Tobe Hooper is one of the most interesting horror movie directors. He knew how to get that really gritty and dirty feel with his movies like in his famous entry, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Since then, most of his movies have been laid in a middle ground of absurdity or be moderately scary. Lifeforce, on the other hand, is so out there that it’s a wonder to know Hooper was behind it. This one is a testament to his style of taking a B-movie premise and just flying with it.
The story has so many tone shifts that the entertaining value really comes from how many movie tones it channels. First, it concerns a group of astronauts, aboard a space station called the Churchill, who find a floating craft holding a bunch of well-preserved alien, yet human looking bodies in suspended animation. Three of them are taken aboard and then the astronauts go missing. After the Churchill crashes, a rescue mission finds the alien bodies in tack and takes them in at a research center.
From there, the movie kicks into full gear becoming a part-zombie and part-vampire feature. One of the creatures awakens and starts draining the life energy from scientists. The more life energy it consumes, the younger these creatures get. If the creatures can’t find a fresh host, they explode into a matter of dust. The special effects are highly commendable as one corpse-looking body rejuvenates into a naked woman played by Mathilda May.
In regards to these alien creatures, I guess the correct term to use here is “space vampires.” The scary thing about these monsters is how they have little to no weaknesses outside of killing the head vampire. Lifeforce takes on a lot of the original tropes and cliches of vampire movie mythology, while adding some “fresh blood” to it. Unfortunately, Lifeforce was greatly re-edited in America to avoid any connection to the blood sucking creatures for some weird reason. Thankfully, the International cut restores a great bulk of the vampire references and is currently available in all home media releases.
There is an interesting idea here I really like where one of the Churchill astronauts, played by Steve Railsback, turns up alive and has a strange connection to the head space vampire. Apparently, he has a physic link that causes him to lose control and be used as a Renfield-like ploy. This is handled in a more erotic manner where the guy is seduced to the dark side, while he struggles to fight against the creatures. You can’t tell if he is with the humans or trying to help the space vampires.
There is one scene I have to bring up, because it must be seen to be believed. Patrick Stewart plays the manager of a psychiatric hospital and has the alien trapped in his body. At one point, they hypnotize the alien inside him to talk and he causes the astronaut to make their bond “stronger” by kissing him. Let THAT sink in. Captain Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation has a kissing scene with an actor who played Charles Manson in a 1976 TV miniseries called Helter Skelter. It’s a surreal moment. Again, this too was changed in the US theatrical cut, so it looks like the tortured man is kissing the head vampire instead. This is why I prefer the International cut more when it comes to a movie like this.
The final third of Lifeforce is just downright insane. After channeling Alien with the outer space scenes to a little of The Terminator, everything just goes out of control as it becomes an doomsday apocalypse movie. The alien gets loose and starts affecting everyone in London. Left and right, pedestrians get their lives drain out of them while the movie turns into a zombie movie on acid. It just comes out of nowhere and rockets into an epic finale.
There is nothing else I can say. Lifeforce must be seen to believed. Even Leonard Maltin was speechless giving it a mild recommendation for it’s crazy detours. I do agree with him on how this movie jumps from many different film tones and that’s where most of its charm comes from. It keeps you wondering what direction it will take not knowing how bonkers it will become by the final reel. It maybe inconsistent with the tone its going for, but it results in a lot of entertaining vaule.
Do Uncle Morgan a favor. Buy this movie, invite a lot of friends over for Halloween night, order some pizza, play the full International cut of Lifeforce and get ready for one wild night with space vampires and bewildered viewers. It will make for a great evening full of “what the $%*# am I watching?!?” God…I love this movie…