Monday, February 15, 2010

Lovably Loony: Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce

I said in a previous column that I would occasionally pull down a DVD from my personal collection, re-view it and see if it still deserves a place on my shelf. Today it’s Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce (1985). The film is crackpot, insane, daffy, goofy, ridiculous and, what can I say, an absolute tub of fun. Bear with me as I try to describe the plot. It's breathtaking in its insanity.

The film begins as the space shuttle, Churchill (and no, I don't love the film because they named the space shuttle after me), is on a mission to Halley's Comet on one of its rare visits through our solar system. Within the comet's corona, they find a gigantic spaceship. Colonel Carlsen (Steve Railsback) and his team discover inside the ship two sets of apparently dead life forms: thousands of giant desiccated bat-like creatures and three seemingly perfectly preserved humanoids (one female and two males). They radio to Earth that they have collected the humanoids and will return with them. Then, radio silence. The Churchill returns to Earth, but nobody answers the hail. Another shuttle is sent up to investigate. They find the crew dead, Carlsen missing, but the three humanoids still aboard, untouched.

The humanoids are brought to a research facility where they suddenly awaken and begin sucking the lifeforce out of everybody they encounter. Oh, did I mention the space humanoids are buck-naked throughout their time on screen, especially 'Space Girl' (yes, that's how she's listed in the credits) Mathilda May? Cutting to the chase, she not only sucks the lifeforce from perplexed human victims, but the bodies then reanimate and attack others (including, pre-Star Trek: The Next Generation's Patrick Stewart) spreading the infection throughout England. Carlsen shows up in a Churchill escape pod, explains what happened and with the help of SAS Colonel Caine (Spooks' Peter Firth) and a big military contingent, try to bring down the space aliens before they can absorb the entire population of London and England.

But even that synopsis just doesn't do justice to the loony nature of this pic.

Does this help? We witness Zombie/space vampire attacks, nekkid women, London exploding, rambunctious overacting (especially from Frank Finlay who, after he's been 'infected', yells 'HERE I GO' as he too turns into a rampaging zombie/space vampire). What's there not to love? This film was a huge career-wrecking flop upon its release. Hooper hasn't done much of note since and Railsback mostly turns up on TV. The producers, "Go Go Boys", Israeli schlock producers Menahem Golem and Yoram Globus looked at this film as the vehicle to break them into the big time. If you go to, you can see the results since. Some got out of it unscathed, but supposedly loathed their experience. Henry Mancini did the music (it's a good score), but some years ago when my Critics At Large colleague Kevin Courrier asked him about it, he moaned how much he hated that film because Hooper took the score and plopped pieces down wherever he saw fit. Listen to the music behind more than one simple dialogue sequence and if you closed your eyes you'd think it was a chase scene, and that's probably what Mancini wrote it for.

This is definitely a cheese-ball extravaganza that must be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, most versions available on DVD are cut-rate pan and scan editions, but if you can track down the good widescreen version that MGM put out in 1998, you're in for a righteous good time.

-- David Churchill is a film critic and author. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his first novel, The Empire of Death.

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