Danny Boyle was not the first person to realise that zombies can run like the clappers. That honour belongs to Lifeforce, which is, of course, the greatest naked space vampire zombies from Halley's Comet running amok in London end-of-the-world movie ever made. Tobe Hooper may have made a lot of crap, but for this deliriously demented epic sci-fi horror he deserves a place among the immortals. Plus it offers space vampire Mathilda May, the best thing to come out of France since Simone Simon, spending the entire movie naked. Which she does very, very well. Just bear in mind that while she is the most overwhelmingly feminine presence anyone on Earth has ever encountered, she's also "totally alien to this planet and our life form and totally dangerous." It's a pitch meeting I'd have loved to have sat in on: Astronauts from the British space program find three naked humanoid alien life forms inside a giant 150-mile long artichoke/umbrella shaped spaceship hidden in the tail of Halley's Comet filled with giant desiccated bats and bring them back to Earth with near apocalyptic results as they proceed to drain the population of London of their lifeforce amid much nudity, whirlpools of thunder and spit your coffee across the room direlogue ("I've been in space for six months, and she looks perfect to me." "Assume we know nothing, which is understating the matter." "Don't worry, a naked woman is not going to get out of this complex."). Oh, and we'll get the writers of Alien and Blue Thunder to write it with uncredited rewrites by the writer of Mark of the Devil, The Sex Thief and Eskimo Nell and the director of The Jonestown Monster. Sounds like a winner, here's $22m - have fun. And they do, they do.
True, there's enough promise in the raw material to have made something genuinely creepy and thought-provoking (at a time when AIDS hysteria was approaching its height, a sexually transmitted 'plague' offers ample opportunity for allegory), but in the hands of the Go-Go boys at Cannon, what could have been another Quatermass and the Pit quickly turns instead to be more Plan 10 From Outer Space. It's full-to-bursting with delirious inanity, be it Frank Finlay's hilarious death scene ("Here I go!"), Peter Firth's grand entrance ("I'm Colonel Caine." "From the SAS?" discreetly shouts Michael Gothard across a room full of reporters: "Gentlemen, that last remark was not for publication. This is a D-Notice situation" he replies to the surprisingly obliging pressmen), the security guards offering Mathilda May's naked space vampire a nice biscuit to stop her escaping, reanimated bodies exploding into dust all over people, the sweaty Prime Minister sucking the life out of his secretary ("Miss Haversham! Miss Haversham!") and London filling up with zombie nuns, stockbrokers and joggers as the city gets its most comprehensive on screen trashing since Mrs Gorgo lost junior at Battersea Funfair and went on the rampage. And that's not mentioning the "This woman is a masochist! An extreme masochist!" scene or the great stereophonic echo effect on the male vampire's "It'll be a lot less terrifying if you just come to me" line while a lead-stake wielding Peter Firth adopts his best Action Man voice to reply "I'll do just that!" In one scene alone you have a possessed Patrick Stewart embodying the female in our deeply confused astronaut hero's mind, Steve "I-never-got-over-playing-Charlie-Manson" Railsback and his amazing dancing eyebrows in full-on "Helta-Skelta!" mode trying to resist the temptation to kiss him, the inimitable Aubrey Morris (the only man who makes Freddie Jones look restrained) playing the Home Secretary Sir Percy Heseltine as a kind of demented Brian Rix, Peter Firth (one of those actors who always looks like he must have been a Doctor Who around the time no-one was watching it anymore) hamming up the blasé public school macho in the hope that no-one will ever see it and the peerless reaction shots of John Hallam as the male nurse who keeps on opening the door mid-psychic-tornado to bring in more drugs. As if they needed any more in this film. It's just a shame that Frank Finlay's mad-haired scientist who isn't qualified to certify death on alien life forms (a role originally intended for Klaus Kinski) missed out on the action in that one.
No matter how mad you think the film is, it still manages to get madder still, whether it be a zombie pathologist ("He too needs feeding") exploding all over the Home Secretary's suit, Patrick Stewart's blood and entrails forming a naked Mathilda May or the space vampires turning St Paul's Cathedral into the world's biggest laser-show to transport human souls from the London Underground to their geostationary mother ship. I loved every gloriously insane moment. In it's own truly unique way, this might be the greatest film ever made.
