Combustible Celluloid
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With: Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard, Nicholas Ball, Aubrey Morris, Nancy Paul, John Hallam, John Keegan, Chris Jagger, Bill Malin, Jerome Willis, Derek Benfield
Written by: Dan O'Bannon, Don Jakoby, based on a novel by Colin Wilson
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 116
Date: 06/21/1985

Lifeforce (1985)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Space Vampires

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Tobe Hooper is, sadly, mostly out of work these days, even though he made the ultra-successful horror movies The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist once upon a time. But in the mid-1980s, he was given a very nice three-picture deal with Cannon Films to make The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, a remake of Invaders from Mars, and the amazing Lifeforce. At the time, none of these films generated much love, but they're now fairly interesting, especially Lifeforce.

A kind of outer space version of Dracula, the movie begins when the space shuttle Churchill finds a huge spaceship hidden inside a comet. Inside, they find several dead bodies, plus three perfectly preserved ones -- two men and a woman -- in hibernation. The shuttle suffers an unfortunate "accident," and the three figures wind up on earth. The female, an astoundingly beautiful specimen (played by French actress Mathilda May), awakens and effortlessly enchants the doctor that has been charged with looking after her; she sucks his life force from him.

She escapes and becomes a shape-shifter, disappearing into the English countryside. Meanwhile, Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback) has survived the shuttle accident and is likewise brought to London. Nobody believes his story until the space girl begins leaving behind a trail of destruction, and then he's enlisted to find her and stop her. Patrick Stewart co-stars, kicking off a long association with sci-fi.

Aside from the usual destruction and gore, Hooper chooses to concentrate on the pain of desire. Carlsen has had a taste of the space girl and can never have her, and nothing else anywhere on earth will ever satisfy this craving. (Let's face it: May was gorgeous enough to make this notion totally believable.) That's almost worse than getting your soul sucked out. Indeed, Hooper really seems invested in this one, taking time to set up vivid and striking widescreen compositions, underlining distance between characters. Henry Mancini adds to the mood with his energetic score.

Opening opposite Ron Howard's Cocoon in the summer of 1985, it was an undeserved flop. Seen today, it's actually an astoundingly brave, weird movie that tries more and accomplishes more than many of today's bland roller coaster rides. It received a Blu-ray release in 2013.

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