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Tobe Hooper's "Lifeforce"
February 6, 2012 9:49 PM   Subscribe

... it’s no exaggeration to say that LIFEFORCE tosses everything in but the kitchen in an attempt to entertain you. Actually, scratch that, it tosses everything including the kitchen sink. By the time the movie is complete, you may have to watch it again just to verify that you actually saw what you just saw. The movie is a mess of enormous proportions which I absolutely loved.* (previously)

The unforgettable Mathilda May has worked steadily in French film and television to the present day. Here she performs her self-described "funk" single "If you miss..."
posted by Trurl (59 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
SPOILER...vampires are aliens (with a matriarchal hive mind/society?) who steal our life-force and beam it back to their mothership.

From the * review: "I don't even know if I could call this movie a good one or a bad one, it's too ridiculous to even judge."

I don't agree with that reviewer at all. This movie falls squarely into the Bad category. I'm finding it hard to pinpoint what you would even consider the redeeming qualities in this film.
posted by PJLandis at 9:58 PM on February 6, 2012


did the reviewers try pausing it and using the Konami code
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:02 PM on February 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


I saw it in the theater when it came out, and Mathilda drained some of my life force, for sure. (I was, what, 18 or something.) I remember enjoying the show, even if it was WTF if you tried to think about it at all.
posted by maxwelton at 10:03 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I liked this at the time, but that was also the time when getting to see a woman walk around naked was a big deal, so you know...
posted by stinkycheese at 10:09 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even with the pathologically lowered standards of a Lovecraft nerd, willing to sing the praises any old shite displaying the slightest tinge of cosmic dread, the merits of this film completely elude me*. Colin Wilson apparently felt the same...

Tobe Hooper directed the film Lifeforce, based on Wilson's novel The Space Vampires. After its release, Colin Wilson recalled that author John Fowles regarded the film adaptation of Fowles' own novel The Magus as the worst film adaptation of a novel ever. Wilson told Fowles there was now a worse one, the film adaption of Lifeforce.

Still, the same allure that's kept the book on my reading list for years is what keeps driving me back to watch this fucking disaster time and again. It's a lot like David Lynch's Dune IMO, utterly terrible as a beginning-to-end viewing experience, yet weirdly captivating in brief snippets. And just as with Dune, it could probably be edited down into a serviceable story if someone were so inclined.


* apart from the bewbs lol
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 10:16 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll happily exchange the the time I spent watching sparkly vampires and pedo-wolves for time spent watching alien vampires, actually I've never watched the pedo-wolves episode but your welcome to the sparkly vampires.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:17 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I got the feeling, after watching this in the theater, that Tobe Hooper saw Alien and was sincerely offended that someone besides him got the idea to do a haunted-house/monster in space film, so he decided to do his own, only substituting a naked alien vampire woman for the xenomorph. And, of course, zombie-vampire-mummy things. And, of course, Patrick Stewart being possessed by the naked alien vampire woman in a super-creepy scene. And all this, of course, goes a long way toward explaining why Tobe Hooper isn't Ridley Scott.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:27 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love this movie, and I don't care who knows it. It's got that 80s quality of just going for it that movies since lack, and is just fun, which "greater" movies lately just lack. Plus, I bet you that you'd never get a movie made now that had one of the main characters totally nude for a good chunk. Even sex comedies now are pretty prudish.
posted by usagizero at 10:29 PM on February 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


Man, I loved this book! Is there a better title than, "Space Vampires"? And the notion of there being energy vampires who could, if they chose, just take some of your energy, and not kill you, and that, if you could learn to do this too you might live forever (or a long, long time) is, well, was, appealing to my younger self. I think I saw the movie and hated it but will have to give it another shot, cause this post is making it sound at least interesting if not good.
posted by Hobgoblin at 10:43 PM on February 6, 2012


It's a lot like David Lynch's Dune IMO, utterly terrible as a beginning-to-end viewing experience

I think in order to find David Lynch's Dune a disaster you likely have to be familiar with the book and not too warm to Lynch's "storytelling." I haven't read the book, and I could see how following the Elephant Man people might have expected something different from him (maybe a little more straightforward), but to me Dune was visual stunning and dreamlike and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Life Force though....
posted by Hoopo at 10:47 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a monster movie where the monster is a naked woman. That is its awfulness, that is its greatness.
posted by Superfrankenstein at 10:49 PM on February 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


The disconcerting thing about Sir Patrick Stewart's appearance in this ancient, ancient movie is that it was released only two years before the debut of TNG.

