A space crew is on a mission to explore the coma of Haley’s Comet, a comet that’s visible from Earth and to the naked eye every 75 years. Something else that’s naked are three humanoid creatures in suspended animation within coffin-shaped glass containers, which the captain Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback) and his crew find as soon as they float onto the comet. Two of them being young males and a young brunette (credited as Space Girl in the 18 year old flesh of Mathilda May). They bring the containers back to the spaceship and head back to Earth. But something goes wrong as they enter the atmosphere. The crew gets burned alive and the only sign of life when the ship lands on Earth are the three humanoids, still sleeping in their coffins. An inventive little nod to the sailing ship Demeter, if you will.
We’re now in London where the containers with the space humanoids are transported to the European Space Research Centre, and the fun is about to begin. The naked Space Girl suddenly opens her eyes as she lies ready for her autopsy, stands up buck naked and sucks the life out of him (yes, from the mouth, sorry to say). She escapes as she just wanders out of the facility like a catwalk model while she flashes her tits and buttcheeks. We then learn from one of the doctors who also had an episode with the Space Girl that she’s able to seduce her victims with intense supernatural powers and french-kisses them completely empty of lifeforce, and … how can anyone say this with a straight and dry face: they then infect the victims with a virus that transforms them to rabid zombie vampires. It’s time to call Dr. Peter Cushing Van Helsing. Ha-ha, had it only been that easy…
A traumatized Dr. Carlsen, the only survivor of the space crew we saw earlier, heads over to London from Texas to join forces with the agent SAS agent Colin Caine (Peter Firth) to track down the space creature.
Lifeforce was supposed to be Tobe Hooper’s next big step after the mega success of the Steven Spielberg production Poltergeist (1982), which still asks the question who really directed that film. What the hell really happened to Tobe Hooper is also a good question. But what we know is that his destructive and downward spiral of drug use didn’t do any favors to the continuous fall of his career. He was fired from several film projects during the 1980s until he was picked up by Cannon Films which he signed a three-movie deal with: Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
Even though Lifeforce was doomed from the beginning by starting the shooting with an unfinished script, the film has its many moments. The set-design of the comet is pretty inventive with an entrance that looks like a giant butthole. The effects are as 80’s as they can get which goes from being pretty spectacular to crispy cheese dinner. Then we have eye-rolling dialogues mixed with a hysteric over-the top performance by Steve Railsback. When he’s not overacting to the Razzie Award, he sits with a blank stare and just says his lines, while the rest tries to take this as seriously as they can. An enthusiastic Patrick Stewart has a short screentime where he got the great honor to mouth kiss Railsback in one of the more absurd scenes.
The rubber animatronics are comical, cartoonish and just delightfully cheesy that would fit far more in a film like The Return of the Living Dead. Dan O’Bannon co-wrote the script so that maybe explains a thing or two. There was no complete script of Lifeforce, as mentioned, and it shows, especially after the second half which slides further into a weird unfocused epic mess. Miniature buildings of London burn up in flames, there’s big explosions in the street and full pandemonium of rabid zombie vampires running around. Only thing missing is cats and dogs living together and we’d had double mass hysteria!
The studio also cut out 20 minutes for its theatrical release and the film was set up to be a blockbuster in the summer of 1985, but instead became the biggest flop of the year, barely earning half of its budget back. It was mocked and panned by most of the critics and Colin Wilson, the author of the novel The Space Vampires, which the film is based on, wasn’t much impressed either. Gene Siskel, on the other hand, gave it 3 out of 4 stars and called the film a guilty pleasure. And it’s not hard to agree on that. Lifeforce is available on a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack from Scream Factory.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writers: Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby
Also known as: Space Vampires
Country & year: UK, 1985
Actors: Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard, Nicholas Ball, Aubrey Morris, Nancy Paul, John Hallam, John Keegan