HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 15 December 2007
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 discreetly shouts Michael Gothard across a room full of reporters: "Gentlemen, that last remark was not for publication.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!