Friday, August 14, 2015

Lifeforce (1985)

The most expensive British made movie at the time of its production, Lifeforce seemed to have everything going for it: a name American director in Tobe Hooper, who had successfully graduated from the cult horror hit The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to helming a major Hollywood hit with Poltergeist, a cult favourite novel - Colin Wilson's The Space Vampires - as a source, and a cast of reliable British actors including Peter Firth and Frank Finlay.  But somewhere along the way something went very, very wrong.  Maybe its the ludicrous dialogue, ('That's rather unfortunate', muses the Prime Minister, after hearing that the Home Secretary has been killed by space vampires), perhaps it is the wild overacting of the likes of Frank Finlay and, well, everyone else, or maybe the shaky characterisations (Firth's SAS officer stalks around London in a raincoat behaving more like a Scotland Yard Inspector in an Agatha Christie novel than a soldier), but the whole thing is hilariously and gloriously funny.

Everything is so misjudged and over-the-top - the main female character (European art house favourite Mathilda May) spend the entire film stark bollocking naked, for instance, (leading to suggestions that they should simply have called the film Nude Vampire Girl from Outer Space).  The meandering plot, which encompasses an ill-fated space mission to investigate Halley's Comet, the nude space vampire invasion, and a lengthy diversion to a lunatic asylum amongst other things, really doesn't help.  Whilst, like the source novel, the film is clearly trying to pay homage to Bram Stoker's Dracula with many of its set pieces and plot developments, they are poorly structured, often leaving the viewer somewhat bewildered as to what's going on in the middle portion of the film.  That said, it rallies toward the end, with a spectacular climax set in Central London which resembles the finale of Hammer's 1967 film adaptation of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass and the Pit to an actionable degree.

None of it makes much sense, but it is hugely entertaining.  To be fair, the film's narrative problems were exacerbated by pre-release editing which removed several explanatory scenes - these were restored for some of the subsequent VHS/DVD releases.  I've seen two different edits on UK TV showings - the longer version does make slightly more sense.  On the film's plus side, the big budget is clearly in evidence, with excellent special effects and production values.  If only they'd been backed up by surer direction and a better script, Lifeforce might have become a British science fiction classic.  As it stands, it's a wonderfully camp piece of entertainment, which is well worth watching.



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