Ha ha! Burl here, returning to the Tobe Hooper well so soon after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2! In fact I’m staying within the Cannon Years, that period in which Hooper made films for the Golan-Globus boys! Today’s picture, Lifeforce, was the first and surely the most expensive of the three!
Now, I’ll say up front that I don’t have what you might call a f*tish for this picture, exactly, but I find myself hugely tickled by its weird, self-serious craziness! In other words, ha ha, I like it! Nobody else does, but I do! You’ve found the one person! And what’s more, I like all the acting in the picture! And boy, is there a lot of acting in this picture!
Now some of you may not have seen Lifeforce, so I’ll give you an idea of the story! Ha ha, it actually hews pretty closely to Dracula! There’s a multinational space mission to go check out Halley’s Comet, and the captain is probably the last person who would be put in charge of a spacecraft in real life, none other than Steve Railsback from Armed and Dangerous! Near the comet is a behoimeth of an alien ship, and inside that are some dead giant bats and three n*ked people - two fellows and a pretty lady - reposing in crystal coffins!
Commander Railsback falls for the lady instantly, and who can blame him; but on the way back to Earth, everybody else on the ship dies of energy depletion! Earth people find the derelict floating in orbit, and the space people, and then, back at Space Headquarters in London, there are incidents involving nak*d ladies rising, blue swirling lights, an extreme case of wrinkleface, and running through doors, oh so many, many doors! Ha ha!
The escape pod lands and Commander Railsback joins the brain trust: A thanatologist played by Frank Finlay; SAS man Peter “The Hunt For Red October” Firth; and ever-sleepy Michael “For Your Eyes Only” Gothard in the role of some kind of doctor who catches a half-suck from the space lady! And the chase is on before the space vampire plague destroys the city and the very planet itself!
Ha ha, this is one nutty movie! It all seems to stem from one decision: casting buggy Steve Railsback in the lead! That’s a very strange decision, and seems to me it could have easily gone another way, if, for example, Golan and Globus had decided “Ha ha, we’re spending so much on this picture, let’s get a star! Let’s get Steve Guttenberg!” I see you shiver, but it could have happened! Anyway, I think Railsback gets it completely right! He’s totally bonkers, but when you discover what his character’s been going through for almost the whole film, you realize there was no other way he could have played it!
The other actors all do their own thing, which normally might be considered a criticism, but here somehow works just fine, like a crazy orchestra that plays random notes off tempo and out of tune but comes up with a mad, atonal masterpiece! I particularly like Frank Finlay’s performance, the pleasures of which for me are best exemplified in the moment he says “I seem to… sense it!” If you notice that moment, you’ll know what I’m talking about! Firth, with his authority and clipped delivery, makes a terrific policeman, and Gothard, who was always effective and is again here, really sells the idea that he’s ready to b*rf and fall fast asleep, in that order!
There are yet more fine actors to enjoy! Patrick Stewart from Dune shows up as a possessed asylum keeper who gets first sat on and then kissed by Railsback; and the creepy headmaster from A Clockwork Orange plays Britain’s foreign minister! (It seems like a questionable bit of casting until you recall the s*rdid tales from the ‘70s that are now coming up in UK media!) And behind the scenes we have such heavyweights as Alan Hume, the cinematographer who was shooting the Bond pictures and Return of the Jedi around this time; and Henry Mancini, who provides a score of ludicrous but I think admirable bombast!
Then there are the trick effects, which are splendid! There are lovely green spacescapes, bubbly ship interiors, and I’ve always liked the twinkly blue slit-scan light effect that is so frequently used in the picture, though I associate it more with Douglas Trumbull than John Dykstra! Plenty of Special Makeup Effects too, which for me were again mainlined through Fangoria, creating an instant vampire-like hunger to see the film! Ha ha!
It’s a demented and stupid movie in so many ways, but the simple unlikelihood of such a thing ever being made draws me to it! I surely do recognize its weaknesses, but uniqueness is a quality to be valued and I know of no other movie quite like Lifeforce! It’s at once a sci-fi adventure, a psycho-s*x thriller, a zombie apocalypse and a totally crazy goofshow, and I’m going to give it three handy-dandy leaded-iron swords!