Small wonder he thought to himself, "maybe I'll do that ridiculous series for a year before it fails."
posted by bicyclefish at 10:49 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Regardless of this films merits (or lack thereof), please do not call this movie I saw in the theater 'ancient'. Thank you.
posted by KHAAAN! at 10:52 PM on February 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


Quatermass and the Pit, anyone? (Google video)

I'm seconding on the Lifeforce love -- it's a marvelous send up (and even an improvement) of old Hammer tropes and better than the John Carpenter tribute (trailer).
posted by vhsiv at 11:04 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


This movie was a disaster, yes. But what a wonderful disaster it is. It is so blessedly free of irony, so sincere, so earnest in its ridiculousness. I pity the people who cannot appreciate this kind of entertainment.

There is a scene, maybe a third of the way in, where some recently awakened naked space vampires (males, this time) have just been blown to bits by a soldier's hand grenade. One of the lead characters grimly notes the carnage, then gives an order to another soldier to 'gather the pieces and watch them.'
posted by KHAAAN! at 11:04 PM on February 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


There is a scene, maybe a third of the way in, where some recently awakened naked space vampires (males, this time) have just been blown to bits by a soldier's hand grenade. One of the lead characters grimly notes the carnage, then gives an order to another soldier to 'gather the pieces and watch them.'
posted by The Tensor at 11:18 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The whole fucking world is eaten by space alien vampires. The final half hour is total vampiric apocalypse. It's what the Blood God in Blade was supposed to be, instead of just being Stephen Dorff with red eyes.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:21 PM on February 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't care what anyone says, I uave always loved this movie. It falls into this weird no man's land of film: too good to be a B movie, yet not good enough to be a legitimate feature. Whatever. I will happily watch this movie anytime its on the TV and hope for an eventual Blu-Ray release.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:26 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


LIFEFORCE is my all-time guilty pleasure movie, (am referring to the 116 minute British version of course - from IMDB: "Original unedited European version contains more violent and erotic footage Tri-Star Pictures cut from the domestic version.").

I love the epic scopeness of it all. We travel all the way from outer-space, to mist-bound foggy parks in the morn, to asylums for the criminally insane, to the secret war-rooms of the vampire Prime Minister and finally to the end of the world. And all the time the seriousness of it, the gob-smacking, "gentlemen this is a D-notice situation", seriousness of it it. LIFEFORCE has a tone like no other film.

And Mathilda May.

Walking around nude.

For what seems like forever.
posted by jettloe at 11:55 PM on February 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


better than the John Carpenter tribute

You take that back about Prince of Darkness. ;) It's one of my favorite Carpenter films, and while not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but the transmissions into the dreams was and is one of the scariest things to me for some reason. Never fully explained, changing as they go, creepy visions of "something" very bad coming, and that it's just left there, not over worked. It also was one of the first movies i watched with my ex, and she had never seen it before, (horror fan though) and that ending freaked her out. Like you expect something else, but it just lets your imagination go wild.

The final half hour is total vampiric apocalypse. It's what the Blood God in Blade was supposed to be,

Someone correct me if i'm wrong, but wasn't the 80s the last time we really had vampire bad guys? At least in the "we're fucked if they win" sense. Since, there are more protagonist vampires, and ones that we are supposed to feel for and like. Granted, i "liked" Mathilda a lot, heh, i knew she had to be stopped. I know it's expensive to show that level of apocalypse, but i agree too, it does show a very "fucked" world that a lot of other movies don't.
posted by usagizero at 12:18 AM on February 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Henry Mancini's opening theme to Lifeforce is simply fantastic, one of my all-time favorites (it was, among his film scores, Mancini's favorite as well).
posted by Auden at 1:12 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Someone correct me if i'm wrong, but wasn't the 80s the last time we really had vampire bad guys? At least in the 'we're fucked if they win' sense."

