Lifeforce (1985)

JULY 30, 2008


A while back, I pointed out that if I know a movie has been cut to shreds before seeing it, I will stubbornly wait until the full cut is released. But I was going to make an exception with Lifeforce, because I heard it was still pretty good. However, the cut on DVD IS in fact the longer cut (115 min), not the 101 theatrical version. I discovered after watching it that Tobe Hooper’s preferred cut is actually 126 minutes, but since the movie is overlong as it is, I’m gonna have to go ahead and declare this version fine as is. Sorry, Tobe.

(Unless the extra 11 minutes are simply more scenes of Mathilda May walking around fully nude. Nothing wrong with that subplot.)

It’s kind of an anomaly in Hooper’s career. Not that the guy has ever had a really consistent body of work (technically or creatively), but this one REALLY sticks out. It’s more like the 80s version of a Hammer film like Quatermass or something than anything you’d expect from the usually Ameri-centric Hooper. It’s also 2.35:1, and it was the last time he shot a film that way, best as I can tell. Hell, even the nudity isn’t really his bag; I can’t recall any real nudity in any of his other movies (save Eaten Alive), at least not as explicit as it is here.

There are some definite Hooper-isms though, such as low angle tracking shots and wooden performances. So there’s something. Still, I wish he had gotten more personally involved with his films (you almost never see his name in the writing or producing credits); one thing I noticed during the Carpenter fest is that even his more stand-alone films like Big Trouble In Little China or Christine feature his usual themes and motifs, something one would never really get from watching any number of Hooper’s films back to back. It’s even a bit ironic; he’s never really gone outside of the horror genre, and yet his movies have almost nothing in common, where Carpenter has done sci-fi, action, even comedy (Memoirs) and given each his trademark stamp.

Anyway, the movie’s pretty good. Like I said, it’s a bit too long, and has far too many stuffy British characters. It seems like a few could have been combined. It is based on a book called "The Space Vampires" (they changed it so that 20 years later no one would associate it with Dracula 3000), and I am willing to bet that rather than merge characters, they simply kept them all in and just reduced their roles. Which is why you get two scenes in a row of our hero (Steve Railsback) interrogating someone who has been infected with the alien/vampire/zombie thing (it never quite makes sense – they act like zombies but they are referred to as vampires by an incredibly hammy old Brit guy), characters we never saw before or see again.

One of those guys is none other than Patrick Stewart. There are two odd coincidences with his brief role. One is that he is put in a wheelchair for a good chunk of it. Two is that he is in the wheelchair in order to be interrogated with sodium pentothol (truth serum), the same thing Stewart himself did to Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory, one of the 10 most underrated movies of all time. Also, at one point someone says “Houston, we have a problem”, which means Apollo 13 ripped it off (it’s even in the trailer!). Perhaps if I looked harder, I could find the source of every mid 90s movie in this goofy Cannon movie. Halley’s Comet also makes an appearance (the guy from Shinedown is nowhere to be seen, though we can assume he saw it waving and asking why he was always running in place*), shortly before turning our soda machines and lawnmowers into hunters of Emilio Estevez.

This is a Golan/Globus affair, making it my 2nd in the past 7 days (after Phantom). This was rather early on in their heyday, so they actually put some money into it. The space effects are a bit cheesy, but the makeups on the dead vampire things are fucking great. They explode into dust when they are killed (another thing ripped off – damn you Whedon!), which results in a great bit where one runs at a chainlink fence and explodes all over the people on the other side. Sweet! They also managed to get Henry Mancini, certainly no hack (though he simply used an unused score for a Hitchcock movie). The opening theme is incredibly rousing and totally distracts you away from the lame space effects.

There are a couple bits that are just nonsensical though. At one point a guy is watching his buddy talk to the evil vampire over a closed circuit monitor. It’s the only monitor, it’s not like he’s the security guard with 50 screens to watch, so you’re thinking he’s probably in the next room. But that is not the case; the vampire attacks his buddy, and he goes to save him. Unfortunately he is too late, because he has to run down like 5 corridors and through half a dozen rooms to get there. What’s the point of monitoring a situation if you’re too far to do anything about it? There’s also a very silly effect where blood flies from Stewart’s mouth and forms the hot vampire girl. That’s fine, except the fake Stewart head, which seems rather unnecessary to begin with (nothing happens to the head), looks like Steve Martin, not Picard. Of course, nowadays, there are at least three different widely available Stewart masks (for X-Men, Star Trek, and Masterminds) that they could have used instead. Oh well.

The DVD has no extras beyond the trailer (which features some of the full frontal nudity from the movie, surprisingly - the one below is edited). The main menu looks like it was designed by an Adobe Photoshop For Beginners tutorial, and it’s not anamorphic, but the sound mix is quite good for pre 5.1 film. Recommended if you find it cheap enough, though I would love a full blown special edition with Hooper’s commentary and/or a retrospective doc concerning the film’s troubled post production. I believe IMDb trivia is muscling in on DVD extras’ territory, and it’s time to take it back.

What say you?

*If you got that without Googling, congratulations! You obviously have heard the best album of the year!


  1. This flick wasn't too bad. One of Tobe's best (whatever that means). I would agree that the movie was a bit long. Near the end I was fighting not to press the fast-forward button. The first half was great, but the direction it took near the end wasn't my bag at all.

  2. I saw this one about fifteen years ago. Truthfully, I only remember the parts with the hot alien space vampire chick walking around nude. To my 16 year-old self, that fact alone made it a great film.

  3. I thought this was a great movie when I was a teenager too. It's got all the right elements! I bought the DVD some time ago but haven't got around to rewatching it yet. Your review might just bring that day a bit closer!

  4. I've been going through Tobe Hooper's films and landed on this one. I thought it was pretty dang fun. That nonsense about emulating the perfect woman from the dude's mind was enough of a justification to see Mathilda May fully naked for most of her considerable screen time. Man! What a looker! How a film studio let that get made in 1985 is beyond me.

    I liked most of the effects even though some seemed to come directly from his previous film. The fake looking desiccated victims were fun. I didn't get the city overrun by zombie things at all. At first, they were sucking lifeforce. When you saw them in masse, they seemed to be eating flesh. ???

    The whole thing was acted well, but I gotta say it was probably acted too well. Everybody was so stuffy. You'd think they could've had more fun with the subject matter and the naked gorgeous chick.


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