Director: Tobe Hooper
In the not too distant future (next Sunday AD) the space ship Churchill (and as the name implies, it is a British spaceship, providing probably the most fantastical element of the entire screenplay) is on a joint British and American mission led by Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback) to investigate Hayley’s Comet for… reasons.
Their mission takes a turn for the bizarre though when they come across an enormous spaceship filled with giant dessicated bat creatures and what appears to be 3 young, attractive and naked humans, two men and one woman, in some kind of suspended animation pod. This strikes the crew as not entirely normal so they decide to take the pods back onto the Churchill.
Things can’t have gone very well after that because the next time we see the Churchill it’s a month later and another missions has been launched to try and discover what the hell happened to it. This second team finds one hell of a mystery, a burnt out space ship, a missing escape pod and the same three people in the same three pods.
Taking them back to the Space Research Centre in London various scientists begin to pontificate upon just what the bloody hell happened and what the hell they’ve brought back to Earth. Said pontificating quickly ends when the female body (played by Mathilda May of checks imdb something called Naked Tango) gets up and reveals herself to be some kind of energy vampire. This has gruesome results for the poor guy that was tasked with watching her because he soon resembles a tasty jerky snack far more than I’m sure he’d want to.
Two missions are then launched, find the girl and find out what the hell happened to the security guard. Mission one becomes a lot more urgent when during his autopsy the guard gets up and repeats the energy vampire trick on the pathologist ending up naked and rather confused but decidedly not dead. It becomes even more urgent when more human jerky starts showing up in London parks and it becomes downright frantic (well as frantic as the British establishment could get in the 80’s meaning that our scientists have switched from earl grey to builder’s tea) when the two male vampires get loose as well.
You would think finding a naked woman wandering around mid 80’s London wouldn’t prove too tricky, and you’d be right. Unfortunately our target has a couple of sneaky abilities including the ability to possess bodies and all hope seems lost. That is until Col Carlsen turns up in Texas in the missing escape pod with a helpful new set of psychic powers that let him track our mysterious lady down. And they’d better hurry too because that spaceship is now in an ominous orbit over London that probably isn’t going to be a good thing. What’s more the two male vampires have been quite busy making friends all over London.
A brief summary of Lifeforce might not sound like an Oscar winning masterpiece but it certainly has a lot of elements that should add up to a fun schlocky time. Based on a novel with the somewhat on the nose title of “Vampires from Space” Lifeforce features about 30 minutes of completely nude attractive space vampire ladies, an apocalyptic London overrun with vampires, a gigantic space ship full of monstrous bats, Patrick Stewart possessed by a sexy space vampire lady that he physically transforms into at points and a climax that involves not one but two car chases, a swordfight and a sex scene in St Paul’s cathedral atop a mountain of corpses.
Surely all of those elements must guarantee at least some amusement right? Well maybe in another film but not even Mathilda May’s considerable artistic merits (both of them) can save Lifeforce from its main problem, it is terrifically boring.
Lifeforce clocks in at nearly two hours and a good hour and 15 minutes of that* consists of three men standing in a room and expositing. Not talking, not developing character or delighting us with well written dialogue just blandly explaining what is happening in the plot. Worse still they just seem to know what’s happening without investigating it. One of the characters is an “expert” (a death expert specifically which does raise the question of why the UK’s Space Agency feels the need to employ a death expert) and his catchphrase seems to be “As I feared” aka “I’m bullshitting that what has just happened is exactly what I thought would happen all along to maintain the illusion that I’m an expert in anything.” Another character is literally psychic and thus knows what is happening and what will happen next. Lifeforce is obsessed with telling where it should be showing with nearly every possible moment of interest and excitement replaced with more sodding exposition. The most egregious example being when the death expert phones his friends and tells them that he just had a sword fight with one of the male vampires. You know movie, a sword fight might have been a fun scene to watch, I’m so glad you decided to show our two main characters making a phone call in a helicopter instead.
Later on London gets overrun with vampiric hordes, would it have been more interesting to relay that information visually maybe instead of hearing about it from a military guard.
And it’s not like Lifeforce has a particularly complicated plot either, space vampire escapes, psychic dude pursues her across London. There I did 90% of the plot in one sentence. But the film insists on explaining stuff again and again and even explaining stuff that has no relevance whatsoever to the plot all at the expense of anything that could be fun to watch.
I know why of course. Lifeforce ran monstrously overtime and over budget and it is a hell of a lot quicker and cheaper to film three men in a room talking than a London overrun with vampire hordes but that doesn’t make the film any less terrible.
It isn’t all bad though. Tobe Hooper is not up to the task of bringing any life to the interminable talking scenes but when a set piece does happen he rises to the occasion and reminds you why we all liked Tobe Hopper to begin with. There is a scene where they tie one of the jerky corpses (which despite my mocking are actually a very well done special effect, especially in a film that is otherwise so cheap) to a table to see what happens when it wakes up. The scene is genuinely horrific, frightening in that way where you want to look away but can’t.
Despite a few good scenes though it is definitely not a good film nor is it so bad its good. Lifeforce’s main claim to fame back in the day was the copious amount of nudity it provided for poor desperate perverts.** Now we’ve got the internet though? Lifeforce just doesn’t have anything to offer.
*The remaining running time consists of 15 minutes actually interesting stuff and 30 minutes bewbs.
**aka teenaged boys.