Directed by Tobe Hooper.
Starring Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Melinda May, and Patrick Stewart.
A joint UK-US space mission aboard the HMS Churchill takes a strange turn when the crew stumbles upon an enormous craft hidden in the tail of Halley’s Comet, with three seemingly humanoid bodies entombed within. Contact with Earth is soon lost and a retrieval mission finds the ship damaged, the crew dead and the escape pod missing, with the three bodies brought back to Earth for research. Upon inspection, the three bodies are in fact vampiric alien creatures whose rapidly growing hunger soon threatens the survival of the human race.
We’re entering the final stretch of October Horrors 2017 and to celebrate entering the final stretch we’re going BIG!!! How big? CANNON FILMS BIG!!!!!
Having exhausted ourselves of Alien films, we’re instead going to take a look at something slightly more ludicrous. In this case though, the world is not menaced by acid-blooded beasts from beyond the stars, but instead, it is menaced by bloodsuckers from beyond the stars. Think Dracula from Space but even more spectacular.
This brings me to the focus of today’s review, the big budget slice of 80s lunacy that is the late Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, a film that I expect many of you haven’t seen, but one that damn well worth a look to witness horror on a truly epic scale.
Lifeforce’s greatest strength is the fact that it isn’t one type of horror but is, in fact, a blending of multiple styles to create a film that is incredibly varied but also a lot of fun. If you don’t like one part of the film, stick around because the genre will change to something that might be more up your alley.
The first few minutes have echoes to Alien with its plot concerning a crew of astronauts that stumble across a mysterious craft filled with alien creatures that will ultimately lead to their destruction. And I don’t think that this was an accident, with the film’s script being co-written by none other than the late Dan O’Bannon, who several years prior to this film had co-written Ridley Scott’s space-set horror classic.
Once the action switches to Earth and the space vampires escape, the film changes genres once more adopting the feel of a detective mystery story (albeit with nudity and explosions) with Peter Firth’s SAS Col Caine leading the hunt for the missing bloodsuckers from space, recruiting Steve Railsback’s astronaut Col Carlsen to help him.
These two first acts are an effective mood builder, introducing the characters, the villains and generally establishing the tone of the film. A tone that while slightly goofy and very mental at times, is made believable to the viewer thanks in part to the casts earnest and straight-faced performances.
It’s the final act however where the real fun starts as all hell breaks loose, with all of humanity on the verge of destruction thanks in part of a virus spread by the space vampires turning the population of London into crazed zombies. And that’s on top of everything and the kitchen sink exploding into a million fiery pieces. It’s apocalyptically mental fun and that’s just the way I like it.
With Lifeforce being from the 80s cheese masters that were Cannon Films, one would hope that they would cast the film with their usual company of actors. I’d certainly love to see Chuck Norris or Charles Bronson show up to roundhouse kick or shoot some space vampires into glorious oblivion. Instead, though, Cannon instead went the extra mile and score themselves a genuinely talented cast who all manage to deliver solid performances despite the madness around them.
Steve Railsback leads the cast as Col Carlsen, the sole survivor of the Churchill crew and the only one who can help defeat the space vampires.
Railsback does a good job as a tormented man, trying to help humanity while also resisting the allure of the female vampire who now threatens the planet. Although, Railsback’s character did annoy me mainly due to him going constantly gooey at the thought of some action with a sexy space vampire, telling others about how he couldn’t resist her charms. Also, he seems to treat every bizarre and fantastical sight with an expression of dull surprise, a bit like he’s just been given a pair of grotesque socks for his birthday.
The late Frank Finley is on much better form as Dr. Fallada, with the veteran British actor managing to deliver the often bizarre dialogue with an authentic air of authority and conviction that makes the viewer believe that he knows what he’s talking about
While we’re on the subject of veteran British actors, keep an eye out for a then up and coming Patrick Stewart who appears a psychiatrist possessed by the lead vampire. Although don’t expect much from him, with Stewart spending much of his short appearance screaming, practicing his Captain Picard voice or giving slightly suggestive glances to Steve Railsback.
The real hero of the film is Peter Firth (perhaps best known for his role in BBC drama Spooks) as SAS Colonel Caine who seems to the only ones determined to find and kill the space vampires. Firth is perfect in the role, being a perfect combo of authority and badassery, whether he’s shooting a zombie out of a helicopter or charging through a constantly exploding London with the entire zombified population of the city hot on his tail.
I also love how he manages to deliver one of the most quintessentially British reactions to the realisation of an oncoming doomsday scenario, simply uttering “Christ” with an expression of genuine terror.
The production design, visual effects, the musical score and the overall style of the film is fantastic throughout, helping to present a truly epic scale that very few horror films before or since have managed to match.
The special effects courtesy of Oscar-winning effects artist John Dystrka, in particular, are something special to behold and miraculously still look fantastic even 30 years since this film was made. I especially like the cool blue energy waves that swirl around that swirl through London’s streets destroying everything they touch in explosive fashion.
Henry Mancini’s musical score is also one of the best I’ve ever heard in a horror film with the thunderous opening theme letting you know that you’re in for something special. It’s a big theme for a big film and it’s incredible.
Lifeforce is a truly epic piece of sci-fi horror cheese and it’s glorious. While it might not be to everyone’s tastes, it’s quick pace, decent performances, impressive effects and truly amazing musical score make Lifeforce a must watch for all fans of sci-fi horror or those hoping to see horror cinema on the grandest of scales.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★