Not in terms of an apocalypse, no, but in the original 1992 Buffy movie there were no vampire protagonists1 and they were unambiguously evil.

1. Unless you count the vampire Paul Reubens played as a protagonist, which, as a matter of fact, I do.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:34 AM on February 7, 2012


Aaaah, Lifeforce.
In my earlier, headier days of alcoholism, I had developed quite the nasty habit of downloading movies I have since described as "incredibad." Movies both so incredible, and so bad, that the two adjectives merge together and become an amalgamation; they are both pleasure and pain. So awful, so horrid as to cross the threshold and transcend into beauty. These movies, normally the purview of MST3K, and later, RiffTrax, were laid bare, free of their ironic commentary, before my slobbering self.
Lifeforce is one of those movies. Perhaps even THE movie. Before this post, I'd forgotten that I'd seen it. An occupational hazard, to be sure.
Fermented, distilled, whichever you prefer, it was the heart of incidental entertainment. It is its own Trolls 2.
Ladies and gentlemen...this is why the Internet exists.
posted by GoingToShopping at 1:38 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


The disconcerting thing about Sir Patrick Stewart's appearance in this ancient, ancient movie is that it was released only two years before the debut of TNG.

It was also Patrick Stewart's first on-screen kiss. That Steve Railsback is a lucky guy!
posted by tzikeh at 2:04 AM on February 7, 2012


I pity the people who cannot appreciate this kind of entertainment.

Yeah, my thoughts exactly...

I watched it again pretty recently and it was just glorious. I particularly appreciate that there's at least half a dozen different genres and sub-genres in there. And tits*.

*I remember a quote from Tobe Hooper in some film book that the reason Mathilda was naked was because he could not think of any logical reason why she would be wearing clothes. OK, fine Tobe, carry on...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:32 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder why Wilson named one of his characters in ‘The Space Vampires’ after a German novelist.
posted by misteraitch at 2:33 AM on February 7, 2012


I pity the people who cannot appreciate this kind of entertainment.
Yeah, my thoughts exactly...

Ditto. And not forgetting the deapan humour, such as Caine's "I'm a natural voyeur" line, and the exchange at the gate as he drives into the infested city:

Soldier: "You don't want to go in there, sir"
Caine: (gloomily) "I know I don't." (goes in)
posted by raygirvan at 3:07 AM on February 7, 2012


I'm finding it hard to pinpoint what you would even consider the redeeming qualities in this film.

Jean-Luc Picard Headsplode.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:06 AM on February 7, 2012


Lifeforce is awesome on every level. I'm sort of surprised it has such a bad rap. Between the guy dessicating on the table and the other guy saying "OH GOD, HERE I GO" before zapping off, it's pretty damned memorable and entertaining.

I also like Hooper's Invaders from Mars. So does my old roommate. We are the two people who like that movie.

As for Prince of Darkness, it has its moments, but it has absolutely nothing on an actual Nigel Kneale story.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:09 AM on February 7, 2012


to the secret war-rooms of the vampire Prime Minister

All awesome text descriptions need a time-coded YT link.
posted by DU at 4:44 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think in order to find David Lynch's Dune a disaster you likely have to be familiar with the book and not too warm to Lynch's "storytelling."

I'd actually lean the other way on that.

The thing about Dune (the book) is that it got its reputation as a sci-fi classic largely because of its phenomenal amount of detail. Frank Herbert didn't just create angry guys with knives on a desert planet, he created a whole freakin' ECOSYSTEM to support them. Among other things.

Pretty much by definition, a film version of Dune is horribly abbreviated from that standpoint unless it's both an amazing screenplay and fourteen hours long. Lynch's version was neither even before it was chopped down to a mainstream-friendly length. The end result is that if you were familiar with the book, you'd recognize scenes, characters, places, etc. and could run down a mental master list of Things From The Book that needed to at least make cameos. Nearly every minute violated the "show, don't tell" mantra, but you could at least have a rough idea of what the hell was actually going on. If you hadn't read the book, I cannot imagine leaving the theater without needing both a refund and a stiff drink. Sensory overload.

