Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #224
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: June 21, 1985
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $11,603,545 (U.S.)
Running Time: 116 minutes
Director: Tobe Hooper
Producers: Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan
Screenplay: Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby
Based on The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson
Special Effects: John Dykstra
Cinematography: Alan Hume
Score: Henry Mancini
Editing: John Grover
Studio: Cannon Films
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Stars: Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard, Nicholas Ball, Aubrey Morris, Nancy Paul, John Hallam, John Keegan, Chris Jagger, Bill Malin, Jerome Willis, Derek Benfield
Suggested Audio Candy:
Henry Mancini Lifeforce
Tobe Hooper’s resume makes for fascinating perusal. Where many of his compatriots located their niche and stuck with it, his output has been wildly varied over the forty plus years he has been making movies. Of course, he brought us titanic terrorizer The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and, had his career have ceased there, then he would have done more than enough in one fell swoop to have secured his godhead status. However, despite his next project Eaten Alive possessing the same kind of southern fried seasoning, it failed to spark anything like the same level of interest and after following this up with the moderately pleasing but unremarkable The Funhouse in 1981, he deemed it high time to spread his wings and tackle more crowd-pleasing fare to stop the rot.
This reaped instant dividends in 1982 as he collaborated with Steven Spielberg on big-budget blockbuster Poltergeist and the results of their association were unanimous, despite their often turbulent working relationship. Suddenly Hooper was riding the crest of a wave once more and managed to land himself a three-movie deal with the once formidable Cannon Films which presented him with a triple-pronged assault on the horror summit. It started in familiar territory with his long-awaited Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 taking him back to his roots but, while it made a reasonable return, many purists weren’t best pleased by his decision to opt for black comedy as opposed to the raw terror of yesteryear. Next up was a remake of William Cameron Menzies’s 1953 science-fiction B-movie Invaders of Mars and, once again, the response was lukewarm. However, by far the most ambitious of the three movies bankrolled was his 1985 big-hitter Lifeforce and regrettably this was where the cart vacated the tracks.
Despite looking like a sound investment on paper, the project was plagued by problems from the offset. Adapted from a novel by Colin Wilson called The Space Vampires, it required a total of nine script drafts, ran over schedule, and endured all manner of setbacks en route to eventually making the silver screen. By the time it stumbled across the finish line, numerous lengthy cuts to Hooper’s original version had been enforced and certain other key scenes were never even filmed, including additional space footage to help set the tone for the overall movie. While the end product was deemed a travesty by many of the crew, the critical response was reasonably chipper on the whole, although this wasn’t reflected in its box-office showing where it fell some way short of recouping its luxurious $25m outlay and ended up languishing in VHS rental limbo.
Mercifully, thanks to our good friends at Arrow Home Video, it is now available in its 116 minute incantation and much of the trimmed footage has been restored. As a sucker for eighties cheese this pleases me infinitely. You see, movies like Lifeforce are the reason the term “count your blessings” was invented. While there can be no denying that its something of a convoluted mess, it is also a whole heap of fun and that counts for something in my book. Granted, as it wears on, it veers perilously close to the downright preposterous, but it is never anything less than watchable and contains numerous moments scenes of minor marvel to sweeten the deal. It is also something of a looker with gloriously gruesome FX and superb animatronics plus, of course, the literally breathtaking Mathilda May wearing hardly a stitch throughout. So I ask you, what’s not to like?
“She looks perfect. I’ve been in space six months and she looks perfect to me.”
Our journey begins with a team of astronauts studying Haley’s Comet and discovering a gargantuan deserted vessel (which was amusingly based on an artichoke) and venturing inside to poke around some. After discovering what appears to be three perfectly preserved humanoids in crystallized containers, it all goes wrong for the crew of the Churchill and, when mission control loses contact with the shuttle, Planet Earth begins to fear the worst. After a rescue team are sent out on a salvage mission, said fears are confirmed as the entire crew have indeed perished and the ship has succumbed to significant fire damage. However, the trio of on-ice intergalactic hitchhikers are still very much intact and shipped back to a London-based research center for further analysis. Meanwhile, the escape pod of sole survivor Colonel Carlsen (Steve Railsback) lands in Texas and jumps on the very next flight for debriefing.
