Release Date(s)1985 (June 18, 2013)
Studio(s)Cannon (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
There is a difference, however slight, between going over the top and careening completely off the rails. Often, the difference is just a matter of perception. If you can lock on to a movie’s wavelength, you just strap in and enjoy the ride. But if you can’t, look out below. All of this may help explain the polarized reactions to Tobe Hooper’s gonzo horror/sci-fi extravaganza Lifeforce.
Steve Railsback stars as the commander of a joint British-American expedition to Halley’s Comet. They discover an alien spacecraft hidden inside the comet’s coma and plan an EVA for a closer look. Inside, they discover the corpses of bizarre bat-like creatures and three nude humanoids, two male and one female (Mathilda May), in crystalline suspended animation. Naturally, they haul the three naked bodies on board their own ship.
Months later, their space shuttle reenters Earth’s orbit with all hands on board dead and the three naked bodies still tucked in their see-through sarcophagi. After arriving on Earth, May wakes up and sucks the lifeforce out of a security guard, reducing him to a withered husk, and escapes. Is the guard dead? Not quite. Two hours later, he revives and repeats the process. While scientist Frank Finlay and special forces operative Peter Firth (and the audience) try to figure out what’s going on, they receive word that Railsback managed to get off the shuttle in an escape pod. He’s rushed to London to help battle the space vampires and save the world.
On paper, none of this may sound all that exceptional, especially if you’ve seen a lot of horror and science fiction movies. It’s Hooper’s execution of the material that pitches it into the stratosphere. Blue sparks shoot out of people’s eyes and mouths, bodies explode into dust, blood flows out of Patrick Stewart’s head to form an ectoplasmic vision of May’s naked Space Girl, and this all crescendos to a full-on apocalypse in the streets of London. Hooper utilizes a hyper-stylized color palette that increases the intensity of even the quietest scenes. And nobody seems to be all that concerned about making this coherent. Once one set-piece hits its climax, Hooper just cranks up the volume and moves on to the next.
The wildness extends to the performances. Steve Railsback is one of those actors who seems on the verge of a post-traumatic-stress-induced breakdown even when he’s just ordering coffee. Here, he’s so intense that at times he seems like he’s going to vibrate right off the screen. Mathilda May won instant cult status for her mostly silent, mostly naked performance and rightly so. She’s beautiful, uninhibited and eerily graceful, gliding untouched through the chaos surrounding her. And Peter Firth, who I guess is meant to be the hero of the piece, is weirdly ineffectual. He shows up acting like a bad-ass, immediately asserting his authority, yet everyone around him reacts with an expression like, “And who are you, exactly?”
Scream Factory knocks it out of the park with their Collector’s Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack, erasing all memories of MGM’s shoddy late-90s DVD. The movie looks absolutely spectacular, awash in vibrant color and fabulous detail. The Blu-ray includes both the original theatrical cut as well as Hooper’s preferred extended version (the DVD includes only the extended cut). Audio is a punchy 5.1 DTS-HD mix that sells the mayhem quite nicely.
The terrific set of bonus features start off with a pair of fine audio commentaries, the first with Tobe Hooper in conversation with Tim Sullivan and the second with special make-up effects designer Nick Maley, moderated by Michael Felsher. You get three new interview featurettes with Steve Railsback, Tobe Hooper and, best of all, Mathilda May. A vintage making-of featurette is included, as well as an extensive still gallery, theatrical trailers and the original TV spot. All in all, a top-notch selection of material.
It’s easy to find fault with Lifeforce. As a piece of coherent storytelling, it’s a bit of a mess. But as an exercise in unhinged mayhem, it’s a hoot and a half. For my money, it’s one of the most batshit-crazy, purely entertaining movies of Tobe Hooper’s schizophrenic career. And as a Blu-ray release, it’s one of the very best Scream Factory releases to date. It should go a long way toward introducing this unique cult classic to a new and appreciative audience.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke