Of course, every Hooptober must contain a review of a Tobe Hooper film, and Dan has maybe forced me to re-assess my negative experience with Eaten Alive based on his review. And I may still do that, but for this year’s entry I needed to return to something else, something I always liked but now armed with many more films from a certain British production company feel more comfortable expressing why I like it so much. Yup, we’re talking Naked Space Vampires™ baby. We’re talking Hooper’s thinly-veiled foray into the world of Hammer – specifically Quatermass – with 1985’s Lifeforce.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: The shuttle Churchill launches into space to study Hally’s comet. In the tail of the comet they find a massive spaceship and – even stranger – they find three beautiful and quite naked people encased in transparent sarcophaguses. When the Churchill suddenly goes radio silent a rescue is made, only to find a burned out husk of a ship, the crew all dead, but those naked bodies still perfectly preserved. Brought to Earth for study, the scientists at the European Space Research Center in London wake up an ancient unearthly terror that threatens to engulf the entire world. Only SAS Colonel Caine and returned American astronaut Tom Carlsen (who managed to survive the Churchill thanks to an escape pod) can stop the apocalypse brought about by the three beautiful, naked…SPACE VAMPIRES!
Given the biggest budget of his career, I absolutely love that Hooper decided to make a 70mm Quatermass film, with Caine and Carlsen (played wonderfully by Peter Firth and a completely unhinged Steve Railsback) subbing in for the Quatermass role. The opening sequence with the Churchill investigating the seemingly derelict spaceship is beautiful, bold colors and a decidedly 60s vibe mixing with some truly Lovecraftian imagery to evoke something no one else was doing in the mid 80s. The score by Henry Mancini is equally spectacular (I should note I watched the director’s cut from Scream Factory, which removes much of the additional cues from Michael Kamen and James Guthrie).
There’s a great sense of scope to Lifeforce, as Hooper moves from space to the research center to a psychiatric hospital and then finally to the streets of a London on fire. His set pieces are equally expansive, even when they’re confined to small spaces. Anyone who’s seen the film probably recalls the truly bonkers sequence with Patrick Stewart, possessed by the female Naked Space Vampire™ (and played wonderfully by Mathilda May) professing his lust for Steve Railsback, who can’t help but close the distance for a romantic kiss. It’s bonkers and disturbing and Railsback protests WAY too much to the point of being comical. Railsback in general is insane in Lifeforce; it’s a hoot to see how thick he lays on the terror and anger at his predicament as the movie lays out the secrets of what really happened on the Churchill and his strange connection to the female vampire. The logic of why astronauts found three perfect human specimens is explained (kind of) and the movie plays into science fiction as much as it does horror, to its ultimate benefit.
Sure there are more than a few problems: this was a Canon/Golan-Globus production after all, so meddling was inevitable. And I still can’t explain why, if the ultimate explanation is in fact that these are vampires and they turn others into vampires, that the final act in apocalyptic London has everyone running around like zombies ripping limbs and biting into flesh. It’s a complete reversal from the super-cool effects of the vampires draining the life force (get it) from their victims set forth in the beginning. I also don’t get why no one else is disintegrating or exploding into dust, since it’s explained (and beautifully shown) early on that the creatures dry out if they don’t feed within two hours.
Does any of that matter when Lifeforce looks as good as it does, and is as zany in its ideas and execution as it is? Nope. I love it. I love it for its weirdness and for its bold approach to being so utterly unlike what else was coming out at the time. It’s a shame it didn’t give Hooper more for his follow-up films for Golan-Globus, which looking back on my previous Hooptobers I should probably revisit as well. Get this silliness in your brains; you’ll thank me for it.