FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jun 23, 2008

Film Club: Lifeforce

Well kids, here we are- the very first Film Club flick chosen by the people, for the people. I certainly hope the people are satisfied with Tobe Hooper's 1985 naked space vampire epic Lifeforce.

Hooper heads back to Texas Chain Saw territory and opens the film with a dead serious voiceover by John Larroquette- or at least, I think it's him. According to, Larroquette's involvement is "unconfirmed"- is this really an unsolved mystery after nearly 25 years? Has no one, you know, asked him? Regardless, the narrator quickly gives us the skinny on all the space stuff: a joint mission between Brits and Americans has sent the shuttle Churchill tooling towards Halley's Comet in order to check it out.

The Churchill gang makes a startling discovery: there's some sort of craft traveling along near the head of the comet. It's 150 miles long, 2 miles high, and practically begging to be explored. Colonel Carlsen (Steve Railsback) heads up an away team who board the alien craft, only to find:
  • it's seemingly derelict
  • it's seemingly organic
  • there are humongous bat-like aliens on board, all dried-out and dead
  • there are three nudies lying in stasis in giant crystals
The Churchill informs the away team that one end of the alien craft has opened up to form a large, fleshy umbrella; Carlsen decides it's time to get out of there, but not before they grab a bat husk and the nudies for examination. I'm guessing that in the end, this will prove to be a decision most unwise. Lifeforce lesson #1: should you happen across a naked man or woman encased in crystal, do not bring him or her home.

30 days later, the Churchill is found by another shuttle crew and it's in a terrible state: there's been a fire on board. The escape pod has been launched, but the state of the crew bodies makes it impossible to determine who, if anyone, may have made it out alive. The Crystal Nudies, however, remain intact and unharmed! Naturally they're brought back to London for examination; I'm guessing that in the end, this will prove to be a decision most unwise. Lifeforce lesson #2: The Crystal Nudies is, quite possibly, the best band name ever.

Once on the dissecting table, the beautiful, mysterious, and naked Space Girl (Mathilda May) proves to be decidedly not dead- or is that undead? Either way, the fact remains: she's alive. She grabs an enamoured guard (no one can resist her naked beauty!) and they start to make out. The next thing you know, everything has gone all Spencer's Gifts and there's lightning everywhere, like this:

The poor guard withers away as they make out- it seems that Space Girl is sucking the very life out of him...his lifeforce, if you will! He ends up dead and looking all caca, like this:

Space Girl makes her way out of the Space Research Centre and just like that, the very thing mankind has feared since the beginning of time has come to pass: there's a naked space vampire on the loose! We all knew this day would come eventually, yet we find ourselves so unprepared.

The SAS arrives on the scene, and Col Colin Caine (Peter Firth) is determined to figure out just what the eff is going on. As the autopsy on the dead guard begins, Caine learns at least one thing: the guard may be all beef-jerkified, but he sure ain't dead! He springs back to corpsey life, grabs the closest doctor, and makes with the lifeforce-suckage. As the doctor withers, the guard plumps up again and seems no worse for the wear, although he's understandably confused. Lifeforce lesson #3: space vampirism, like cooties, is easily passed from person to person.

The Churchill's escape pod lands in Texas with Col Carlsen on board. He's quickly brought to London to help piece together this evil naked space vampire puzzle; through flashbacks, we learn that The Crystal Nudies decimated the crew of the Churchill, leaving Carlsen with no choice but to set the shuttle on fire before busting a move out of there so the naked space vampires couldn't make their way to Earth. Nice try, Carlsen, but not good enough.

For the next hour or so, Carlsen and Caine chase Space Girl through London and beyond as she jumps from body to body. They meet lots of interesting characters along the way, from Patrick Stewart as the director of a mental hospital to a nurse at the same hospital who's really into being slapped around. As the alien fleshy umbrella space ship heads toward Earth, the space vampire plague quickly spreads throughout the city and London falls under martial law. People are going nuts running around, fires are breaking out everywhere, and there's a Spencer's Gifts bonanza in the sky- in other words, it's an awful lot like the Cabbage Patch Kid riots of '83.

Can Carlsen and Caine save the world from The Crystal Nudies? Find out in the explosive, ambiguous, and all-nude finale!

The worst thing I can say about Lifeforce is that it absolutely overstays its welcome; at nearly 2 hours, it's more than a bit bloated and parts of it drag like nobody's business.

On the other hand, it's a hell of a lot of fun- I mean, is there ever a time when naked space vampires aren't fun? The effects hold up surprisingly well for a flick from the mid-80s. The animatronic corpses are rad*, there are all manner of space vampire dustings that are bitchin'*, the corpse made out of blood (yes, made out of blood) is gnarly*, and the Spencer's Gifts lightning isn't nearly as cheesy as the moniker implies.

Lest you think that Lifeforce is nothing but a naked effects extravaganza, however, let me assure you: this movie has a deeper message. That message is revealed when, as he tries to explain his attraction to Space Girl, Carlsen states:
She killed all my friends and I still didn't want to leave. Leaving her was the hardest thing I ever did.
See? It's all a metaphor for relationships. We've all had at least one of 'em: your girlfriend or boyfriend completely sucks the life out of you, all your friends hate him or her, your friendships fall apart and you're left weak, lethargic, and a mere shell of your former self...and yet, you stay with him or her for no reason beyond the fact that he's cute or she has great tits. Lifeforce lesson #4: relationships will kill you!

This film is probably Tobe Hooper's most ambitious (I'm not counting the shady mess that is Poltergeist) and it's a delightful (though a wee overlong) '80s romp, the likes of which you don't much see nowadays. There really aren't enough naked space vampires in the world of cinema today, don't you agree?

*this review brought to you by 1985 and the totally tubular Mountain Dew


Film Club Coolies, yall!

Tractor Facts
Craig Moorhead
The Horror Section
Aphorisms and Ectoplasm
Awesomeness for Awesome's Sake
The Connoissewer
The Legend of Bloggy Creek
Boyfriends in the News
House of 1000 Courses
Headquarters 10
The Snark Hunter
Bloody Good Horror
Kill Everybody in the Whole World
This Is Just A Modern Rock Blog
Invasion of the B Movies
Overthinking It
Zombie vs Shark
Acheter et entretenir sa tronconneuse (c'est French, ca!)
Askewed Views
Horror Film Magazine


Anonymous said...

haha @ shady mess of poltergiest - that movie really is a shady mess! lesson number one, if you're going to make a movie with steven spielberg, get ready for him to hog all the limelight! toby hooper is cool. i loved texas chainsaw part 2. it was such a great B movie, and i think dennis hopper's character was legendary as far as horror films go. i've never seen lifeforce but i will check it out now if i stumble across it sometime thanks to this review.

Anonymous said...

It's definitely Larroquette on the opening V.O. -- I don't think anyone's asked him about LIFEFORCE... he gave up the whole story which led to his TCM involvement on an Onion A/V Club interview.

Being a good friend of Hooper's, I'd think that he'd do LIFEFORCE... and they could even afford to pay him!

Dan West said...

"Lifeforce" have and always will be my friend...I love you...if it wouldn't make my DVD sticky...I would kiss you

Jason Adams said...

I totally fell asleep trying to watch this movie last week and haven't been able to make myself pick it up again. And now I don't have to, because A) Stacie's recap is inevitably better than what's on-screen; it always is, and B) I have once again fumbled my Film Club opportunity. Le sigh.

Stacie Ponder said...

One of these months, JA, you're gonna do the film club, dammit!!

I'll admit, there are sections of Lifeforce that are drier than a beef-jerkified corpse, so falling asleep is understandable.

Rhubarb said...

Sorry it's later than I intended but I've done a review

It's not remarkably entertaining. Although nobody else seems to think the film is a gay love story. Just me then.

Anonymous said...

Useless trivia:

Billy Idol was originally supposed to be one of the male space vampires...

Wes Fierce said...

my review is ready but my site isn't :( *sadcore*

Anonymous said...

Father always said I'd never be a Film Club Coolie. Take THAT, old man!

Thanks for letting my stupid one-off past the velvet rope, Stacie. You've got the best posse on the intertubes and it's an honor to be the weak link. One quibble, though? It's "Bloggy Creek," not "Boggy." I wouldn't kvetch but the barely-clever title's pretty much all my site's got going for it.

Off to drown myself in Lifeforce analysis. I watched it twice and I've still got some lingering questions about, oh, pretty much everything that happened after the shuttle fire. Hopefully a fellow Coolie will help me clear things up.

"Coolie" is so going in the occupation field the next time I fill out a 1040.

Jason Soto said...

I got my review!


Arbogast said...

your girlfriend or boyfriend completely sucks the life out of you

Or, if you're very lucky, both!

Andrew Bemis said...

Just in time:

Anonymous said...

One more review for the pile.

And before the deadline! Technically!

StinkyLulu said...

Ditto -
mine's here.


Anonymous said...

Mine's up!

Zombie vs. Shark reviews 'Lifeforce'

Arbogast said...

Why is it easier to get 21 people to review a movie than it is to get the same number over to your house to watch a movie?

Natazzz said...

Oops...I totally forgot...I got as far as checking where I could rent it.

Hmmm. Next time...

Anonymous said...

As with many of theses things, LIFEFORCE needed some Klaus Kinski. Or Hooper should've been fired and replaced by Bud Cardos again.

Anonymous said...

Klaus Kinski would have *owned* as Tom the Psychic Astronaut. Or as "Space Girl."

Anonymous said...

Hooper worked with Kinski on VENOM before Hooper was fired. I remember hearing during the making of LIFEFORCE that Billy Idol was gonna be one of the space vampires maybe because Hooper had directed the "Dancing with Myself" video.

Anonymous said...

Space vampires and 80's spencer's light shows - that's good enough for a drunken Friday night for me! Actually space vampires remind me of a book I read awhile ago by Christopher Pike - did I just let slip that I have actually read Pike books? Oh well the book was pretty good - now I have to watch the movie.

Dan said...

Just a really great flick and I've always admired Hooper's excellent scenes of apocalyptic London mayhem. Another piece of useless trivia, Hooper was the original director of the Klaus Kinski flick VENOM (which K2 chose to do over playing the Toht role in RAIDERS). Hooper apparently had some sort of meltdown and was replaced by Piers Haggard.

My LIFEFORCE review from a bit ago:

Unknown said...


Here's my "Lifeforce" blog entry, made with love just for you (but in french so you cannot read it!)

Dan said...

Sorry bwana, I missed your comment about Kinski and VENOM! While I agree that *any* film is made better by the addition of some Vitamin K2, CREATURE offers a nice slice of 80s outer space Klaus. "This creature is sly!"

FatalPierce said...

I had a tough time with this one. I wanted to love the damn thing but for some reason I just couldn't Maybe it was the dry sections.

So, I didn't review it as much as I questioned my sanity for not loving a movie featuring nudie alien vampires.

le click?

Also I'm very late, I blame society.

Anonymous said...

If I had to sum up my feelings in one word: almost. It almost could have been great. It could almost have been awful. It almost kicked ass. It almost sucked.

The one definitive thing to say is Charlie Manson is a lousy actor. I really can't think of a single film where I liked Steve Railsback or even thought he did a good job...except when he did Charlie Manson in Healter Skelter. He always has a look of somebody that dropped a load in his pants and it's his own, dirty secret...