Take a pinch of Alien, a dash of Quatermass and a sprinkling of Fallen and then crumple into a ball and flush down the nearest toilet. Collect the soggy mess at the seashore outlet and you may have something akin to Lifeforce in your hands. It’s rightly infamous, an entertainingly bad movie that certainly put most of those involved with the thing a few steps down their career ladder.
Directed by Tobe Hooper, and written by Dan O’Bannon (based on the novel “The Space Vampires” by Colin Wilson), this sci-fi horror concerns a space shuttle investigating Halley’s Comet that comes across a very unusual find there in the shape of two men and one woman who appear to be kept in suspended animation so, intrigued by the discovery, the crew decide to take them back to Earth with them. Things soon take a turn for the worse and, once on Earth, the creatures awaken and begin to attack those around them, stealing their “lifeforce” while infecting them at the same time. Can a survivor of the comet investigation and an SAS Major work together to stop the whole of London from being drained?
Picking apart Lifeforce almost feels like kicking a wounded puppy, it’s far too easy and leaves you feeling incredibly guilty. The addition of the Halley’s Comet material is something that writer Dan O’Bannon never agreed with but it’s actually one of the better ideas thrown in there. Everything else feels just ever so slightly ridiculous, mainly thanks to the execution as opposed to the actual heart of the story.
Hooper directs with astounding incompetence, relying on a succession of varying special effects and a naked Mathilda May to keep things watchable. Thankfully, the latter is a big plus. It seems as if the man who gave us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre wanted to go to the other extreme (comparatively big budget, fantastical ideas and a sense of something happening on a big scale) without realising that he couldn’t reach that far and would instead fall flat on his face.
He doesn’t help himself with the selection of actors he puts onscreen. Steve Railsback, as the leading man who finds himself tuned in to the thoughts of the woman/creature draining the city, appears to be sleepwalking through many of his scenes. Peter Firth is amusing to watch but entirely unbelievable in every scene. Frank Finlay hams things up but does get one moment of near-quality. It’s only Mathilda May who does well and even her eye-pleasing scenes are almost ruined when she has to do something extra with the character. Like speak. Thankfully, there’s always Patrick Stewart. If ever a thespian could be relied on in any situation it’s this great actor who is, sadly, not in the movie for long enough.
If the acting is unbelievable then that’s nothing compared to the silliness of the editing and story construction. There’s a panic, a major danger, a threat to humanity . . . . . and people wait an entire hour just to watch how one infected person reacts when they need a top-up of energy. That’s just one example of the silliness on display here. To be fair, it’s absolutely Python-esque in places. Then we have the inescapable fact that most of the movie is followed by exposition and then exposition and then exposition. I’m not joking. Here is the structure, roughly and in spoiler-free form: Intro – discovery – exposition – new information – exposition – hunt – exposition correcting earlier exposition – exposition – build up to climax.
With the whole thing topped off by an ending every bit as bad as the rest of the film, Lifeforce deserves every bit of its bad reputation. But, as you may have guessed, it’s also an absolute hoot. And did I mention the lovely Mathilda May?
DIRECTOR: TOBE HOOPER
CAST: STEVE RAILSBACK, PETER FIRTH, MATHILDA MAY, FRANK FINLAY, PATRICK STEWART
RUNTIME: 101 MINS APPROX