FEARNET Movie Review: 'Lifeforce' Blu-Ray



lifeforceThere's so much to like about the 1985 science fiction / horror / action-packed apocalypse flick Lifeforce that one finds it very easy to overlook the film's numerous problems. I mean, why worry about boring stuff like editorial cohesion and tonal consistency when you have a flick jam-packed with spaceships, vampires, lasers, mass murder, and one of the most gorgeous naked ladies to ever grace the silver screen? No movie geek worth their stripes could dismiss Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce without admitting that there's some pretty amazing stuff on display in this adorably weird movie. Or if not amazing then at least novel, diverting, and audacious. The movie does borrow from a ton of other sci-fi films, but it has also inspired a few moments in films like Species, The Hidden, and 28 Days Later, so it all seems fair in the end.
Look, the movie is based on a novel called The Space Vampires, so right off the bat you know you're in for something halfway insane. And to their credit, director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and screenwriters Don Jakoby (Arachnophobia) and the late, great Dan O'Bannon (Alien, Dead & Buried, The Return of the Living Dead) make no apologies about approaching their multi-genre matinee movie with a great deal of enthusiasm, energy, and occasional wackiness.
One barely knows where to begin.
OK, so a bunch of astronauts discover a 150-mile-long spaceship that's hiding in the tail of Haley's Comet, and inside that spaceship are three hibernating naked humanoids. (Still with me?)  Despite the foreboding presence of a thousand dead alien corpses that litter the spacecraft, the astronauts decide to bring the three comatose nudists back to Earth. Bad idea. Two of the nude aliens are men and therefore pretty boring, but the lead "space vampiress" is a stunningly beautiful creature who has no problem seducing various British men when she's back on Earth, which in turn kick-starts a national epidemic of rabid maniacs who feed on one another person's (you guessed it) "lifeforce."
Most of the flick follows British secret agent Colin Cain (Peter Firth) and American astronaut Tom Carlson (Steve Railsback) as they try to locate the gorgeous naked vampiress by tracking her freshest victims, and that's where Lifeforce flips and goes from Alien to Dracula to The Quatermass Xperiment. Packed with great British actors like Firth, Aubrey Morris, Frank Finlay, and Patrick Stewart, Lifeforce pulls off something that most "matinee movies" cannot: it makes the "stuff between the scares and the splatter and the naked ladies" as entertaining as the wackier material.
Of particular note is that this new blu-ray release from Shout/Scream Factory offers the UK version of Lifeforce, which runs 15 minutes longer than the American release version, reinstates a full (and rather bombastically awesome) Henry Mancini score, and -- most importantly -- makes a bizarre (sometimes absurd) movie seem a lot less silly. While the American version focused mostly on Mathilda May's perfect breasts and the numerous sequences of legitimately excellent special effects mayhem, the UK version offers more in the plot/character department, which gives the flick a bit more time to breathe, and (hooray!) the result is a vast improvement.
Speaking of special effects mayhem, the new blu-ray really allows some great art to shine. John Dykstra's optical effects combined with Nick Maley's (frankly amazing) creature creations result in several eye-popping moments. Horror geeks should truly adore the "autopsy" scene or the "jail cell" sequence, at the very least.
Unjustly remanded to the (ugh) "guilty pleasure" shelf for way too long, Tobe Hooper's supremely entertaining Lifeforce finally hits U.S. blu-ray in a package that Scream Factory can rank among their very finest. Not only do you get both versions of the movie, but the UK version in particular is absolutely gorgeous to look at. (The audio is sweet too!) Better yet: all of the extras are brand-new. Yes, it's great when distributors "port" old featurettes over, but since Lifeforce's last DVD was a grungy bare-bones MGM release, Scream Factory had to start from scratch. Extra goodies include new interviews with Tobe Hooper, Steve Railsback, and Mathilda May (who is admirably frank and gracious about playing a role that called for 100% nakedness at all times); an excellent 20-minute "behind-the-scenes" archival featurette, two theatrical trailers, a TV spot, a stills gallery (yes, more boobies), and a reversible slip-cover that has the old poster art opposite some nifty new artwork.
Buried treasure: be sure to check the audio set-up to enjoy a pair of audio commentaries: one with moderator Tim Sullivan and director Tobe Hooper, and the other with DVD producer Michael Felsher and (now retired) make-up FX genius Nick Maley. I sampled about 30 minutes of both chat tracks and they sound like great stuff for the hardcore Lifeforce fans.

I wouldn't go so far as to call Lifeforce an "overlooked classic," but it certainly seems like a genre film that seems ripe for rediscovery and perhaps some long-overdue appreciation. Worst-case scenario is you'll be able to finally join the Mathilda May fan club, and trust me. It's worth it.