Lifeforce opens with the HMS Churchill, a space station, discovering a huge, pencil-shaped object in the head of Halley's Comet. Colonel Tom Carlsen leads a search party that discovers a bunch of crunchy dead creatures...plus three comatose human-looking aliens--one female and two males--enclosed in crystal-like containers. Shortly after Carlsen and crew evacuate the crystal-enclosed aliens to the Churchill, communications break down between the space station and the European Space Research Centre back on Earth.
|The female alien...she's bad news!|
Learning of these events, the center's director, Dr. Fallada (Frank Finlay), proclaims: "Don't worry. A naked girl is not going to get out of this complex." A few minutes later, after she's dispatched three guards and blown out the glass front of the building, the naked alien girl walks out of it.
|The life force is sucked out!|
Intriguing ideas--some original, some derivative--zip around Lifeforce like the electric currents emitted by the "naked alien girl" (Mathilda May). The film is officially based on Colin Wilson's novel The Space Vampires, although the proceedings have a definite Nigel Kneale feel to them. In fact, part of the film's appeal is that it reminds me of Kneale's brilliant Quatermass and the Pit, both thematically and visually. Both films propose that alien beings played a role in mankind's past, both climax with thousands of homicidal "humans" running around a burning London, and both use metal to dispatch the creatures. Interestingly, Neale's earlier The Quatermass Experiment ends in Westminster Abbey while Lifeforce stages its climax in a cathedral.
There are also similarities to Mario Bava's 1965 sci fi/horror film Planet of the Vampires, which has "space vampires" taking over members of a crew. The Hidden, which appeared two years after Lifeforce, expands on the premise of the alien moving from body to body (and adds an amusing "buddy film" spin to the proceedings).
|Peter Firth as Colonel Caine.|
Technically, the film is a hodgepodge. Henry Mancini's score has its admirers, while the visual effects are undeniably cheesy. Tobe Hooper's direction is uninspired except for the fiery climax, which contains some striking images of London being destroyed.
There are numerous versions of Lifeforce in circulation. Hooper's cut was 128 minutes, although the final version released in the U.S. ran 101 minutes. In international markets, the running time was 116 minutes (this edition was later released on video and is the one I reviewed). Part of Mancini's score was replaced by musical cues by Michael Kamen in some versions.
Derivative, imaginative, occasionally campy, always entertaining--Lifeforce might leave you feeling a little guilty. But the final verdict is that the pleasure part will trump that modicum of guilt.