Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Final Girl Film Club - Lifeforce

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

Houston, we have a problem. Space vampires.

Watching the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I wouldn't have imagined that director Tobe Hooper would go on to make a large scale science fiction film that begins in outer space. Hooper got his start with something so down and dirty and real, I would not have predicted that a film about space vampires wreaking supernatural havoc in London would be in his future. But a movie about space vampires, based on a novel by Colin Wilson, is exactly what Hooper chose to do when The Cannon Group made a three picture deal with him and then set him loose.

John Larroquette, who narrated the opening text crawl for Chainsaw, returned to deliver an opening narration for Hooper's Lifeforce, dumping exposition on the viewer to get us caught up on what's happening: the ship we see traveling through space is the HMS Churchill, which is carrying a joint British/American team and is headed out to intercept Halley's Comet. Larroquette even lets us know what sort of engine this space ship has.

As the Churchill nears its destination, the crew spots a massive alien ship hidden in the head of the comet. It's 150 miles long, 2 miles high, and somehow organic. The astronauts enter the ship to check it out and find thousands of dead, bat-like creatures... and three nude humanoids, sleeping inside clear pods. Two men and a woman. There's a touch of Alien to this sequence, and Lifeforce happens to have been co-written (with Death Wish 3's Don Jakoby) by Dan O'Bannon, who co-wrote Alien.

Lifeforce was released the same year as O'Bannon's feature directorial debut The Return of the Living Dead, which Hooper had previously been planning to direct himself.

The astronauts take the humanoids onto the HMS Churchill and head back toward Earth. Thirty days later, another space shuttle docks with the Churchill to find that those humanoids are the only fully intact beings left on the ship - the crew appears to have perished in a fire. When the astronauts from the other shuttle board the Churchill, one reports back home: "Houston, we have a problem." That line is among the most quoted movie lines ever, but not because of this film. It caught on when it was spoken in Apollo 13 ten years later. Of course, Lifeforce can't take much credit for beating Apollo 13 to the punch, because the line "Houston, we've had a problem" was actually spoken during the real Apollo 13 ordeal in 1970.

The humanoids are taken to London, where the majority of the film takes place. Not only did Hooper move on from making Texas Chainsaw Massacre to making a large scale sci-fi flick, he made his sci-flick British to boot.

While in the European Space Research Centre, the female humanoid springs to life. She is Mathilda May as Space Girl, and May is the primary reason why anyone remembers Lifeforce, because she performs all of her scenes in the nude. Even when she is seen with clothes on, those clothes quickly come off.

The Space Girl's male companions soon awaken as well, and the trio are revealed to be space vampires. They drain the lifeforce from their victims, represented with a dazzling electrical light show, leaving them desiccated husks... But their drained victims are still alive, having been turned into space vampires themselves. To regenerate, they will also need to find victims to drain the lifeforce from.

As the space vampires rampage through England, it is discovered that one Churchill crew member did survive - Steve Railsback as Colonel Tom Carlsen, who set the fire on the ship after all of the other crew members had been killed, then split in an escape pod. Now Carlsen finds that he has a psychic connection to the Space Girl, because she took her humanoid image from his subconscious. She is literally his dream girl, now in the flesh.

Carlsen desperately tries to stop the space vampires, but this mission is complicated by the fact that the space vampires can also inhabit other bodies. For a while, the Space Girl even takes up residence in the body of a doctor played by Patrick Stewart. When she exits his body in a flow of gravity-defying blood, Stewart is replaced by a very obvious dummy.

All of this craziness eventually builds up to a near-apocalyptic event on the streets of London, where almost the entire population has been turned into space vampires, and the ending isn't any more sane than anything that preceded it.

Lifeforce is a very strange film, and at 116 minutes it's way too long, but I do enjoy watching it despite thinking it should've moved at a quicker pace and had a good twenty minutes shaved off of it. Steve Railsback delivers a wonderfully intense performance, and the story is an interesting, unique take on the concepts of both vampires and alien invasions. Hooper opted out of directing Return of the Living Dead, but he still got to shoot some zombie mayhem for the Lifeforce climax - those space vampire Londoners look and behave very much like the walking dead.

Getting there can be dull at times, but the scope of the climax is mind-blowing. I still struggle to believe that this film came from the same director as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, even though we're in a time where we've seen the director of Dead-Alive make the Lord of the Rings films and the director of The Evil Dead make Spider-Man. I guess it's because the styles of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi are evident in everything they make, regardless of budget or genre, but some of Hooper's films feel completely separate from each other. There is no sign of Chainsaw in Lifeforce, and there's no sign of Lifeforce in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which was another of his Cannon collaborations.

Lifeforce isn't a movie I feel compelled to watch with any regularity, but every time I do revisit it I always find it to be terrifically confounding.

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