Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby had to have been smoking some good stuff when they sat down to adapt Colin Wilson’s novel, The Space Vampires, into the genre mishmash that became Tobe Hooper’s love-it or hate-sci-fi/horror opus, Lifeforce. While Wilson’s novel was by no means a pedestrian vampire tale, Lifeforce took it to a whole new level, upping the ante in terms of sex, violence, and, in an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink finale, zombies! Sadly, this big-budget horror tour-de-force was mostly reviled by critics and ignored by audiences. Still, the film was big and brash, and became the stuff of legend for horny teenage boys thanks to the gratuitous nude scenes featuring the physically perfect specimen of womanhood that was Mathilda May. This gave the film a second lease on life when it hit the home video market, and, in the years since, the film has amassed quite the cult following.
Lifeforce opens with the international crew of the space shuttle Churchill investigating a massive derelict spaceship hidden within the trail of Halley’s Comet. The crew discovers a chamber containing the dried out husks of bizarre bat creatures surrounding a trio of crystalline coffins containing the bodies of three porcelain skinned humanoids. The crew pack up their preserved find and begin the trip back to Earth, but, en route, mission control loses contact with the Churchill, and a rescue team is sent to investigate whereupon they discover the burnt-out shell of the Churchill, its crew presumed incinerated, but the precious cargo mysteriously intact.
The three extraterrestrial beings- a female (May) and two males) are brought back to Earth where they are placed under the care and watchful eye of doctors Bukovski (Michael Gothard) and Fallada (Frank Finlay) where, assumed dead, they will be autopsied. However, when the female alien awakens, devours the “life force” of one of the guards, and walks out of the facility naked as a jaybird, Bukovski and Fallada are forced to contend with the fact that they are not only dealing with a rogue alien lifeform on Earth, but one that consumes the very essence of life from others. Further complicating matters is the fact that it is soon discovered that the aliens are also capable of altering their appearance to mirror that of the victim whose life force they’ve ingested!
Meanwhile, an escape pod from the Churchill crash lands in the ocean containing the ill-fated shuttle’s lone survivor, Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback). Carlsen is immediately debriefed by both the U.S. government and the British secret service agent, Colin Caine (Peter Firth), where it’s determined that the traumatized astronaut shares something of a psychic link with the escaped alien. Despite being worse for wear, he’s whisked off to England to assist in the search, but it soon becomes apparent that Carlsen’s bond with the beautiful vampiress could prove to be more curse than blessing as another mysterious vessel approaches the Earth.
I first saw Lifeforce in theaters back upon its release in 1985, and I wasn’t remotely prepared for what I’d witnessed. With its soul-sucking vamps, shambling zombies, and the all-consuming awesomeness that is Mathilda May’s perfectly sculpted nude body, Lifeforce overwhelmed my fragile adolescent psyche, but, despite it not really making a lick of sense to me back then, I still loved every insane second of it. When I revisited it on VHS, a bit older, wiser, and hornier, I fell in love with the movie all over again, and that love has only grown stronger to this day. Sure, under greater scrutiny things make even less sense, and some of the FX don’t hold up (although much of it still does), but Lifeforce is still fun, sexy, and entertaining-as-all-get-out.
Lifeforce was announced as one of Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition titles many months back, and, save for their upcoming Collector’s Edition of John Carpenter’s The Fog, this was the release I was most looking forward to. I’m happy to say that Scream Factory does not disappoint.
The film is presented in a gorgeous 2.35:1 transfer overseen by Hooper, himself, and the result is a much more vibrant and colorful version of the film than I’ve seen before. The newly enhanced colors pop off of the screen, with lively blues and hot reds, as well as nicely balanced flesh tones and deep, rich blacks. In terms of sharpness, the film’s 80’s aesthete masks some of the detail, but the image is still extremely crisp at times, and has a near tangible three dimensional quality that’s most evident in the opening and ending FX-heavy sequences. The film offers two sound options; a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track and a more period friendly 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio option, but, despite my usual purist tendencies, I actually found myself enjoying the heck out of the new 5.1 mix as it’s a wonderfully balanced and immersive affair, replete with all manner of well-implemented directional cues and environmental effects.
The 2 Disc presentation is loaded with extra goodies, including an all-new commentary feauting Hooper and director/fan, Tim Sullivan, that’s an absolute blast of a listen. Sullivan serves as a moderator here but the track is much more in line with a fan meeting an idol and asking pointed questions about their work, and Hooper seems genuinely engaged.
A second commentary features make-up artist, Nick Maley, and moderator, Michael Felcher. This track offers a more technical look at the film’s practical make-up effects, as well as reminisces about other work in Maley’s long career.
In addition to the commentaries, we get an assortment of fun and informative featurettes (in HD) including;
Dangerous Beauty with Mathilda May – A lengthy interview with the still-gorgeous actress, who seems both proud of and slightly embarrassed by the…umm…revealing nature of her role in the film.
Space Vampires in London with Tobe Hooper – This featurette offers more interview time with Hooper, covering his attraction to the property, the development of the film, and his feelings on its legacy.
Carlsen's Curse with Steve Railsback – This interview segment with Railsback offers a revealing look at the actor’s post-Helter Skelter career, and how it essentially led to his being pigeonholed as Hollywood’s go-to “crazy” despite heroic, leading-man quality turns in films like woefully underrated The Stunt Man.
Rounding out the extras are the Vintage Making of Lifeforce Featurette, trailers, TV spot, and a stills gallery (HD). We’re also given a DVD version of the film, as well as Scream Factory’s patented reversible cover (featuring all-new artwork and the film’s original poster art on the reverse).
Lifeforce always struck me as sort of a cross between an early-70s Hammer Horror flick and a 1950s sci-fi schlock fest, and, if you know anything about me, you’d know that said combination is right up my alley. It’s a treat to finally have the film on Blu-ray, and Scream Factory’s excellent presentation makes this one of the “must buy” releases of the year for fans! Highest recommendations!