Friday, July 24, 2009

Lifeforce (1985)
UK --- science fiction/horror

Dir: Tobe Hooper

What is the true origin of vampires? Lifeforce suggests the answer lies beyond the stars. Master of Horror Tobe Hooper and “Alien” brainchild Dan O’Bannon teamed for this visually entertaining homage to some of Europe’s B-grade science fiction and horror cinema of the 50‘s and 60‘s.

When the HMS Churchill space shuttle embarked for a mission to explore Halley’s Comet, they discover a 150-mile long starship in the comets wake. The team commanded by Colonel Carlsen, (played by Steve Railsback) which is a merger of both US and Great Britain astronauts, send out a party to investigate. Within the gigantic tubular confines of the ship, the party finds dozens of dead bat-like alien creatures, and a trio of humanoid-alien bodies encased in transparent coffins. There are two males and one incredibly alluring female. The team decides to return to the ship with the bodies and one of the bat-like creatures’ corpses.

Thirty days later, we find that the HMS Churchill has been out of contact with earth and the USS Columbia has been dispatched to investigate the floating mystery ship. They find the charred remains of the crew and their storage; the three encased bodies still intact. The humanoid-aliens are returned to London‘s Space Research Centre, where some scientists conduct a series of tests to find out just what they are. They leave the bodies alone, but under strict surveillance, that is until, in tried and true Hammer Horror form, the space lady (played by dancer Mathilda May) opens her eyes and rises from her coffin. Besides standing stark naked in front of a guard, she goes over to him and locks lips effectively stealing his life-force as he is quickly turned into a fleshy shell of himself. Having witnessed the reanimated corpse rise to life on a surveillance camera, the Space Research Centre chief, rushes to the scene. He gets within but a few feet of the space girl and becomes weakened in her presence, later claiming he felt overwhelmed. At this point we know just what’s going to happen as she escapes the high security facility of the SRC.

After she escapes, the scientists decide to perform an autopsy on the corpse of the guard’s fleshly corpse, only to find he is not really dead. He rises from the autopsy table and sucks the life-force from one of the coroner surgeons, and it would seem transforms back to his original human form. Meanwhile, a British government agent, Col. Caine, is assigned to investigate this case has both the chief of the SRC and doctor

The scientists are shocked to discover that the bodies become reanimated after sucking the life-force of another human being. However, they learn it is only temporary, as these “vampires” must continue to do so for within a certain time span or else they will explode and be utterly destroyed. Now that the scientists realize what’s at stake, they come to the conclusion they are on they’re way to vampire epidemic in London. The space girl is already loose and has taken another victim and shown a new ability as she is able to assume the body and identity of whomever’s life-force she consumes. At this point, the HMS Churchill’s escape pod is recovered in Texas and Colonel Carlsen is recovered from it. The scientists of the SRC immediately demand his assistance and knowledge of what happened on board the Churchill. He is the key to discerning what these creatures are all about, in hopes of finding some way to quell the vampire epidemic about to ensue in London.

Based on the novel “Space Vampires” by British author Colin Wilson, “Lifeforce” is one of those films that is apparently quite polarizing. Some dismiss it as really bad movie, and some see it for what it is; a cheesy homage to B movies. IMHO, it follows in the same tradition as “Fright Night” or “Night of the Creeps“. I do think there were a couple of problems that didn’t allow the audience to get what it was doing. Cannon films is not a big budget studio in the likes of Universal or Paramount who would have had a say in what they were getting back - sometimes suit interference is a good thing. Another thing, perhaps with the haughty British performances which really did appear to make you take this film “deadly” serious, however there are some scenes of humor even just with the presence of Aubrey Morris that beg to differ. One my personal issues is the ending does seem anticlimactic and leaves much to be desired. To play devil’s advocate, the one thing they got right for many reasons was the casting of Mathilda May. Besides being nude, she perfectly exudes all kinds of allusions to B-grade film. In her eyes, she embodies the raven-haired “Brides of Dracula”, she has the body of a Russ Meyer heroine, and displays a creepy silence about her that feels very much directed by Mario Bava.