While the DVD offers a non-anamorphic transfer of the 116-minute version with a trailer the only extra, both Shout Factory's US Region A-locked Blu-ray and Arrow's region B Blu-ray offer both the original 116-minute version that opened in the UK and the heavily edited 101-minute US version, which loses most of the spectacular opening and a lot of entertaining inanity in its misguided desire to up the pace. The longer version not only offers much more hilarity for your dollar, but also fully restores Henry Mancini's score to its original glory (the US version covered a lot of the gaps with additional cues by Michael Kamen and James Guthrie). Although a somewhat surprising choice at first sight, Mancini cut his teeth on many of the classic Universal sci-fi horrors of the 50s and his score is quite superb, with a terrific driving main title that offers a rare reminder of just how interesting he could be away from Blake Edwards.
There are some subtle differences between the transfers on the two pressings - the UK edition is spread over two discs (with the extras all on the same disc as the long version) while the US edition crams both versions of the film and the extras onto a single disc, with some resulting minor compression issues. The grading on the US edition has also been slightly tweaked by Hooper to make Ms May's flesh tones look colder, the UK edition following the original grading.
Both versions share new interviews with Mathilda May, Tobe Hooper and Steve Railsback, two audio commentaries and trailers, but each has unique extras as well - the US release the original making of documentary, the British one an additional commentary by the VFX artist and, best of all, a terrific new 70-minute documentary with Hooper, Nicholas Ball, serial overactor Aubrey Morris, script doctor Michael armstrong and various members of the crew recounting an endless shoot (long enough for May to learn perfect English) with a director described as a demonic dwarf with impeccable manners fuelled by caffeine, cigars and other substances and doesn't stint on the problems of, er, downstairs grooming for its leading lady.
Let joy be unconfined!
on 9 July 2010
"Lifeforce" boasts a rousing, thunderous score by Henry Mancini, it boasts some hilariously straight-faced acting, some very proficient visual effects and a generous helping of most agreeable soft porn. You could do much, much worse than check out this movie. Is it a bad movie? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on your poison. But it is unquestionably an enjoyable movie. One of those pesky, interfering space missions goes and brings a trio of "space vampires" back to Earth, one of them being a uniformly nude Mathilda May, who has a bit of a thing going on with one of the astronauts, Colonel Carlsen (a delightfully earnest Steve Railsbeck), in between feasting on the "lifeforce" (as opposed to the blood) of various extras and minor roles, reducing them to hideous, dessicated, shrieking, mindless husks that in turn seek out the "lifeforce" of other people. That is where the glorious destruction of London comes in, later on in the proceedings and very well handled for a film that endures a reputation for being amongst the worst ever made. There is imagery within those sequences that is up there with the blockbusters. "Lifeforce" has a perfectly creditable cast, including a pre "Spooks" Peter Firth as SAS Colonel Caine, Frank "Bouquet Of Barbed Wire" Finlay as one of the boffins and Patrick Stewart gobbing out a lot of blood from his mouth. The fact that they play this trash so seriously is one of the fun aspects. Oh, come on - it's trash. But it is glorious trash. It is proud trash. Trash is sometimes good, and here you have an example. "Lifeforce", the celluloid Big Mac - of no nutritional value whatsoever, but very, VERY enjoyable. Tuck in.
Lifeforce has always divided it's audience since it's release. Indeed anyone trying to create a film of Colin Wilson's "philosophical" novel "The Space Vampires" was going to be in for a tough time - let alone Tobe Hooper whose reputation was built on schlock horror. That said, the film certainly has its followers and if you are one of them this new blu ray will delight you. If you are not - well - however good the transfer, this rather dated tale of "sexy" "vampires" on the loose in London won't appeal!
So what I'm reviewing is the quality of the blu ray on offer, here is my take on the technical spec. of the new disc.
Arrow offers a fine AVC encoded 1080p transfer in an expansive 2.35:1. format in which Hooper oversaw both the restoration and transfer. The results far exceed the old SD version and is even an improvement on the Shout (Scream Factory) US release as it puts both versions ( ie the Theatrical and International versions) on their own separate disc and have cleaned up the prints even more thoroughly than the impressive American edition.
