MONKEY REVIEW: Lifeforce

June 23, 2008

lifeforce“That girl was no girl.”

Lifeforce, the 1985 Tobe Hooper movie about a space vampire that wreaks havoc in London, is one of the most unhinged major Hollywood releases I’ve ever had the pleasure/bad luck to see. The story makes absolutely no sense, the dialogue is more often than not laughably bad (“Don’t worry. A naked girl is not going to get out of this complex.” “I’m here. Now can this madness end?”), and Steve Railsback, who was so good in The Stunt Man several years before this was released, gives one of the worst performances I’ve seen by a leading man. But then Railsback is having to play the lone survivor of an ill fated space shuttle mission who has a psychic bond with a space vampire girl named, according to the credits, Space Girl (Mathilda May, in a memorable film debut), who herself initially spends so much screen time naked that when she reappears in the movie walking the English countryside in what appears to be a garbage bag, a character observes, with some disappointment, perhaps, “Now she has clothes.” For a weird Alien/Dracula hybrid, it’s got an impressive roll call of talent: Hooper, who directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, Dan O’Bannon, who wrote Alien, also wrote this screenplay, the special effects are by John Dykstra (Star Wars), and Henry Mancini did the musical score. So while Lifeforce is absurd and nonsensical and just plain bad in a lot of ways, it’s professionally made absurd, nonsensical badness. It’s also, and this accounts for why I’ve seen this movie multiple times, fast paced and wickedly entertaining, and because it doesn’t make any sense at all, it’s almost completely unpredictable. When I first saw this during its initial theatrical run, I literally had no idea what was going to happen from one scene to the next, as it’s a space vampire movie that starts out like Alien, and ends up, inexplicably, a zombie plague movie. But wow, is it wild fun to watch, and it’s played totally straight by a mostly English cast, which makes it all the better. Peter Firth is actually quite good as a British colonel (and “natural voyeur”) hot on the trail of Space Girl, Patrick Stewart shows up in time to get his first onscreen kiss from…Railsback, and Aubrey Morris plays a government official much in the same way one would play a pirate. I don’t usually recommend bad movies to people, because there’s plenty of good ones to see, but Lifeforce is such a nutty good time, it’s a must-see for science fiction and horror fans. For non-fans of those genres, you can adjust my rating down a monkey.

P.S. This is a review of the US theatrical cut, as I wanted to review the version of the movie I first saw in 1985. The international cut, which runs about 15 or so minutes longer, apparently makes somewhat more sense. There’s yet another cut of the movie that runs 12 minutes longer than that, Tobe Hooper’s own cut of the movie.

P.P.S. This review is also part of the Final Girl Film Club.

MONKEY RATING: THREE (SPACE VAMPIRE) MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

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