tn_lifeforceLIFEFORCE is a crazy fuckin movie, my third or fourth favorite from director Tobe Hooper. Three years after POLTERGEIST and one before THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 he made this distinctly weird but effective sci-fi horror film, his first of three Golan and Globus productions.

Based on a 1976 novel called Space Vampires by Colin Wilson, it is about exactly that. Astronauts on a British space shuttle mission to study Halley’s Comet find themselves landing on a weird flower-shaped object and discovering hundreds (maybe thousands) of dessicated corpses of giant space bats. But also they find three naked humanoids hibernating in glass cases, much like the underwear girls behind the front desk at the Standard Hotel.

Most people, including myself, sometimes refer to this as NAKED SPACE VAMPIRES. But another good title would be DON’T BRING SHIT BACK FROM SPACE. But this is a momentous discovery, so understandably the astronauts want to get some samples, including all three of the humanoids. And I don’t want to give anything away so I will just say it is possible that they will come to Earth and scientists will have many great breakthroughs from studying them and there will be numerous benefits for mankind. That is one possibility.

mp_lifeforceMaybe it’s just me but in my opinion nobody remembers the two male vampires are even in this movie. What they do remember is introducing Mathilda May as “Space Girl.” Portraying an alien race’s interpretation of Steve Railsback’s deepest sexual desire, May was 21 years old and looks kinda like Alyssa Milano sprouting into Vampira. She’s introduced buck naked and stays that way for at least half of the movie (though that only adds up to 7 minutes of screen time if you believe IMDb trivia). I don’t want to be crude, but you can’t really avoid noticing that this has got to be the most boner-inducing sci-fi movie since BARBARELLA. Had this film been a STAR WARS type hit instead of a box office flop, an entire generation of boys would’ve reached manhood early and changed the very course of history. (It opened against COCOON, which went on to make eight times as much money on a smaller budget.)

But I don’t think it comes across as some kind of jerkoff movie. It’s more like a dry joke about the helplessness of men in the face of female sexuality. Every dude in the movie, starting with Railsback as astronaut Colonel Tom Carlsen the second he discovers her floating inside a vaginal (or I guess more butthole-like) room, turns into a speechless mouthbreather in her presence. If he wasn’t wearing an astronaut suit he’d be looking for a clipboard or something to awkwardly hide his boner with. The sight of her turns men into dummies. I would argue that the guy who comes closest to resisting her is the security guard who, seeing her try to walk out of the lab, tries to feed her a potato chip.

When they discuss which of these bodies they discovered to load onto the shuttle, Carlsen says to bring all three of them. This is the first major missed opportunity for comedy, because I would love to see the three male astronauts choose Space Girl as the specimen and try to act cool about it in front of the one female astronaut.

“I mean, I could go either way, I’d sort of rather take one of the male ones, but the female one is on top, it’s just easier for us to access. It’s really a shame actually but I don’t see any other choice, unfortunately.”

“Really? Why can’t we just come in from the side here?”

“Nah, I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. I mean, it’s okay, we can take the female one if that’s what you prefer.”

“You said you wanted a male.”

“It’s fine. I’m not mad. We’ll take the female.”

“We can take one of the males.”

“Well, I mean, but now that I think about it, our daughters need role models, right?”


Of course, something goes wrong on the way home. A rescue mission recovers the cargo from the Space Shuttle Churchill when it drifts in like the Demeter, the ship in Dracula that arrives with only a dead captain tied to the steering wheel. There seems to have been a fire, and burnt up bodies float out – a truly Hooper moment when you consider the graverobber art that opens THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or the body pits in part 2 and POLTERGEIST. The crew seems to be dead, but the naked space vampires are brought into the lab still looking stunning.

But of course Space Girl is gonna wake up and rather than suck blood she sucks the– oh, I guess that’s why they call it LIFEFORCE. She seduces dudes into coming towards her and she acts like she’s gonna kiss them but then their energy and essence and soul and life shoot out of their heads like lightning bolts and she absorbs them and they turn into dry yucky mummy husks. And I guarantee you every one of them would tell you it was worth it though.

One other thing: their shriveled up skinbag corpses are gonna wake up in two hours and try to suck themselves some lifeforce. If they get it they’ll keep going for another two hours, if they don’t they’ll get so dry they’ll explode like a dancer pounding his chalky hands together in the Battle of Red Hook. Now, one of these lady-strapped-to-the-table-in-RETURN-OF-THE-LIVING-DEAD looking suckers actually compels a scientist to lean in for a kiss, so unless that guy has a very peculiar fetish then we can assume the space vampires have hypnotic seduction powers. Still, it’s funny to see one security guard watch another on a security monitor as he falls for the ol’ naked-Mathilda-May-lightning-bolt-face-suck, then walk right in and suffer the same fate himself. This is the power of the boner.

