The Ninjabot

Lifeforce: Space Vampires, Zombies and the Decline of Tobe Hooper

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 10:00 am by Jason Byard

220px-LifeforceposterSome movies simply demand that you watch them, by their very nature. Intricate plot lines, emotionally powerful moments, scenes wrought with tension and a whole host of other factors command your attention and sharpen your interest. If you’re not paying attention you know something important is going to fly right past you. Then there are the no-brainers. Movies that, while watchable, don’t necessarily require a keen eye in order to enjoy. They trade on cheap thrills, not story. There’s nothing innately wrong with films in either of these categories. Both have their place. The trick to making a good one though requires that the filmmakers realize which type they’re making and then own that fact onscreen. And therein lies the principal drawback of Tobe Hooper’s 1985 sci-fi/horror vehicle Lifeforce. It’s a Category #2 movie that thinks it’s in Category # 1.

Directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) the film has a distinctly kitchen sink feel to it. A team of astronauts discover a derelict alien spacecraft containing the vacuum-sealed bodies of three energy-sucking space vampires. Naturally, they come to life and decimate the crew Alien-style leaving only one survivor (Steve Railsback). After making their way down to Earth one of the vamps (Mathilda May) promptly goes of a fully nude killing spree in London, draining the energy (aka Lifeforce) from her unfortunate victims and turning them into ravenous zombie like creatures. Oh, and the zombies explode after two hours if they don’t consume some lifeforce of their own. Heady stuff, right? All they need is Gamera.


Just looking at the litany cinematic cotton candy you can understand what we obviously have here are all the proper ingredients for a solid little Category # 2 flick. And in some ways it is. The space scenes and special effects are top notch; the fall of London into chaos amid the zombie outbreak is sufficiently nuts and fun to watch. As action goes, Lifeforce delivers, for the most part. Where the movie runs into trouble is that it tries to be overly cerebral. The exposition is ham handed and carries are air of unwelcome pontification. The characters come off like college freshmen trying to pack their conversations with as many big words and weighty concepts as possible in an effort to strut their newly acquired knowledge. It’s just pompous, bad writing. It’s a movie trying to be something it isn’t.

But if you can put that aside,  Lifeforce is probably not a terrible way to blow two hours of your life. For all its intellectual vanity the pace of the thing never really lags because of it. And, sure, there may be a completely pointless subplot that involves a trip to an asylum for the criminally insane (oh please!), but that detour is more than redeemed by a completely gonzo performance by Patrick Stewart as a psychiatrist whose mind is possessed by the she-vampire. Did I forget to mention there’s mind-control in this stew as well? Well there is. If nothing else it serves as a fitting coda to Tobe Hooper’s cinematic relevance. Poor sap hasn’t really made something worth watching since. So if you do plan of watching it you might as well pick up Scream Factory’s Blu-ray. He could probably use the royalties. I figure we owe him at least that for giving us Leatherface.

Lifeforce: C+

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