The colour, definition and contrast are all massively improved from the old DVD, particularly in the final part of the film which is shot in darkness. There is no evidence of digital messing around either so that clear, but unobtrusive, grain remains. Any softness - and there is some - I'm sure comes from the source material.
There is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and a 2.0 track. The 5.1 track provides some stunning immersive effects and does full justice to both the dialogue and Henry Mancini's (very untypical) score.
Of the two versions the International works best for me as at 116 minutes ( not 106 as is said on the insert material) it has more clarity and logic and you get to hear the complete Mancini score without the orchestral interpolations from another hand you have on the general release print.
Undoubtedly both spectacular and sexually explicit, this horror romp - vaguely reminiscent of Nigel Kneal meets Paul Raymond - won't please everyone, but few can disagree over the excellent quality of these two new transfers and the extensive and impressive extras on offer too!
Gentleman, disregard that last remark, this is a B Movie situation.
Sorry I just had to say that, it's a B+ or A- movie in my eyes. This movie has it all, science fiction, horror, space vampires, zombies and an alien woman who has not quite grasped the need to wear clothes.
Based on Colin Wilson's "The Space Vampires", a massive alien ship is found hidden inside the tail of Halley's comet, the surviving humanoid inhabitants are brought back to Earth and mayhem ensues.
This is a great movie, the effects are superb (bear in mind it is over 20 years old now), the scenes in London at the end are well done, but why drive through a zombie infested city with the windows open? Sure there are lots of cliches like that and plenty of macho behaviour here but on the whole it works for me. I especially love the creature's transformation at the end.
This movie has had more than its fair share of bad reviews but there are many people who appreciate it. Thanks for the re-issue as my VHS version was showing its age.
Presented in widescreen so you miss none of the action, the only negative point in my view is the lack of any extras.
Possibly the only place you will hear the words "Mission Control Great Britain" uttered.
on 26 December 2014
‘Lifeforce’ is terrible. Almost. Actually, it’s quite good fun. And terrible. Work that one out for yourself. It’s one of those films that tries to be really great, as if it has aspirations that it’s going to be the next ‘Godfather’ film, only to end up being more akin to ‘Flash Gordon.’
It kind of reminds me of ‘Species’ – a film about a beautiful naked alien woman running amok through a city and generally killing helpless (and horny) males. Species kind of knew it was a B-movie and played on its silly strengths. Like I say, Lifeforce thinks it’s dark and mysterious and going to be the next ‘Alien’ movie, yet it never quite manages it.
The dialogue is cheesy, the special effects not that special and its main selling point is the fact that the lead actress spends her time in a state of full undress. But it tries. And, in some way, that kind of makes up for its failings. You can’t help but feel kindly towards the film because it really does its best to live up to what it wants to be. It doesn’t really have the budget of Species; instead we have a British spaceship (the ‘Churchill,’ obviously!) encountering an alien craft which has got caught in the tail of Halley’s comet. Once they board it, they unleash a trio of hungry alien vampires upon England. Now it’s up to the only surviving American space pilot from the mission and an SAS colonel to hunt her down and stop her sleeping her way through the nation’s men.
It’s the kind of film where you have to (a) know what you’re getting and (b) be in the mood for. If you’re expecting an epic sci-fi drama which is truly terrifying and/or you’re hoping for action aplenty, then you’re probably better off watch one or other of Alien or Species. However, if you’re ready to overlook the slightly stilted acting (and the terrible puppet of Patrick Stewart’s head) and gaping plot holes, then give it a go – you might be surprised.
And, if all else fails, most guys won’t mind spending a couple of hours watching Mathilda May and her ever decreasing wardrobe.
on 14 December 2012
I bought this spur-of the-moment, but on reflection I wish I hadn't. This may be a cult film for some people but it didn't really deliver properly, for my liking. I enjoy the nostalgia of 80's films and Sci-Fi, and thought this might be good. Sadly, it didn't live up to expectations, despite an imaginative and ambitious script.
Lifeforce tries to take on too much, as a piece of British Sci-Fi action/drama. The plot becomes unneccesarily confused in its attempts to create a dynamic and varied experience for the viewer. The only redeeming feature is the relatively unknown actress Mathilda May, who plays a naked space vampire (yes, the plot is on that kind of level). What the film obviously lacks in a coherent script, she almost makes up for with an amazing figure (esp. her breasts). That may keep us guys watching, for a while. But at 151 minutes, this film seemed just a bit too long, for something that was muddled from the start.
