Saturday, May 8, 2010

Film Review: LIFEFORCE (1985, Tobe Hooper)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 116 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Steve Railsback (ESCAPE 2000, SAVE ME), Patrick Stewart (DUNE, X-MEN, STAR TREK), Peter Firth (THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, TESS), Frank Finlay (THE PIANIST, THE WILD GEESE), Mathilda May (A GIRL CUT IN TWO, THE JACKAL), Aubrey Morris (Deltoid in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE), possible narration by John Larroquette (uncredited and unconfirmed)? Music by Henry Mancini (THE PINK PANTHER, CHARADE). Cinematography by Alan Hume (RETURN OF THE JEDI, RUNAWAY TRAIN).
Tag-line: "In outer space they unleashed a force more evil than the world had ever imagined!..." Best one-liner: Lotta good ones. Maybe "The web of destiny carries your blood and soul back to the genesis of my lifeform." or perhaps "Well, I'm fascinated by death itself. What happens as we die, when we die. What happens after we die."

LIFEFORCE, Tobe Hooper's first of three collaborations with Golan & Globus' Cannon Films (the others being TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 and INVADERS FROM MARS), definitely seems as if it's the end-result of a ten-way tug of war that ended with maybe a 6-hour movie being cut down to 2.

I feel like Tobe wanted to both capitalize on POLTERGEIST and step out from behind Spielberg's shadow, creating his own work of intense visual spectacle and whirling, ghostly sci-fi FX.

I feel like Dan O'Bannon (and co-writer Don Jakoby) wanted to create an epic creature-feature in the mold of ALIEN, but with a sprinkling of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (which had very similar corpse FX, and which O'Bannon released the same year).

Finally, I think producers Golan & Globus wanted a movie that'd rake in the big bucks AND feature a female space vampire who was constantly naked, and maybe remind people of SUPERMAN II in a roundabout sorta way.

In conclusion, it ended up as a mess that basically disappointed everyone. But it's certainly a watchable mess, and for that, I shall applaud it. There's a lot going on here: Our hero is Steve Railsback.

Kinda the poor man's Tommy Lee Jones, Railsback is one of those actors (like Christopher George), who makes such bizarre choices, that I honestly can't tell if he's brilliant or terrible. There is no middle ground: he's one of those two things. I just can't tell which. I'm leaning toward brilliant. He definitely brings a distinctive energy to the clichéd "waking up screaming" scene.


And he dives into line readings like "LET ME GO! LET ME GO! LET ME GO! LET ME GO!" with genuine élan. At one point he emotes: "Despite appearances, THIS WOMAN IS A MASOCHIST!"

Actually, I think Railsback may be right.

and begins slapping her. Yup.

And I appreciate the sincerity with which the line ""We're deploying the specimen bag" is uttered, when we know he knows that the 'high-tech specimen bag' is just a cheap net,

and he knows that we know that, but he runs it up the flagpole anyway. Good show.

The soundtrack, by Henry Mancini, is a real head-scratcher. It sounds like he thought he was composing for a movie about Medieval jousting, not space vampires. The production design is very James Bond-ian. In fact, frequently it feels more like a 60's spy thriller than an 80's Cannon sci-fi. The editing is choppy and disjointed. It doesn't help that we have what feels like minutes of unwanted narration near the beginning (which suddenly disappears for the rest of the film's duration). The FX look great for a Cannon film. Blood blasts out of orifices and congeals into a sanguinary Jell-O woman who collapses on the floor with a splat.

A Go-Go boy-lookin' male vampire intones with a deep voice: "It'll be much less terrifying if you just come to me."

Giant bats, vampire zombies, matte paintings, umbrella'd spaceships-

it’s probably Cannon’s most ambitious effort. And for that, it gets three stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Three stars along for the naked female space vampire! c'mon! ; )

Seriously, other than that, the film is a bit of a snooze. I expected something more exciting from the man who brought us dueling chainsaws in TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE 2!

Sean Gill said...

Ha, yeah- in fact, I'm a little afraid that the out-of-context screencaps make this film seem about ten times more entertaining than it actually is. Still, the SFX are extremely imaginative, the (albeit misguided) plot is damned sprawling, epic, and ambitious (for Cannon), and they came up with a fairly legitimate means for ripping off SUPERMAN II AND having a naked woman wander around, blowing shit up and turning people into the zombies from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD- I've got to give this the thumbs-up. I mean it's a hang-dog thumbs-up, and one given right on the edge of drifting off halfway through the movie, but I suppose it's a thumbs-up, nonetheless. Perfect example of a movie I like way better when I'm not actually watching it.

gweeps said...

Just finished watching this.

Loved how it was mostly set in London. Loved Patrick Stewart. Loved the naked space succubus. Loved the sword. The end devastation was a wild mess.

And the ship just moves on, eh? I guess the "woman" wasn't their queen after all? And who was the collector? So many questions!

Actually, I wish this was a bit longer. If only in hopes the editing was cleaner.

Sean Gill said...


Yes, so many questions! As I've said before, this movie smacks of being hacked down to size by producers and editors who were in over their heads. While I'm not sure it would necessarily be more satisfying, I'd probably sucker for watching a director's cut of this thing.