Lifeforce (1985)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Starring: Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finley, Mathilda May, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard

Written by: Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby and (based on the novel ‘The Space Vampires’) Colin Wilson.

Running Time: 116 mins

Original UK Cert: 18

Original UK Release: 4th October 1985

There are some films that are so bad they stink and others that bad they are good. Tobe Hooper’s science fiction horror falls smack bang in the middle, a film so bad, depending on your mood, is close to genius while at the same time smells something rotten. It’s a film that has everything required for the perfect Z-movie: a terrible lead male, classically trained British thesps thinking they are performing Shakespeare, a leading lady who is fully naked almost the entire film and special effects and make-up that are both imaginative and rubbish. Oh, and it’s a Cannon production. Need I say more?

The Churchill is an US/UK space shuttle send to investigate Haley’s Comet that is approaching Earth. They discover a giant space craft in the tail that has three lifeforms aboard as well as hundreds of dead bats. The bodies, a woman and two males are brought on board the shuttle. Some time later, The Churchill is floating in space, burnt out and the occupants all dead, except the three bodies. Returning to Earth, the female, is found to be alive and escapes the compound she is being held in, not after sucking the life out of a doctor. In comes SAS member, Colin Caine to investigate. Soon after, a member of the crew, Tom Carlsen, had managed to escape the shuttle and is the only one who knows the whereabouts of the Space Girl.

To be honest, there’s no point in going into great detail about the plot as it gets nuttier as it goes along. It also throws up so many questions, like: How comes Carlsen, who escaped from the shuttle, was never put into quarantine or under custody until an investigation was over? How did Caine become so high up in the SAS when, in one scene, he juggles badly with his pistol? Where did the Professor get a lead sword from? How many doors does a medical centre need? And how comes no one noticed a fully naked woman wandering around London?

Actually the last one is answered but it’s amazing why she wasn’t stopped when she first escaped. She was hardly running away, more like a pleasant stroll in the park! Hooper’s film, his third for the Cannon team after the enjoyable Invaders From Mars and the bonkers The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, is full of delights and shameful mistakes. Try to ignore the science of the film, otherwise you will be screaming at it because even for a layman like myself, none of it makes any sense. For example, surely you can’t send a space shuttle into a comet?

The Cannon boys obviously wanted to make a big budget production, unlike their usual low to middle budget affairs so they started off with some decent effects, including the weird tree-like space craft and bringing in effects wizard, John Dykstra and a top team of make-up artists, who do an amazing job on the main life-draining humans but couldn’t afford the same for the extras in the finale, who look like they had put their own make-up on.

The cast reads like a who’s who in British theatre, with Peter Firth in action man mode as Caine, all frowns and earnest delivery, while B-movie specialist Steve Railsback is as wooden as he usually is until he has to scream, which he seems to do a lot. We get Frank Finley as a mad professor who cannot wait to chew up the scenery and Patrick Stewart in a cameo role as a doctor who becomes possessed and so is asked to writhe around the floor and scream like a girl, giving Steve Railsback a run for his money.

Of course, there’s Mathilda May, who is absolutely beautiful and spends her time completely naked, in order to distract from the utter nonsense that is going on around her. A brilliant ploy from Hooper. The rest of the cast, mainly British, try to out act each other in the shock and awe department.

You have to go into this with the right mind-set. You can’t expect another Alien (which was co-written by Dan O’Bannon, who co-wrote this, surprisingly). It’s the kind of movie that you get your mates together, have a pizza, a few beers and then let rip at its awful dialogue, dodgy continuity and have a drinking game in which you have a brew every time someone screams (especially Railsback).


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