Final Girl Film Club: LIFEFORCE
This is my first time participating in The Final Girl Film Club (part of Stacy Ponder's wonderful blog - lots of commentary on horror films, the occasional interview, and a continuing webseries, GHOSTELLA'S HAUNTED TOMB - dammit, go check it out now!), so I will hopefully keep the quality high.
I'm also somewhat lazy, as the film chosen for the month was one that I'd already seen and commented on a couple of years ago on my blog... although looking back at it, I spent a lot more time with its counterpart film; very entertaining, but it does go somewhat off-topic for our purposes today.
So... LIFEFORCE. Here's a good portion of my original intro:
POLTERGEIST was supposed to have elevated director Tobe Hooper from the muck of "horror director" into the A-list of directors - it had all of the right elements - a good cast, lots and lots of special effects and a story that was a thrill-a-minute roller coaster ride -- that it all really didn't make a whole lot of sense when you sat down and analyzed it was immaterial to an audience wanting to have the crap scared out of it. POLTERGEIST made tons of money in the Summer of '82, but it didn't do a thing for Hooper - the project was produced by Steven Spielberg (some would allege, creatively directed by him) and since the film used major elements of Spielberg's oevure, Spielberg got most of the credit for the picture's success and Hooper got the end of a buzzsaw.
When Hooper entered into a deal with Cannon Pictures, the first film he made "could" be seen as a response to the POLTERGEIST experience - a sci-fi/horror picture freed from the cuddly restraints of Spielberg, yet could function on that grand scale (distinguished cast, a thrill-ride story, and - again - lots and lots of State Of The Art effects)...
That was LIFEFORCE.
And the general audience at the time promptly responded, "What the Fuck?!", apparently not ready for an adaptation of Colin Wilson's THE SPACE VAMPIRES done as a slightly tongue-in-cheek homage to Hammer Studios' brand of grand scale sci-fi horror, with lots of sexual subtext, and best of all, French actress Matilda May making her American movie debut as a hot alien babe sucking the life out of people and traipsing around naked for the first 1/3rd of the movie.
So, what's not to like about this film?
Taking a recent look at it, one finds a hell of a lot to admire about it, beyond the obvious. First of all, the movie is serious. By "serious", I mean that the filmmakers never wink knowingly at the audience, no matter how absurd the situations appear... especially since there is a lot of sexual content and nudity in the film. They pretty much get as much bang for the buck as far as nudity goes, but it really doesn't register as gratuitous...
I do say that there is a certain tongue-in-cheek quality, but that goes to the type of filmmaking - If you've seen a lot of Hammer Films, you'll recognize it - from the look of the cinematography, to the lushness of Henry Mancini's score (seemingly a strange choice, but it makes sense when you learn that Mancini cut his teeth making music for some of the famous '50's monster movies like IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE...). Fans of Nigel Kneale's QUATERMASS series may also get a warm feeling, since the movie is pretty much a Quatermass story gone giddy.
That also extends to the acting, with most of the British cast playing the story as high drama, and Steve Railsback chewing up the scenery as he portrays a man in the throes of sexual obsession attempting to save the world - the best scene he has is with a pre-STAR TREK Patrick Stewart in one of the most twisted interrogation scenes put on film.
The special effects, pre-CGI and state-of-the-art for 1985, still hold up nicely onscreen.
(And, I'm assuming that if you're watching this on DVD, then you're watching the original, international cut of the film. For release in America, the movie was slightly altered - restructuring the beginning sequence and adding more SPFX corpses as London begins to feel the effects of the invasion. As far as I'm aware, that version is only on VHS.)
LIFEFORCE goes places where not many mainstream horror films would dare, for fear of being just too out there... well, I think one has attempted and, like LIFEFORCE, will eventually get its due. It's probably the best of Hooper's 80s films (followed by TCM:2, and THE FUNHOUSE), but its crash and burn at the box office, pretty much ensured that it'd be awhile before Hooper worked at that level again.