Well it’s been a few days since I posted a review due to a number of factors, having not watched a film since Ninja Terminator being one, scheduling issues and LA Noire being other reasons. So I thought I’d come back with a film that’s bound to be as searched for on WordPress as Titanic 2 and Shane Van Dyke. Instead I got Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce. Also, I wasn’t kidding about people searching for Shane Van Dyke and Titanic 2, they are my 2 most searched for terms on my stats page. It’s scary. anyway…
Lifeforce, to put it simply, is a Sci-fi take on the Vampire mythos. Something which has been done plenty of time but not on this sort of scale and budget. the film had a troubled production not helped by it’s insane (For the time) budget of $25million and an original title in the form of The Space Vampires. A lot of pressure must have been put on director Tobe Hoopers shoulders to create a blockbuster that would drag in the audiences. It could have managed to rake in a fair bit of money too if it hadn’t been put up against Ron Howards Cocoon. Pretty clear which film was gonna win that battle what with Cocoon being a family friendly easy going Sci-fi film and Lifeforce being a dark R rated, set entirely in London, nudity and horror filled attempt at a Sci-fi epic. It doesn’t make it a bad film though. It’s by no means perfect but I believe it deserves it’s cult status.
The story is basically a nice mix of Vampire legend, Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and a little bit of a zombie holocaust. An international space crew observing Halley’s Comet discover an object in it’s wake. It appears to be a space ship some 150 miles long. Unable to call back to base due to interference from the comets radiation they decide to enter the ship. Inside they find the calcified remains of bat like creatures and 3 humanoid people, 2 males and a female, placed in suspended animation. they bring the people on board their shuttle and suddenly we’ve skipped 30 days. Kind of a jarring moment. You’re lead to believe at the start that this would be Alien with space vampires, possibly set entirely on the space shuttle. Apparently the original cut for the film spent a lot more time with the crew of the Churchill shuttle which probably would have reinforced that impression if those scenes had been kept. The film is really a story of men tracking down these space vampires once they reach Earth.
This jump to 30 days later also create an issue with the films first half. You’re not really sure who the protagonist is. A member of the crew does escape the shuttle but he doesn’t come back into the film until around the 35 minute mark. When the skip forward does happen we are met by some scientists who have the vampires under study and as you’d expect they fail to keep the most female and continuously nude of them from escaping. The male vampires barely figure in this. They seem to come off as a relic of a previous draft. it’s all about Mathilda Mays vampire, who would actually make an interesting protagonist if we followed her attempts to survive on a world she doesn’t understand. We’re introduce to a Colonel Cain who is brought in to investigate what happened at the lab but he is introduced as though he’ll be a side character at first, almost an antagonist with his aggressive questioning. Eventually the astronaut Carson lands in Texas from the escape pod he launched from the Churchill and we’re finally properly introduced to our protagonist.
Now if they had kept the initial alien spacecraft exploration scene’s I’ve no doubt there would be no question that Carson was the protagonist but he’s effectively taken out of the proceedings until 35 minutes in to the extent where you’ve pretty much forgotten about him because the way the opening sequences played out almost painted him as generic spaceman No.3. This lack of character focus or direction plagues the first 45 minutes something rotten, but the film does pick up. The final half of the film is a decent series of memorable sequences featuring, but not limited to, Patrick Stewart going mental and having blood pouring out of his face, An exorcism of sorts and an apparent near apocalypse of the alien vampire kind.
The films main issues are in it’s first 45 minutes. It’s loaded with exposition, flashbacks and information being fed at random. Characters either make intuitive leaps in logic to decide what to do next, get informed of important information without the viewer being made aware something had happened or fill in blanks via flashback. There are a few cool sequences that will keep you’re interest, such as the lifeforce drained bodies of victims springing back to life and Mathilda May’s non-stop nudity adventure, but it still drags.
Eventually Caine and Carson team up and start investigating the whereabouts of the seductive space vampire. Carson informs us that he can read the mind of the space vampire, and later the minds of people who have come into contact with her. Convenient that. Possibly one of the most obviously thrown in plot devices in cinema history. He almost literally just goes “yeah, I think I can read minds now” and everyone’s like “sweet”. It’s elements like this that give the film a bit of a dated feel. It harks back to the cold war themed sci-fi of the 60s and 70s. if it wasn’t for the very impressive special effects you’d think it was a 60s film. Everything about the interior sets screams 60s UK move. The plain walls, the wood paneled hallways being particular of that era. Even the cast seem to wear either corduroy jackets or the ever tactical turtleneck sweater,
The special effects really do make this stand out though. The alien spacecraft is somewhere between Geiger’s designs in Alien and the V’Ger from Star Trek The Motion Picture. A long, unending corridor or twisted shapes and dark designs. The near skeletal animated corpses of the vampire victims are pretty impressive too for the time. There’s some nice gruesome effects int he form of characters skin stretching around their skeletons as the life is drained from them. The finale to the film involves large scale sets of London’s streets on fire and near destroyed whilst a large number of zombie like vampire plague victims run around looking for souls to feed on. The money is definitely up on the screen.
Henry Mancini’s score is a little overwhelming at times. It’s more suited to a tradition space adventure film in the vein of Star Wars than this sort of production. I believe a more minimalist and ambient theme would have helped the film a lot by giving it a stronger audio identity. The film may be visually spectacular at times but the tone isn’t. It’s more X-Files than X-Men.
Overall the film is clearly plagued by studio based edits, an unfocused and possibly re-written to hell screenplay and a lack of strong lead character. Where it succeeds though is in the strength of is visual flair for special effects and it’s blistering second half. It’s the sort of film that I’d like to see someone take a stab at again. Although I doubt these days it would be quite so full of nudity, bleeding face holes and horrific anamatronic effects. These sort of films don’t get made often these days, even Splice was kind of tame and that was a big clone of Species.It’s not surprising we don’t get films like this often though. they cost a bomb to produce and the studios are so focused on making them marketable, usually too late in the day, that they end up chopping what they have got up and messing with the original vision. That said, changing the name to Lifeforce from the Space Vampires was certainly a good idea.