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May 10, 2011

Random Horror Throwdown - Leviathan vs. Lifeforce

Up until this weekend, I could never tell the difference between these two movies.  I know that seems weird - especially if you've seen them - but allow me to make three points on the topic to explain myself.

1) They both start with L and have long one-word titles.
2) The DVD/VHS covers of each are similarly blue.
3) I hadn't seen either film.

I knew that someone told me one of these two movies was good, but I could not, under any circumstance, remember which.  And the more I researched, the more I found both movies getting some praise.  So, I did what any rational me would do - and watched them both.  Now, they get thrown into a throwdown!  (BTW, if you're too new to FMWL to remember the Random Horror Throwdown - click up in here (up in here) to go re-live its past glory!)
The Movies:

Leviathan (1989, Dir. by George P. Cosmatos.)
Starring: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Ernie Hudson.
IMDB Synopsis: Underwater deep-sea miners encounter a Soviet wreck and bring back a dangerous cargo to their base on the ocean floor with horrifying results... (Note from The Mike: Let's see.  Soviet wreck? Dangerous cargo?  You mean to tell me those two things might lead to horrifying results? I DON'T BELIEVE IT!)

Lifeforce (1985, Dir. by Tobe Hooper.)
Starring: Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Mathilda May, Patrick Stewart.
IMDB Synopsis: A space shuttle mission investigating Halley's Comet brings back a malevolent race of space vampires who transform most of London's population into zombies. The only survivor of the expedition and British authorities attempt to capture a mysterious but beautiful alien woman who appears responsible.  (Note from The Mike: Space + vampires + zombies + alien woman.  Just so we're clear, THAT is how scattered Lifeforce is.  More on that later.
The Casts:
This is a topic of hot debate for me.  The leads couldn't be more different, with the monotonous and controlled Peter Weller (Robocop) headlining Leviathan as the unhinged and potentially psychotic Steve Railsback (The Stunt Man) leads Lifeforce.  Neither actor could possibly function in the opposite role, as the switch would kind of been like asking Isaac Hayes to do Diamonds are Forever while Shirley Bassey does the theme to Shaft.  (Read as: It just doesn't work.)  I'm certainly a bit more Weller, personally, but I do admire Railsback's manic style in the right setting - and this is the right setting for him.

If we're calling the leads a wash, I guess the next step is the ladies.  Lifeforce's Mathilda May racks up some points with her impressive physical presence, while Leviathan's Amanda Pays (who was also the attractive British lady in The Flash) is a fine example of a survivor girl who can hold her own.  I'm calling that a wash too.

Here's where the switch happens. Lifeforce's next most notable name is Patrick Stewart. I know Patrick Stewart is a big name to some, due to his Next Generation duties and his X-Men stuffiness - but I don't care that much about Patrick Stewart. I'm not a Trekkie or an X-kie. You know what I do care about? A freakin' Ghostbuster like Ernie Hudson.  Or Colonel Trautman like Richard Crenna.  Or that blond lady who hung out with Axel Foley.  Or Daniel Stern of C.H.U.D. fame.  Yeah, that's what I care about.  And Leviathan even throws in Hector Elizondo!  But none of that really matters....Ernie Hudson was the knockout punch for this category.  (1-0, Leviathan leads.)
The Directors:
Tobe Hooper and George P. Cosmatos both have made some fantastic films.  Cosmatos is one of the more underrated directors of the '80s, I think.  Sure, he did make Cobra - which might be held against him by some - but he also made Rambo: First Blood Part II, the underseen former Midnight Movie of the Week Of Unknown Origin (also starring Weller) and, eventually, Tombstone (though it took the rallying of the great Kurt Russell to get him aboard that film).

But, Hooper made The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and its first sequel, and is credited as the director of Poltergeist (no matter what anyone says!).  So he wins the point for Lifeforce. (1-1.)

(By the way, I've also got a soft spot for Hooper's remake of The Toolbox Murders, a deeply flawed slasher that survives thanks to Angela Bettis and a heaping helping of atmosphere. Just gotta throw that in here, proceed as usual.)
The Plots:
Leviathan borrows much of its spirit from classics like Alien and The Thing, which is not in any way a bad thing.  There were a slew of undersea genre flicks in 1989 - including the big budget The Abyss and the less popular Deep Star Six - and Leviathan's sense of underwater doom fits alongside some of my favorite sci-fi horrors.  That doesn't necessarily mean Leviathan is near as well-made as those films - its got some pretty severe pacing issues and stalls out at times - but the ideas behind the plot at least make me smile a bunch.

