So, originally the plan for this week was for JD to review the remake of Carrie this week. However, I’ve been informed that he’s been taken into another dimension, one of not only sight and sound but of the mind, so while we wait for him to get back, this week I’m reviewing the somewhat divisive horror film from the director of Poltergeist & The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lifeforce.
Directed by Tobe Hooper.
Written by Dan O’Bannon & Don Jakoby
Based on the novel The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson
Steve Railsback as Col. Tom Carlsen
Peter Firth as Col. Colin Caine
Frank Finlay as Dr. Hans Fallada
Mathilda May as “Space Girl”
Christopher Jagger as First Vampire
Bill Malin as Second Vampire
Patrick Stewart as Dr. Armstrong
Michael Gothard as Dr. Bukovsky
Aubrey Morris as Sir Percy Heseltine
Full cast and crew information is available at the imdb.
While approaching Halley’s Comet, on a joint mission between the ESA and NASA, the crew of the space shuttle Churchill discover an alien spacecraft in the comet’s coma. Several of the shuttle’s crew perform an EVA to the alien craft. Inside they find several dessicated bat-like organisms, and three naked humans in suspended animation, a woman and two men.
Several days later, the Churchill enters orbit around the Earth, but doesn’t respond to ground communications. The space shuttle Columbia is sent to investigate. They discover that the inside of the Churchill has been ravaged by fire, and all of her crew is dead, with any data tapes that would say what’s going on also destroyed. The only things intact are three naked humans in suspended animation, one woman and two men.
The “humans” are brought to the Space Research Center in London for study. A terrible threat has been brought to Earth…
If you’re going to make a science fiction film in the style of Hammer’s Gothic horror films (particularly their vampire films), this is how you do it. The film has a great sense of atmosphere, and it mixes violence and sexuality together very well.
I also particularly like the performances by Stewart, Railsback and Firth here. To go into Stewart’s performance too much would give outright spoilers, but Railsback does a good job of playing someone who has been left unhinged by the events that have happened to him, and who is desperately trying to hold on to sanity and reality. Firth’s character gets a much better turn – as he’s basically playing someone who, were this a Doctor Who story, a UNIT investigator sent in to determine what’s going on. Thus, he’s willing to roll with the idea of extraterrestrial or supernatural events, but as the events of the film go on, and things escalate, he doesn’t no-sell what happens – the horror comes through in his performance.
If it wasn’t for the fact that the female nudity, along with the elaborate prosthetic and puppet work for the dessicated humans who are victims of the vampires, would put the story out of Doctor Who’s time-slot and budget respectively (though the former would probably work for Torchwood), I’d love to see a Doctor Who take on this story.
The US theatrical release of this film was mangled in comparison to the Director’s cut, which was used in the international release. Henry Mancini’s score was almost entirely scrapped. Several scenes were shuffled around, and some very important expository dialog was cut entirely. I have a separate score in each category for the Theatrical Cut indicate the significant of the changes. As I’m using the recent Shout Factory release, which has the movie’s Director’s cut, I’m using that first.
Originality: This is an adaptation of a novel, albeit a novel that I’ve generally been unable to find in print, so I can’t tell you how closely it hews to the source material. 3/6
Effects: Some of the exterior shots of the alien ship inside the comet are clunky. Once the ship emerges though, it looks good and evokes a techno organic feel without also invoking H.R. Geiger. The puppet/animatronics for the dessicated humans also look great, though fans of Iron Maiden will note that they do look a little bit like Eddie the Head, the band’s mascot. 4/6
Production: The Director’s cut is well edited and scored. 5/6. The US Theatrical release gets a 3/6 by comparison – the effects still work, but the score changes hurt the film, as the replacement music is tonally different from the music of Mancini’s that remains.
Acting: See the high point. Also, while Mathilda May spends mos to f the film naked, her performance, both in terms of dialog as well as how she moves, makes her nudity unnerving instead of titillating. 5/6
Story: The script combines Gothic horror and alien invasion stories in a very well done and tightly plotted fashion. 5/6. The US release gets a 3/6 due to the cut dialog and shuffled scenes creating some plot holes and undermining the tension.
Emotional Response: 4/6. 3/6 for the US theatrical release, for reasons mentioned under Story.
Overall: This is a fun SF-horror film, and I recommend seeing the Director’s cut if you’re a fan of either genre. That said, the Shout Factory release is a little spendy at the moment, so I would recommend streaming it first, either through Amazon, or Netflix Instant (if it’s available in your country), or another instant streaming service. 5/6. The US theatrical cut is completely skippable. 3/6.
In total, the Director’s Cut of Lifeforce gets 30 out of 42. The US theatrical cut gets a 24 out of 42.