Premise: astronauts discover dormant alien vampires in a spaceship, hidden in Haley's Comet. The lead female vampire uses her mental powers & obvious physical charms to control the male psyche, thereby hitchning a lift back to earth in order to lure unsuspecting victims to their death. This is done when Mathilda May drains the lifeforce out of various unsuspecting men, during a few soft-porn moments.
The vampires reach earth and infect/control/kill and zombie-fy everyone. In the end lead astronaut (Nicholas Ball) manages to withstand May's seductive powers (sort of) and helps destroy her ship in a desperate save-the-earth-from-complete-destruction type scenario.
There are some good moments (a burning City of London, dessicated human husks - poor souls who've had the life force drained from them) who scream and stagger and blow to bits, after May has had her way with them. Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart & Peter Firth also put in an appearance. But overall the film isn't as good as the likes of David Cronnenberg's 80's classic 'Scanners' or as watchable as Stephen King's 'Cats Eye'. Both of those DVD's are worth getting instead of this one.
It's ok to watch once in a blue moon (which incidentally Mathilda May shows plenty of - it must have been rather chilly walking around stark naked for most of the film, not that I mind) and some folks might find it better than I did.
More times than I would like, I've found myself forced to express my disappointment over a Tobe Hooper film. Not this time, though, as Tobe Hooper has finally impressed me with this incredible science fiction/horror/apocalyptic motion picture. I freakin' loved this movie. Heck, even if you took away the hot naked alien chick, I would still love Lifeforce. What's not to like? You start out exploring a most unexpected alien vehicle found in the coma of Halley's comet, arrive back on Earth with a trio of space vampires who soon unleash havoc all over London, enjoy some pretty impressive and certainly entertaining special effects of creatures having all of their juices sucked right out of them and then reanimating to do the same to someone else, then work your way to a London burning to the ground as zombie-like humans run amuck in the streets. Throw in a not-yet-totally-bald Patrick Stewart in a performance that would prepare him well for his later assimilation into the Borg collective, a score written by Henry Mancini and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and what I consider (though some might call them cheesy) some fantastic special effects (with one embarrassing exception) - and all of it with a 1985 budget of only twenty-five million dollars. How can you not have a good time watching this movie?
The film opens with an ESA spaceship called the HMS Churchill arriving for a scientific rendezvous with Halley's Comet, but the mission changes when a huge artificial structure is detected within the coma of the interstellar attraction. Exploring the mysterious craft, the space explorers find a huge number of desiccated, bat-like aliens - and three perfectly preserved humanoid specimens, one of which is the gloriously naked Mathilda May. Unable to communicate with Earth, the ship heads back home, meeting with some kind of disaster along the way. The ESA has to ask NASA to explore the seemingly derelict ship, but all they find are the three undisturbed alien bodies amidst a scene of burned-out destruction. The mystery of these alien creatures increases exponentially when the hot, naked alien chick suddenly wakes up, turns a security guard into a stunt double for the Crypt Keeper with one hell of a kiss, and escapes. She may be gone, but she's certainly not forgotten, as scientists, SAS agent Caine (Peter Firth) and a government minister (Aubrey Morris) observe her victim wake up on the autopsy table and suck the life force out of a doctor. Apparently, the lifeforce-sucking takes place at two-hour intervals, which makes it ultra-important that they find the missing alien they now consider a space vampire.
A few answers become available when an escape pod comes to earth carrying the only survivor from the Churchill, Carlsen (Steve Railsback). Railsback tends to overact quite a bit in a scream-happy kind of way, but he does have a mysterious connection to the hot naked space vampire (who, regrettably, not only dons clothes but completely different bodies as she seeks to escape detection). Things really heat up from this point on, especially when the not-so-derelict alien spacecraft leaves Halley's Comet and starts heading toward Earth. With our heroes unable to contain the space vampire outbreak, London literally begins collapsing from within, and Earth's only hope for survival seems to depend solely on Carlsen's mysterious connection to the alien space vampire.