This reminds me alot of the one QUATERMASS movie I’ve seen, QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. Because it’s this strange alien thing that’s been discovered, British scientists and officials calmly discussing it, following what’s going on, trying to logically figure out what to do as it spreads and grows into a serious threat for mankind. It starts in a lab (via space) and ends up with the streets of London piled with dead bodies as the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral cracks open and pumps a pipeline of glowing blue human souls into the sky. Dr. Hans Fallada (Frank Finlay) maybe should be a little more urgent about finding a solution and tell us later about his theory that the idea of vampires comes from creatures like this visiting Earth in the past, but luckily that leads him to figuring out where to stab them.

ricflair_lifeforceAnd it’s probly just me but I kept thinking he looked kinda like the wrestler Ric Flair.

There are several good puppets of these vampirized people, and model heads that melt and spew blood that congeals on the ceiling and all kinds of weird shit. They don’t always do the best job of editing it to hide that the facial expressions don’t change much, but they’re still very cool to look at.

The other major missed opportunity for humor is at the end. When (SPOILER) Carlsen is naked making out with Space Girl and the SAS guy is about to throw him the sword, he should signal him to hold off for a couple minutes.

I’ve seen this at least two times previously and always considered myself a fan, but I also felt it started out good and then kind of lost me as it devolved into chaos in the streets and a bunch of painted on glowing energy beam FX. Luckily this latest viewing was a 70mm print playing as part of the Cinerama’s annual 70mm Festival here in Seattle. On a giant screen and with loud sound all that shit is way more exciting. And then you get to soak in Henry Mancini’s great music marching through your chest during the credits.

I don’t think I ever noticed before (SPOILER) – the space vampires won, didn’t they? Space Girl and Carlsen fly away in the space ship and below them are a bunch of babies in incubation tubes!

Seeing it with an audience also added to the experience. It wasn’t sold out, but I’d say about 2/3 full, many more people than when I saw the #1 ranking Hooper movie there one October a few years ago. The crowd wildly applauded the Cannon Films logo, which I 100% credit to that ELECTRIC BOOGALOO documentary, but that’s okay. When astronauts discussed putting the giant bat in a “containment bag” that was clearly just a net, and the audience didn’t laugh, I thought holy shit, this is a perfect audience, they are taking this seriously. Later, like when the vampire prisoner ran into the bars and exploded into dust, they started laughing more, but not entirely derisively (though some people were a little too shocked about Patrick Stewart being in it, like they thought Star Trek was his first role and it was ridiculous for him to have had any other jobs in his life). And there was applause at the end, too. Maybe more than when I saw APOCALYPSE NOW, come to think of it.

One of the screenwriters is Dan O’Bannon, which makes sense considering how much the opening resembles ALIEN. Hooper certainly doesn’t make it feel as real or as scary as Ridley Scott did in ALIEN, but it is interesting that he was able to successfully mount this large of a production not long after he was, according to legend, too incompetent or stoned to direct POLTERGEIST. We’re talking more characters, more locations, more crowd scenes, more effects, two and a half times the budget. And much weirder subject matter. I think he pulled it off pretty well, with no evidence of Spielberg being there.

mp_lifeforcebWow, you know, I’ve seen this poster art for so many years that I just knew in my brain it meant LIFEFORCE, but I never really stopped to wonder what the hell that eyeball thing has to do with this movie and why did they think that would make people want to see it? There’s so much great imagery in the movie, and it’s utilized or interpreted in many cool foreign posters, but this is what they sold it with here. That’s Cannon trying to fit in with the normals and choking, I think.

This was one of the most expensive movies they made, as their attempt to throw it in with the big boys, but it would have to settle for losing a ton of money and becoming a beloved cult movie years later. You could argue it was still influential though, because it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t the inspiration for SPECIES and UNDER THE SKIN. Both have a creature from space manifesting on earth as an intimidatingly hot woman walking around naked, causing men to go gulp, predatorily seducing them and suckfacing them to death. SPECIES II even has a somewhat similar Space Shuttle mission opening, lab escape and major astronaut characters. I know UNDER THE SKIN was based on a book, but that was a book that came out 14 years after LIFEFORCE. According to Wikipedia it was “written in, and inspired by, the Scottish Highlands,” which in my opinion means “in between viewings of LIFEFORCE.”

Anyway, even held up against those possible-copycats, LIFEFORCE remains a uniquely enjoyable oddity.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 19th, 2016 at 10:35 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “Lifeforce”

  1. This might be my favourite movie that I can’t legitimately call “good”. But there is so much crazy, never before (or afterwards) seen shit going on and once they return to earth, there is not one dull scene. (I’m not calling the opening dull, it’s just more atmospheric and takes more time for itself then the rest of the movie does.)