Lifeforce, on the other hand, is just kind of crazy and all over the place.  It's like Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires had a three way with The Hidden and The Return of the Living Dead and traveled back in time to make Lifeforce.  Or maybe it's, just that Dan O'Bannon - who wrote The Return of the Living Dead - wrote Lifeforce.  You decide.  Either way, I'm going to give Lifeforce - which is truly a one of a kind sci-fi horror (just because it reminds me of other movies doesn't make it unoriginal) - a point for its ability to mix genre staples with a big 'ol pair of naked breasts that appear to be relevant to the plot.  (2-1, Lifeforce leads.)

My Experience with the Films:
Well, as I stated in my intro, my experience with these films is basically nonexistent.  I hadn't seen either until this weekend.

Am I more likely to show one of my friends one of these films than the other? I'm not sure.  Lifeforce is a unique bit of '80s awesome, to be sure, while Leviathan offers a more restrained bit of fun with some cool effects and a wonderfully silly ending.  I guess if I had to give a point here....I really don't know yet.  So, instead of making a choice, let's go to a LIGHTNING ROUND!!!!!!!!

  • Which film would benefit more from the use of Barbara Hershey? - I say Leviathan.  Heck, make her the Captain instead of Weller and I'd love that movie to death.
  • Which film is most apocalyptic? - Easily Lifeforce.  Some of the late film shots of a ravaged London are kinda fantastic.
  • Which film could be most easily remade into an entertaining modern fare? - Definitely Leviathan. It's simple in plot, the cast could be filled with rich modern character actors, and the effects could be improved upon.
  • Which film probably could never be remade? - Lifeforce, as the talents of Railsback and May are pretty integral to the film's success.
  • Which film doesn't leave me scratching my head and wondering if it's amazing or silly? - Leviathan.  It is what it shows you, while Lifeforce is all over the place.
This Choice is Like: 
You guys all know how much FMWL loves Barbara Hershey, right?  Well, it does.  She's basically FMWL's girlfriend (in an imaginary realm).  In the absence of clarity, and in a time when two films The Mike once couldn't tell apart are battling in their extraordinarily different ways to win his affection, The Mike often has to turn to irrational forms of decision making.

And if I think Leviathan fits the talents of Ms. Hershey the best - because I'd rather see her as a brave undersea mining captain who can be a strong and respected woman than a topless space vampire - then I gotta give the love to Leviathan this time around.  It's up my alley, and would be even more fun with some of that delicious Hershey-ness.  So let's throw a whopping TWO points at Leviathan! (3-2, Leviathan wins!)

Besides, how cute would it be to see Hershey and Amanda Pays having an undersea mining base slumber party?  Sorry Lifeforce, you lost today.  That doesn't mean you have to like it!

What say you, Midnight Warriors? I can't be the only one who's ever mixed up these movies, can I? And, perhaps more importantly, how many times in this post did I post the wrong title because I'm STILL getting them mixed up?  I'm totally not checking...


Jinx said...

Hell yeah! Love it! My recollections of both of these were vague to say the least. So I think I'll be sitting down to get them confused in a double bill soon.

Chris Regan said...

I always mixed up Leviathan and Deep Star Six - I think both were released as direct to video Abyss cash-ins, in the UK anyway. And I feel like I watched them back-to-back but that's probably wishful thinking.

I love Lifeforce - one of those films with so much weird stuff happening I end up rewatching it to confirm all those things really did happen in the same film.

I also have a soft spot for the Toolbox Murders remake!

therealphoenixanew said...

Out of the two, I am definitely more interested in seeing Lifeforce, partially because of all its wackiness, and partially because I am a Trekkie/"X-kie". :) Though I do love a good creature feature as well. Hm...

matango said...

I can't remember having seen Leviathan. Maybe on late night basic cable at some point. Lifeforce, on the other hand, gives me the opportunity to write "nude space vampiress," so Lifeforce wins it.