Tobe Hooper gets the Brits out for the lads in madcap 1980s space vampire flick Lifeforce

God bless Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. And God bless Cannon Films and whatever dealer provide the mountain of cocaine which fuelled the decision to make a film as silly and sexy and flat out bizarre as 1985’s “Lifeforce”. I mean, what’s not to love about space vampires? Especially naked space vampires.

The year is 1986 and the joint US/UK Space Shuttle Churchill is en route to rendezvous with Halley’s Comet when they discover a huge object masked in the comet’s corona. Changing course to intercept, they discover hundreds of desiccated bat-like creatures inside the structure, along with three humanoids in suspended animation chambers. On the return journey, however, mission control loses contact with the Churchill and a rescue mission is launched. The rescuers discover the Churchill empty and gutted by fire, with the escape pod missing. The three suspended animation chambers remain intact and so are brought back to Earth.

Powered by a bombastic, Holst-inspired score by Henry Mancini, “Lifeforce” is a barmy, camp and brilliant throwback to the classic days of Hammer Horror as Tobe Hooper gleefully plunders Colin Wilson’s original sci-fi novel, bringing the action to the present day and ensuring there’s plenty to feast the eyes on.

Nominally starring Steve Railsback as surviving astronaut Tom Carlsen and Peter Firth as Colonel Caine of the SAS, our two hapless leads are pushed into the background by the heavyweight British theatrical thesps who provide the supporting cast and the luminous Mathilda May as the lead Space Vampire who has little time for the societal norms such as not sucking the life force out of whoever you like or, you know, wearing clothes.

lifeforce mathilda may nudity

As eyecatching as Ms May is in the film – and as a sixteen-year-old seeing this film for the very first time the full frontal nudity certainly grabbed my, em, attention – there’s even more fun in seeing Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart and Peter Firth chewing the scenery as they desperately try to make the hokey script digestible.  

It borrows liberally from the plot of “Quatermass And The Pit” with top notes of Lovecraftian mythology and thanks to the copious nudity and obvious sexual subtext of vampirism, it’s hard not to read it as something of an early commentary on sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS in particular during those dark mid-eighties years.

While it’s corny and Hammer-esque in all the very best ways, it still looks fantastic (and no, I’m not still talking about Mathilda May) thanks to special effects maestro John Dykstra and some well-staged sequences showing London falling to cadaverous zombie-like vampire victims as the film reaches its messy conclusion.

“Lifeforce” is a spectacularly messy and uneven masterpiece of blood, sex, horror and sci-fi which manages to nevertheless to bring some new ideas to the very, very old vampire table and while it’s full of imperfections and oddities, somehow it just makes this rough diamond of a movie all the more alluring.

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