If you like screaming, you'll enjoy the efforts of Steve Railsback and Patrick Stewart in this department, but I think most viewers (especially male viewers) will agree with me that Mathilda May pretty much makes the movie. And I for one think the special effects are pretty impressive with the one exception (maybe all of the special effects guys were sick that day and Tobe Hooper did that one himself). Hats off to Tobe Hooper for this cinematic effort, as it is the kind of film you can enjoy over and over again.
on 22 May 2014
Lifeforce has been one of my favorite movies for a few years now, all its flaws included.
The transfer on this edition was unbelievable -- it felt like I was watching the movie for the first time.
The special features are really what make this a 5 star experience - all the interviewees display a real affection and humor about the project and how it turned out.
Here's hoping this edition does well enough that they can (hopefully) put together Tobe Hooper's original cut with all the deleted backstory and connective tissue.
on 13 November 2007
Wow. What a sure thing this must have seemed at the time. Tobe Hooper, fresh from 'Poltergeist' - assuming that film was not, as many maintain, in fact directed by Spielberg - hooking up with Dan O'Bannon, writer of 'Alien,' with the the FX geniuses behind 'Star Wars' in tow. An epic tale of life and death, extra-terrestrials and psychic powers, male and female sexuality... but there, in that one sentence, you see where the problems begin. There are a hell of a lot of grandiose ideas crammed into 'Lifeforce.' Now, it's perfectly within the realms of possibility to take on that much and succeed; but when it's approached in so po-faced a manner as it is here, the results can easily slip towards - well - the laughable.
It's such a shame in a way, because so much of it works. The film looks great even by modern standards; the FX are by and large very impressive. But the writing and acting... it's putting it mildly to say it leaves a lot to be desired. There's no denying the inherent absurdity of vampires from outer space invading the earth in the form of a sexually super-powered naked woman, but the cast seems to think they're performing Ibsen. In the hands of a more cerebral director - Cronenberg or Verhoven maybe - it might have worked. Sadly, this film is as good an indication as any as to why Hooper's career nosedived the way it did.
On the plus side - Mathilda May. Also - Mathilda May. And, in addition - MATHILDA MAY. Good God Almighty, she is so gorgeous, so built, and so wonderfully naked, it beggars belief. Not only that, but she actually embodies her character perfectly, something her male counterparts (clothed and otherwise) totally fail to do. She is sensually captivating, and extremely sinister at the same time. If anything saves 'Lifeforce' from being a total loss (for hetero males and gay women, at least), it's her presence.
Is that enough? You be the judge. As FX-driven semi-erotic sci-fi horror melodramas go, there are worse - the 'Species' sequels, for instance - but this is the 'Cleopatra' of the genre. It's absurd, it's over the top, it takes itself far too seriously - yet there's something oddly captivating about it, something hard to define...
... oh, wait, that's it, it's MATHILDA MAY IN THE NUDE.
on 28 December 2012
As a Sci-fi fan born in the early 90s I know the charms of Silent Running, the influential magnitude of Mertroplis and I even know how Soylent Green is made. These are great science fiction films that even if you weren't born when they were released all sci-fi fans know of them because they are cult classics and will always have an active fanbase. So how come so many people including myself have never heard of Lifeforce. Perhaps it's the crappy title (though it's an improvement over the original source called Space Vampires) which sounds like a Yoga instruction video but this film is a classic. It's well made with some astounding practical special effects which I would say are as good as Carpenter's 'The Thing' (and that is very high praise indeed). It is simply so much fun, it starts off like Alien with the investigation of a derelict space craft, then turns into a hunt for the killer alien on Earth before turning all apocalyptic with panic on the streets of London and the end of the world insight. The alien woman is naked all the time and although it sounds exploitative it's actually a very clever part of the plot and the lack of shame at being nude and stared at makes it feel even more alien. This film is on quite a large scale for it's time and it's interesting seeing such an epic story filled with British actors and settings. This British-ness combined with the nudity and horror special effects create the feeling of the most epic Hammer Horror production ever. This is a great film which deserves to be viewed by a modern audience, it's well made, well acted and it is fun to see a film that is British but has no restraint, it is aiming to be as epic as possible and it achieves this in a really great opening and climax.