“Don’t worry, a naked woman is not going to get out of this complex.”
On their return to Earth, the female subject reawakens and proceeds to use her perfectly formed bosoms as a form of hypnosis to lure anyone in the vicinity into her personal space. They are then rewarded with a passionate embrace although a little more one-sided than they may have envisaged. You see, while her kissing credentials are certainly not in question, she has a tendency to steal your breath away…permantly. By the time her tongue reaches any potential suitor’s tonsils, they have shrivelled up like faster than Benjamin Button come his first bottle feed and are left resembling out-of-date prunes. Feeling invigorated, she commences to run amok, sucking the lifeforce from anyone she comes in contact with and using her assets to reel in any stragglers. I certainly wouldn’t resist and, when you consider that she is so mesmerizingly beautiful and incredibly well endowed, I’d still be grinning like a deviant as my eyeballs recessed into my skull for a solitary stolen moment.
“It was two hours ago that the guard was attacked. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we’re seeing a pattern here.”
Despite its space connotations, Lifeforce is a vampire movie through and through. It accounts for all traditional elements from bats, transmogrification, sexual allure and even stasis fields posing as intergalactic coffins. But, at its heart, it is little more than a love story bizarrely enough. Railback gives a gloriously batshit turn as the object of our space vamp’s obsession and, despite the fact that all her other suitors look like geriatric scrotums by the time she is done with them, he is convinced that he has been specifically chosen. Typical guy, thinking with his Johnson and the hairy brains that dangle beneath.
Meanwhile, Frank Finlay is excellent as Colonel Colin Caine and Peter Firth also comes along for the ride as does the great Patrick Stewart in a ludicrously camp supporting role as Dr. Armstrong. Indeed, his gut-bustingly hilarious banshee-like scream is beyond priceless as he becomes her unwitting host. This culminates in a delightful scene aboard a chopper where his blood supply reanimates our siren who lets out her own shrill scream before bursting like an overfilled colostomy bag. Firth’s turn is by far the most credible but even he struggles with some of the decidedly stilted dialogue he is asked to recite, while a number of other actors have their lines cut entirely from the final presented version.
Henry Mancini’s overblown score is a little too big for its own breaches but undoubtedly epic and exhilarating and John Dykstra’s effects are simply ravishing. It’s no stretch to work out where the $25m budget has been utilized and the lifeforce-sapping scenes are masterfully executed. Hooper’s film hopscotches from cosmic vampires to telepathic inter-species links to apocalyptic cataclysm and ends with a lurid light show the likes of which dazzle as much as discombobulate. In many ways it pays homage to Quatermass and, while it ridiculously convoluted, somehow manages to pull off the feat. granted, Hooper’s bloated cinematic cocktail is a travesty, of that there can be no question. However, it is a bold, courageous and ludicrously enjoyable travesty and one which outsources happiness effortlessly. Over ambition and clumsy execution may have halted it from being the big budget extravaganza that was initially projected but, as an old school B-movie, it’s still one hell of a spectacle.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Given that Dykstra was responsible for the effects for Star Wars, there are no calamities with regards to the effects. Whilst not an all-out bloodbath, there are plenty of gruesome moments and withered corpses to marvel at throughout. However, it’s the vampire’s kiss which lingers longest. Was it worth it Carlsen, once your erection has subsided and you’re left looking like a sun-dried raisin, was it really worth it? For just a few stolen moments with Mathilda May I’d say that’s affirmative. She is almost impossibly beautiful and her breasts astonishingly 100% natural. If I had tits like her I’d fondle them day and night until the end of time and never leave the house again. That said, they look a darn sight better on her coordinates.
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2014 (Revised Edition 2016)