Review: Lifeforce (Blu-ray)

2013/06/20 19:30:25 +00:00 | Derek Botelho

Director Tobe Hooper made quite a name for himself in the 70's and 80's with horror films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Funhouse, Salem's Lot and Poltergeist. I'm sure he surprised many fans following up a “family friendly” blockbuster like Poltergeist with a sci-fi film that was anything but. Based on the novel The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson, Lifeforce is a strange tale of intergalactic visitors who seduce and destroy everything in their path.

On a voyage to study Haley's Comet, a space crew headed by Colonel Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback) discover a space vessel inhabited by giant bat-like creatures and decide to take a specimen back to Earth. When a shuttle is sent from Earth to retrieve the team, they discover the crew is missing and the shuttle they were in is burned to a crisp. The rescue team stumbles upon the source of the destruction: one female (Mathilda May) and two males asleep in what appear to be crystal coffins. Once these beings are brought back to Earth for further study, all hell breaks loose and London pays a dear price for mankind's curiosity of the outer reaches of space. Along the way there are murders, a strange romance, and a fairly ripping action yarn. It's a film that is more stew than meat and one hell of a ride.

A film full of odd characters and interesting actors portraying them, Railsback and May as the literal “star crossed lovers” give the film its humanity. Frank Finlay is fantastic as Dr. Hans Fallada, who steals the show in every scene as a force to be reckoned with for the human and alien counterparts. Patrick Stewart and Aubrey Morris are here in smaller roles and part of this film's fun is just to spot all the familiar faces. A fun side note on the actors: keep an ear out for what sounds to be John Larroquette doing the opening narration as he did in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

If nothing else, Lifeforce is a great looking film. Shot in beautiful anamorphic scope, cinematographer Alan Hume's images have a striking depth. Even the heavily processed opticals in the opening of the film have a stunningly surreal quality. The Blu-ray/DVD combo from Scream Factory should make any sci-fi fan happy. To my eyes, this is close to reference material for a film of this vintage. The film's dark scenes look as nice as the brighter ones, with a near constant use of beautiful, bright colors that leap off the screen. Detail is impressive in everything, from skin to hair, to the explosions and rotoscoped animated effects. The film's audio fares just as well, with an extremely aggressive and active surround mix. From the opening with Mancini's orchestral score, the sound is flying everywhere as it should.

Scream Factory has done the fans well with this release, which includes an extended cut of the film and a nice package of extras. Included is a commentary with Hooper, a few trailers, a stills gallery and a vintage 1985 making of piece, which is quite interesting from a production standpoint. The usual assortment of Red Shirt Pictures-produced interview segments consist of three new chats with Tobe Hooper, Mathilda May and Steve Railsback.

After the success of Poltergeist, Hooper took quite a long hiatus and returned with a ridiculously ambitious sci-fi epic in Lifeforce. A strange blend of Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires and Ridley Scott's Alien (also co-written by Dan O'Bannon), with a truly 1980's aesthetic, it's a grab bag of ideas. Most will remember Mathilda May's constant nude presence and the film's multitude of special effects and action sequences, but it's the convoluted plot and loopy characters that keep the film afloat for me. Truly kitchen sink filmmaking, Lifeforce is a polarizing genre classic sure to continue to entertain for its bounty of well, everything! The next time you go looking for Haley's comet, beware!

Film Score: 3/5 Disc Score: 4/5