UTG’s 31 Days Of Halloween: ‘Lifeforce’

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Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the UTG staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of features and special announcements we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.

Now in its fourth year, 31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring feature that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this column is to supply every UTG reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you’ll follow along at home.

This year, the entire 31 Days series is dedicated to the memory of our friend, Justin Proper. We wouldn’t have a film department without him, and he specifically helped pioneer our involvement in the horror genre. Rest in peace, JP.

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Day 7: Lifeforce (1985)

What seems to be a common misconception about director Tobe Hooper’s oeuvre is that his films are permeated with scary realities and dour realizations. On the contrary, the man has and will always have his tongue firmly planted in cheek. Sure, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is all sorts of terrifying, but its follow-up is the direct antithesis to the original. Instead of making you stare in the face of disturbing madness like the original, it made you laugh along with the absurdity of a premise including Dennis Hopper chewing scenery and buying a bunch of chainsaws.

Anyway, moving on. Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, AKA Space Vampires, is the man at the top of his craft. Equal parts terrifying (partially due to top-notch makeup effects), dizzyingly bizzare and bitingly funny, Lifeforce is like an unapologetic genre rebuttal to a time when space epics and virus outbreak thrillers ran rampant through theaters.

It’s August 9, 1985 and the crew of the space shuttle Churchill have stumbled upon something weird. As they approach Hailey’s Comet, a 150-mile long alien spaceship is found at the tail. Inside that ship lay hundreds of shriveled-up, bat-like creatures and three naked human bodies (two male and one female). This strikes the astronauts as odd, so they take the bodies back to Earth for further inspection. Something is amiss though and the crew of the Churchill go radio silent on their return voyage. Another team gets to their craft and finds that everyone is shriveled-up (like someone sucked the juice out of them) and dead. So, that crew takes the still in-slumber naked humans back to Earth. Let’s just say that these three human-looking aliens feed off of the life of humans and this sends everyone in London into a fervor when they break loose and leave a trail of bodies behind them. Enter Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback), a member of the original Churchill crew, who is still alive after crash landing in Texas inside of an escape pod. His knowledge and weird psychic link with the female vampire (Mathilda May) is all the world has in the face of this new threat.

Doesn’t sound so funny, right? Well, think about it a bit more. A naked female vampire walks around befuddling doctors and plebes alike (all men, of course), and she sucks the life out of them once she’s in close proximity. The male gaze literally causes the death of most of the victims in the film. More than anything, Lifeforce depicts the human race as mammals almost totally incapable of comprehending what they’re up against, doing the only things that the human race tends to do in the face of danger: despair and shoot things. And to add to the irreverence that Hooper and his writers are going for, the vampires can only be destroyed by being impaled by a sword made of lead. A bit archaic, if you ask me.

Building upon the archaic is the best part about Lifeforce, though. By 1985, Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey had already redefined what sci-fi meant to cinema. Lifeforce is like the screwed up cousin of those films, thinking that what’s best for the sci-fi medium was more female breasts, vampires, explosions and gore. Hooper being the best person to deliver that kind of genre hodgepodge. We talk today about films being made up of different parts from earlier efforts. If anything, Lifeforce was tapping into the zeitgeist by exploiting outer space and sci-fi, and then exploiting the audience by inundating them with the kind of b-movie tropes that made people squirm at late-night drive-in showings of grindhouse horror. And with a heaping amount of style, if I might add.

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Lifeforce also happened to be a huge risk for producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, two men used to making smaller-budgeted exploitation films like Death Wish II and Chuck Norris-starrer The Delta Force. The budget was at 25 million dollars, much bigger than their previous productions. The production even ran out of money during shooting and had to halt until funds were acquired. TriStar Pictures, the distributor, ended up making almost no money because of terrible box office returns and that was after chopping down Hooper’s 128-minute cut to 101 minutes. The title was even changed from Space Vampires to Lifeforce when Cannon Films–Golan and Globus’ company–felt that the former title resembled their prior exploitation efforts more than a film that could reach a large audience.

Now, in 2015, the gorgeous Shout Factory Blu-ray is living proof that enormous amounts of money was funneled into the horror genre at one point in time. Horror auteurs like Tobe Hooper thrived in the ’70s and ’80s and Lifeforce is a genre artifact that hopefully won’t soon be forgotten. Also, watch out for a fun little Patrick Stewart cameo!

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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