were not a single nipple to boast. This film is smart, oddly elaborate without getting carried away with itself, and 96% serious in its delivery. Unusual in many respects, and noteworthy in more, this is not the film to miss.