    Too bad that Hooper didn’t have a longer run at Cannon. Neither this or INVADERS FROM MARS is as good as TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE 2, but if you ask me, these three are by far the most entertaining ones that he made.

  2. Genuinely curious if I’m the only one here who’s also read the book by Wilson…? The most similar scene from the book to the movie that I can recall is the weird S and M scene with the nurse who had been possessed by Countess Lifesuckula, strangely enough.

  3. I can tell you from experience, that’s a hard book to get away with reading in public.

  4. I got see this as well at the Seattle Cinerama screening last week and I sat behind a woman who brought her teenage daughter. The mother was a huge fan of “Lifeforce” and this screening functioned as a rite of passage for her daughter, who was very excited to finally watch it. It was a beautiful moment.

  5. Somehow I missed out on seeing TITFORCE as a teen. There was this brief period where my parents had major disagreements about what movies me and my sisters could watch. Dad was way more liberal, and introduced me to Bo Derek’s tits in TARZAN as a ten year old, while mum showed me PETE’S DRAGON. Boing. Fuckin explains a helluva lot about my mental state now, come to think of it. Thanks mum and dad! I am the maladjusted fruit of your disunity.

    Remember when Steve Railsback was sort of a big deal? Like the David Caruso of the 80’s?

  6. Obviously, as a straight male human, Mathilda May is my favorite thing about this movie. But my second favorite thing is the scene where a possessed Patrick Stewart is shouting stuff about his lady bits.

  7. The cult status of this movie kept me intrigued for years, and when I finally saw it a few years ago I was slightly underwhelmed. There’s enough weirdness going on to make it interesting, but I couldn’t get past the guys talking in a room then walking in to the next room where something weird just happened then walking to the next room for another conversation and a cigarette. Mostly in dry British accents, save for David Caruso’s uncle.

    The music was great, but belonged in another type of sci-fi film, one where big spaceships shoot lasers at each other while dodging asteroids and tie-fighters.

    I did have the bias of comparison to the great AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON working against me – a USA production set in England with American leads and director, with stuffy British supporting actors doing their British thing, only WEREWOLF was fuckin hilarious for all the right reasons.

    Maybe TITFORCE will grow on me. Never underestimate the power of the Tit. It could suck the life out of you.

  8. I always felt LIFEFORCE to be like a dream. Every time I´ve watched it I only seem to remember bits and pieces of it. But it is fascinating.

    I´ve been thinking of upgrading my non-anamorphic dvd to the glorious Arrow Video realease, but I have spent so much dough these last couple of weeks on their Vincent Price releases so I´ll have to put that on hold.

  9. From the nobody cares file:
    I frequented the Valentine Boy’s Club when I was a kid and every year a group of boys would get to have sleepover at the facility. Late swim, basketball, games, etc. and the (girl) counselors would put on a movie to get us all to settle down. Well this one particular year in ’86 one kid had gotten his hands on a copy of Lifeforce. The counselors were so ready to put us down for the night that they said “We don’t care…just put it on”, hit play, and left the room. Thus a room full of 10 year old boys got to collectively relish the experience of watching LIFEFORCE. I think we were so quiet for the first time we watched it that night(dumbstruck really) that they came in a few times to check on us, just barely missing nudity each time! After the movie ended, we just erupted into craziness, a counselor came in the room, and this kid Phil almost got sent home for dropping his pants in front of her! Talk about a movie going experience.

  10. The Highlands have long been strewn with VHS copies of Lifeforce.

  11. Darth, that story made my otherwise seriously shitty morning much better. I even think the world is a better place, simply because this happened.

  12. I’ve always loved the eyeball poster and I still do.

    I was 9 years old when this movie hit theaters and that poster really had the power to capture a kid’s imagination.

    As for what it’s conveying, it’s a coded female eye (keeping in mind that those eyelashes were being utilized in the Year of Our Heteronormative Blindness, nineteen-hundred and eighty-five) which suggests that an all-powerful female is bearing down on Planet Earth, most likely from outer space (again, it’s 1985 so that’s a safe assumption).

    Does it actually convey what the movie really is? Mm, not so much, but it suggests something much more intriguing than the boobs and zombies flick that we got (enjoyable as it is).

    Even now, I still love the promise of that poster and allow it to disguise “LIFEFORCE” in my mind’s eye as something closer to a Spielbergian speculative sci-fi thriller than the “most expensive Canon movie every” reality of it.

