Tuesday, 1 October 2013


I'm ashamed to admit this, but I'd never even heard of Lifeforce before it dropped through my letterbox. Quite how this 80s favourite passed me by remains a mystery, but thanks to Arrow Video, I can now enjoy the fully-restored deluxe Blu-ray edition in the comfort of my own home. Originally released back in 1986, Lifeforce was directed by American horror maestro Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), hot off the heels of Poltergeist. Known for pushing the envelope, for his 1986 release, Hooper decided to adapt Colin Wilson's novel The Space Vampires and in doing so, created a horror/sci-fi with a massive cult following. Who else feels a little silly now? That will be just me then.

The opening act borrows heavily from Ridley Scott's sci-fi masterpiece - both films were written by Dan O'Bannon - but with Hooper at the helm it shares more in common with cult classic, Barbarella. It's a little bit camp but remains intriguing, suitably creepy, and very much a product of the 80s. When a space shuttle crew finds a mysterious spacecraft containing three human-looking creatures in a state of suspended animation, they bring them back to Earth for further investigation. A stiff upper lip is provided by a great British cast, including Peter Firth (The Hunt for Red October), Frank Finlay (The Pianist) and Patrick Stewart (X-Men).

Of course, they all pale in comparison to femme-fatale Mathilda May, the fearless French ballerina who leaves nothing to the imagination as our favourite space vampire. Or as Col. Tom Carlsen puts it, "She was the most overwhelmingly feminine presence I've ever encountered". You won't find any arguments here. She's hot and mostly naked. We won't dwell on the fact, of course, we'll let the cameraman do that for us. It's not long before scientists discover they're going to war with a race of space vampires that feed off people's life-force rather than their blood. We're all vampires, you see, because we all draw energy from other life forms. Maybe we should cut the girl some slack? So when they escape and run amok in London, the consequences are apocalyptic - and the shuttle crew's lone survivor (Steve Railsback) is the only man who can stop them.

Lifeforce is a lot of fun. Also known as 'Vampires from Outer Space', though I prefer the U.S. working title, 'Space Intruders', Tobe Hooper has created a cheesy, fast-paced, effects laden horror movie that deserves its cult status. The visual effects are still impressive today, especially when the vampires drain their victims, and the special effects showdown is both inventive and blue. Blue in colour and blue in tone, though there's nothing here that feels remotely exploitative. It's too much fun for that. The closing scenes are ridiculously dramatic, but they are in keeping with the rest of the picture. One great sequence depicts an overblown sex scene set to the sound design of Jurassic Park. No kidding. Having said that, Mathilda May is naked again. It's a very touching moment.

The cast and crew are clearly having a great time, though I'd be surprised if Patrick Stewart remembers this as his greatest performance. Stewart plays the part of Dr. Armstrong, but he doesn't stick around for long. He does, however, scream a lot. Bald as a coot too, even in 1985. Did the man ever have hair? The rest of the cast fair better. Peter Faith is on fine form as Col. Colin Caine, and Frank Finlay gives him a good run for his money, with a brilliant Christopher Lee impersonation as Dr. Hans Fallada. Steve Railsback takes a little getting used to, but then, he is asked to play his part largely comatose. Tom Carlsen is bewitched by Mathilda's space girl, drawn in by her stunning beauty and vampiric ways. Did I also mention that she's largely naked? Man, I love this film.

The super-deluxe package, which is available both as a standard Blu-ray and as a limited edition Blu-ray SteelBook, is full of special features and bonus material, including a high definition presentation of both the International and Theatrical Versions, and an audio commentary with director Tobe Hooper. Documentaries include, Cannon Fodder: The Making of Lifeforce - An epic UK-exclusive look at the genesis, production and release of Lifeforce; Space Vampires in London: An interview with Tobe Hooper; and Dangerous Beauty: An interview with Mathilda May. Add to the mix an assortment of theatrical trailers, and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by science fiction expert Bill Warren, it soon becomes clear that this is the definitive package.

Lifeforce lurches from vampire mythology to full scale zombie apocalypse in a chaotic finale that throws everything at the TV screen. Peter Firth keeps the mayhem from straying off course, and Hooper ensures that most of it sticks. Mathilda May reappears in the final act, losing her see-through gown in the process, and Lifeforce cements its place in B-movie horror heaven. Bonkers but occasionally brilliant, Lifeforce demands a place in your collection. AW

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