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June 21, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #181 - Lifeforce

Lifeforce is a movie falls into one of one of my favorite little-discussed categories of genre films. If I was classifying the movie into more widely accepted categories I might call it a sci-fi/horror space vampire apocalypse film - which is ridiculously long and kind of silly, if not awesome - but that's the second most interesting category in my book. What excites me the most about Lifeforce is that it falls into what I call the "And Then..." genre.
The And Then Film, as defined by me, has its roots in the over-excited ramblings of a child. In my case, it usually meant that I loved to explain things in one unending sentence that was consistently kept alive by the phrase "and then." For example, there was that time when my sister disappeared and then we went looking all over town and then we got the neighbors to help and then we all split up and covered the whole area shouting her name and then called the police and then got home and found out that she had fallen asleep in my parents' closet for no apparent reason. It's like that, except that this movie has less little girls falling asleep and more carnage and destruction and face melting.
The roughest estimate of the plot I can give is as follows. A crew of astronauts, led by the incredibly intense Steve Railsback (star of The Stunt Man, which is one of my very favorite films of all-time), discovers an alien spacecraft inside of Halley's Comet - which was relevant in the real world at the time, as it made its once per 75 years return to Earth's orbit in 1986 - and then (there it is!) accidentally sends the three humanoid beings on board back toward Earth. AND THEN (yep, I did it again) things get really crazy.
So then ("so then" works really well when "and then" has been played out, by the way) the film takes the next illogical step, introducing a beautiful naked female space creature played by Mathilda May who happens to suck the "lifeforce" out of people's faces. But there's good news for humanity - Railsback's super intense astronaut survived the journey back to Earth, and has a mental connection with the space vampire hottie. Which means a a game of sexual/extraterrestrial/creepy cat-and-mouse is about to begin.
Those two paragraphs sum up about 25% of the "and then..." that Lifeforce has to offer, if that. There are not many horror films - or many films in general - that provide this many dramatic shifts from one event to the next. And as the film escalates to a completely apocalyptic finale - which, by the way, should look familiar to anyone who completed the final mission of the brilliant Mass Effect video game series - it should keep most viewers on their toes. It might not make sense all of the time, and viewers who like their films to be more grounded in reason might lose interest in the film - but I'm OK with that. And when the final act is as crazy as the ravaging of London that occurs in Lifeforce, I'm more than OK with a few jumps in logic.
Lifeforce is directed by the much maligned Tobe Hooper, who helmed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and then became something of a punchline over the next 40ish years due to the awkward production of Poltergeist and a string of random and bizarre financial failures like this one. But for all their flaws, films like his remakes of Invaders from Mars and The Toolbox Murders, never skip a beat visually and are always moving to something different. Lifeforce is the director's most inventive piece of work during his post-Poltergeist career, and actually stands out as one of the more fun and bizarre pieces of '80s horror. Hooper may not always have everything together, but Lifeforce is the perfect reminder of how inventive he could be as a filmmaker.
The pieces of Lifeforce fit closely enough together to make it work well enough, just because Hooper, Railsback, May and company (including Patrick Stewart in a bizarre side performance) never blink while pursuing each twist that's coming up. And then, the movie ends...and you realize Lifeforce is truly a sight to behold.


Bill Dan Courtney said...

I always liked this one and Invaders From Mars as well. Felt both films looked nice and the direction was fine. But people seem to pan them both. Wish Hooper had done some more stuff like this.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Mathilda May (as the bird was at the time "Lifeforce" was made, not as the bird is now obviously)