    As for what movie SHOULD be behind that poster, here is my pitch: Lady Galadriel is back! The moaning of Donald Trump mocking a handicapped reporter echoes in her ancient ears and her elf sense informs her that The Enemy has returned.

    In leaving The Western Lands, she raises a fist in the air and blasts off into outer space (“Up, up and away!”) and approached The Green Lantern Corps for assistance in dealing with the orange face and yellow hair of dull hatred.

    Shockingly, The Lantern Corps denies her request, informing her that the human civilization of Earth must run its own course, for better or worse.

    As she prepares to leave in disappointment, Sinestro pulls her aside and offers her his yellow ring as the weapon she needs to destroy The Donald.

    Once she has it in hand, she hulks out (“beautiful and terrible as the dawn!”) and goes streaking towards Earth like an avenging angel.

    All will love this movie and despair.

    Come on Warner Bros. and DC Comics! Do something right for a change!

  13. CJ, that’s great man, it always puts a smile on my face. Ha

  14. I cannot even imagine the glory of nude Mathilda May in 70mm, it’d honestly be pretty hard for me to not start jerking it right there in the theater.

    Sounds like the kind of movie you cut a hole in your pocket for.

  15. Well, still better than when the guy next to you talks on a cell phone during the movie…

  16. I´m about to substitute my non-anamorphic MGM dvd with that iconic poster artwork for Arrows bluray which looks phenomenal. Can´t wait to see it in as much of a proper way as I can.

  17. I’m sorry to be late to this party, but I just linked here from the Romero/Hooper article. Although the poster is clearly supposed to look like an eye in the sky, I think it’s easy and fair to say that it’s supposed to evoke a vagina, right? Fitting for this movie. Incidentally, I thought my two friends and I were the only people who ever saw this in a theater, back in 1985. God, we had no idea what we were in for, but we were so happy to have gotten it.

  18. This movie, DUNE, and BUCKAROO BANZAI will forever be the trifecta of 1980s movies that I desperately wanted to see in theaters when they came out (and was horribly disappointed a decade later when I rented them).

    This one is the best of the three…

  19. I love this movie. Cannon may have overspent on it but every penny is up there on the screen. They didn’t cop out and set it in a small town or a remote military base or a mining outpost or the desert to save money and avoid having to write anything too complicated. It’s set in a world-class city and they actually show what it would look like if the vampire problem started to spread geometrically and the authorities had to step in and deal with it systematically. This is the promise of science fiction that seldom gets realised when it comes time to make a film, and logistics and budgets have to be respected.

    In theory, ideas themselves don’t cost more depending on their size, and if you couldn’t afford to show a whole city of people shooting vampire energies at each other, you could suggest it with things happening off-screen and sound effects and changes in lighting and TV news reports. But most of the time that’s still too epic to think about, and the filmmakers chicken out and set it in a small isolated town or a stalled elevator or a walk-in freezer.

    There’s a moment late in the movie that symbolises the greatness of its scale: Colonel Caine is driving through the city trying to get somewhere and he’s staring out the car window as dozens of people race around in the background with energy shooting out of them. It really feels like he’s moving through a whole city in chaos. Also cool: not long after that he goes to report to the Prime Minister, but sees the flash of the PM absorbing his secretary’s lifeforce, and without even pausing or saying a word just turns around and leaves. He doesn’t have time to be shocked. It’s great.

    That guy does look like Ric Flair!

    Patrick Stewart showing up might surprise people even if they knew Star Trek wasn’t his first role because before Star Trek he had the reputation of being in highbrow stuff like I, Claudius and Shakespeare and that thing where he played Lenin. Right before Lifeforce he was in Dune but that kind of had a fancy Shakespearean quality to it, with the noble houses and the lavish sets, so that wasn’t as surprising. Except when you see him later, having gone native with the Fremen and grown a skullet. That might cause a few chuckles.

    Steve Railsback being a big deal was before my time. The first I became aware that he might be a big deal was when he showed up on The X-Files and my friends said “Wow, that’s Steve Railsback!” He was in “Dead Run,” one of the few 1980s Twilight Zone episodes that I got to see when it aired, but I didn’t know who he was at the time. Around 2000 or 2001 my best friend and I watched Helter Skelter in which he played Charles Manson and that was great. We were actually in our separate homes both watching the same TV channel separately and commenting on it in a chat room. This experience became an important precedent when the pandemic started because we’ve been doing the same thing but with Zoom.

    Not sure what I see when I look at the eyeball on the poster. It’s not the reflection of the Earth, and the dark area isn’t positioned where I expect the pupil to be, so it doesn’t immediately convey iris-and-pupil to me. Maybe an accretion disk of clouds flowing into a black hole, or a bluish-white pineapple ring.

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