Lifeforce (1985)
Lifeforce (1985)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: June 21st, 1985 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Tobe Hooper Actors: Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard, Nicholas Ball, Nancy Paul

 


 

A

board the advanced deep space probe H.M.S. Churchill is a British-American team tasked with studying Halley’s Comet. When their state-of-the-art equipment picks up a radar trace of a 150-mile-long object in the coma, four astronauts are sent down to the enormous, arterial derelict craft. Inside, the vessel’s occupants are discovered – thousands of giant, batlike creatures, mummified by the absence of atmospheric conditions. The team bags one of the monstrosities before locating three perfectly preserved, naked humanoid bodies (two men, one female) in some sort of suspended animation state.

Commander Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback), as if under a hypnotic spell, insists on retrieving the three specimens. Thirty days later, Mission Control in Great Britain sends the Columbia spaceship to dock with the arriving Churchill, which has failed to communicate or set landing coordinates properly. The investigatory squad observes a completely gutted ship, burnt to a crisp by an internal fire – but the three inexplicably maintained bodies are still intact. At the European Space Research Centre in London, biochemist Dr. Fallada (Frank Finlay) heads the dissection of the subjects, though he is unable to determine without doubt that the corpses are actually dead. When his men attempt to examine the female (Mathilda May), she awakens and, with a surge of electrical currents, fries a guard to a crisp. She proceeds to exit the complex before being unsuccessfully apprehended in the main lobby. Shortly thereafter, the two males similarly arise, but are promptly exploded by grenades.

The story becomes more complex as Special Air Service Colonel Caine (Peter Firth) and Dr. Bukovsky (Michael Gothard) – the eventual Van Helsing – find an escape pod harboring Carlsen, who recounts his experience with the space vampires. Even before hearing Carlsen’s tale, and without prior explanation or reference, Fallada predicts that the humanoid creatures are vampires of sorts, draining the lifeforce of victims for energy. Their targets become aliens themselves, seeking out others for sustenance (taking on the characteristics of zombies, it would seem). The frightfully desiccated stiffs are amusingly created through animatronics and gruesome prosthetics and makeup effects (by Nick Maley), which hold up surprisingly well over time. Visually, they’re quite satisfactory for a 1980’s sci-fi shocker, though they’re not used nearly enough.

“Houston, we have a problem!” This is not the action-packed space opera of a “Star Wars” likeness, but rather an overt attempt to recapture the magnificent terror of “Alien,” through shadowy corridors, jittery violin music (by Henry Mancini), operating rooms full of unexpected extraterrestrial yucks, creepy sound effects, and zero comic relief. Based on the novel “The Space Vampires” by Colin Wilson, the film’s screenplay is also penned by go-to science-fiction/horror writer Dan O’Bannon. The seriousness with which the actors approach the material is commendable, helping to allay the unlikelihood of sex with an attractive, nude space-girl fueling anyone’s scream-inducing nightmare – or an alien woman begging to have information beaten out of her. Railsback’s spasmodic yelling and overly convenient mental link to the sorceress are equally questionable, with the latter providing an easy source of definitions for the various vampiric happenings, working to move the plot along without genuine cleverness or intensity.

From a storytelling standpoint, the pacing is slow, relying on unnecessary flashbacks; a large assortment of supporting characters that have little impact (though Patrick Stewart as a mental asylum curator has his moments); mismatched monster theories; and over-the-top interpretations of mind control, telepathy, hypnotizing, and body-hopping. Similarly, the world domination concept is too large in scope to adequately handle; had it all taken place in a more claustrophobic environment, such as that of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the scares could have been more effective. But despite the unfitting elements of a pseudo-zombie apocalypse amidst the alien soul-suckers, the supple May titillatingly spends the majority of the movie strutting about completely naked – a more heterosexually appealing reversal to Schwarzenegger’s initial nudity a year earlier in “The Terminator.”

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10