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‘…a simultaneously awful and yet kinda brilliant sci-fi opus that offers plenty to unpack to the casual cineaste with a taste for the silly…’

A fond recollection from my teens, Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce is a simultaneously awful and yet kinda brilliant sci-fi opus that offers plenty to unpack to the casual cineaste with a taste for the silly. Hooper was hot from (maybe) directing hit Poltergeist, and Cannon were keen to enlist his talents, so they threw $25 million at this outlandish farrago. I don’t usually factor cocaine use into my research, but given that there’s a dozen articles which mention the effect of Bolivian marching powder on this particular movie, it probably should be acknowledged as a factor; if coke makes you make movies like Lifeforce, then it should be treated with care.

Given that he was best known for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper was keen to avoid being pigeonholed as a horror director, so decided to make his adaptation of Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires into a tribute to Hammer horror. That doesn’t make any sense at all, and we’re just getting started. This film is set in Great Britain, but starts in space with a thunderous score by, checks notes, The Pink Panther’s Henry Mancini? We follow the crew of the Churchill shuttle as they explore a giant space artichoke/umbrella that turns out to be chock full of dead bats and three naked, seemingly human bodies. We skip whatever happens next for no reason, and jump ahead to the arrival on earth of one of these forms, Space Girl, played by Mathilda May.

SAS hotshot Kane (Peter Firth in a polo neck) is put in charge of keeping this alien life-form under wraps; ‘A naked girl is not going to get out of this complex’ he’s sternly advised, but she does, and is soon vampirising half of London for kicks. Kane and the original captain of the Churchill spaceship Tom Carlsen (a ratty Steve Railsback) use his alien remote vision connection to track down the interlopers, ending up in an asylum where they confront mad doctor Armstrong (Patrick Stewart, gamely standing in for Sir John Gielgud who wisely backed out due to lack of production cashola). A plastic dummy of Stewart bloodily morphs into an alien mage during the helicopter ride home, leaving Kane to shake down another mad doctor (Frank Finlay) for a magic sword before Captain Carlsen can mate with Space Girl in an empty Westminster Abbey while the vampires run amok…

‘This is a D notice situation’ announced Kane, and if D stands for daft, he’s absolutely right. Lifeforce has, to quote Stefon, absolutely everything, including Prefab Sprout posters, sexy dream sequences, Michael Gothard, Dan O’Bannon’s half-cooked notes for an unused Alien sequel, Aubrey Morris, white Volvos, that thing where Frank Finlay inspects an alien corpse that somehow matches his pink and turquoise tie, green carpets in the UK space centre, winged serpents, a burning bus with the tourist logo Glasgow Miles Better on its side, bin-liner seductions, more sex that even a lizard brain on coke could handle, and acres and acres of terrible, terrible dialogue.

‘I almost feel like I’ve been here before,’ murmurs Carlsen when he first sees the alien spacecraft, but no explanation is provided; somehow key plot-points are AWOL, but if you enjoy seeing British military staff introduce themselves to each other at inordinate length, you’re in luck. Lines like ‘The life force is in all things…in a sense we’re all vampires draining energy from other selves.’ suggests that big ideas are meant to be in play, but the majority of the dialogue is quotable only for its laughable quality. ‘That’s our killer, Sir Percy!’ rates high, as does Carlsen’s reflections on alien sex; ‘I was in love on a level that you will never know, Kane.’ Of course, Kane was meant to be played by Michael Caine, but Lifeforce was too much for even the Jaws 4 star. Lifeforce is a terrible movie that somehow has become a cult; the full international cut currently surfacing is the best bet for bad movie fans worldwide. If nothing else, Lifeforce established the trope of shooting your way out of an urban dystopia filled with ravenous zombies, a cliche which is still going strong today in films and games alike.


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  1. My goodness, the memories! I stumbled upon this Bizarro film late one night many years ago on ITV, I think. I was a young teenage boy and it was like manna from Heaven at the time. To this day, I will never forget the sight of Mathilda May strolling around in her birthday suit for most of the movie.

    • That is certainly a big selling point when you’re a teenager in 1985, but I’ve returned to this half a dozen times since and it’s weirder every time…

      • I rewatched it a couple of years ago and it starts very promisingly. Unfortunately that early promise doesn’t last very long, does it?! It’s certainly unique.

        • I kinda love the apocalyptic feel of the final scenes, we’ve gotten used to vortexes and light beams but it all started here!

  2. The book was so bad that I’ve never even been tempted to try the movie. And from everything you say here, I’d probably stop watching very soon after starting, so I guess I’ve made the right choice.

    • I looked into the book, but the central spine is reasonably similar. And this film has sex on the brain in a very odd way, so even though I think you’d dig the action, I’m slapping a D notice on this for you, as in DONT even think about it. Only someone like Alex can truly relate to this kind of content.

  3. Absolutely loved this movie as a young fellow. The zombie apocalypse and some naked chick walking around. Don’t think I want to spoil any of those fond memories with a rewatch. I’ll always remember it as an all-time great.

    • I hear you, and I’ve never found this a dull text. But even though we bohemians in Europe get longer cuts of films like this, the streaming version has scenes I really don’t remember, like the in-car seduction of a man who helps give the alien a lift. Or the dream sequence. Could it be that there’s more Lifeforce than even you imagined?

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