Which is sort of like the Lifeforce experience, except then it's sensory overload coupled with Mathilda May full frontal for half the film.
posted by delfin at 4:53 AM on February 7, 2012


I remember a quote from Tobe Hooper in some film book that the reason Mathilda was naked was because he could not think of any logical reason why she would be wearing clothes.

I saw that quote too. In an issue of Cinefantastique, perhaps.

Sure, he might have succeeded had he tried harder. But aren't we glad he didn't?
posted by Trurl at 5:26 AM on February 7, 2012


he created a whole freakin' ECOSYSTEM to support them

I've never understood the love for Dune on this point. The "ecosystem" of Dune consists of: sand, spice, worms, people and about 3 drops of water. That's it. It's claustrophobic, which is weird in a book that takes place on an entire planet.
posted by DU at 5:28 AM on February 7, 2012


I also saw a quote from Mathilda May saying "You know, it's not really sexy walking around completely naked."

I beg to differ, Mademoiselle. I most emphatically differ!
posted by Trurl at 5:31 AM on February 7, 2012


I have very fond memories of this film for the usual reasons about Mathilda, but also because - many, many years before I got to see the film - I had obtained as a child a well-read copy of the kind of magazine one reads for the articles, called "Knave" - soft-porn by today's standards - which contained a feature on Lifeforce. Through the magic of the Internet I discovered that the feature was written by none other than Neil Gaiman (Magazine cover in link, potentially NSFW).

(I finally popped my MeFi cherry and signed up to post this so if I've violated any etiquette somehow I apologise.)
posted by WastedTruth at 5:44 AM on February 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


There's a a clear path in Lifeforce (and Alien, as well as piles of other spooky space movies) back to one of the movies that changed my childhood—Terrore Nello Spazio, or Planet of Vampires, as it was retitled in the US. It's stylish, sexy, ominous, and sticks around in the back of your brain long after you've seen it.

For the record, I was the third person who like the 1986 Invaders From Mars, which had an insane cast (Karen Black AND Louise Fletcher, for chrissakes), great art direction, and the best puppet monster soldiers since the Garthim.
posted by sonascope at 5:48 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also liked Hooper's Invaders From Mars, but then I haven't seen it since about 1987. Y'know what other terrible movie I genuinely love? Dreamcatcher. I think that fits pretty well with Lifeforce in the genre of SF/horror-hybrids-that-are-so-weird-you-can't-believe-they-were-released-by-major-studios. Also Dune is a good movie and I will fight you (but not argue the point because I have nothing to back up that assertion.)
posted by jessenoonan at 5:52 AM on February 7, 2012


I recently tried a different food for the kitties. I suppose I should have considered the tie-in with the lifesource bits because this household hasn't been the same since. Lifesource?Lifefource.
posted by mightshould at 5:52 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought I was alone in reading the book and watching the film. The internet proves that you are NEVER alone in anything. The thing I recall is that all the actors seemed to have such conviction in reading their lines and the criticism of Siskel and Ebert of how a population that survived the blitz and the horror of Hitler could possibly be so panicked by the vampire apocalypse.
posted by jadepearl at 5:55 AM on February 7, 2012


For one thing, Hitler was wearing clothes.
posted by subbes at 5:59 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


For one thing, Hitler was wearing clothes.

Teach the controversy.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:08 AM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


All awesome text descriptions need a time-coded YT link.

Particularly so if they involve Patrick Stewart gay-kissing someone.
posted by mediareport at 6:35 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait, people think Invaders from Mars is a BAD movie? I think a Tobe Hooper FPP is due on the Blue soon. The man is a more intellectually honest version of Steven Spielberg as far as I'm concerned. There are people who make movies who don't feel that their work needs to be validated with Oscars, you know.
posted by KingEdRa at 7:01 AM on February 7, 2012


"I recently tried a different food for the kitties. I suppose I should have considered the tie-in with the lifesource bits because this household hasn't been the same since. Lifesource?Lifefource."

Oh God, that's the food our kitties eat, that explains many things
posted by HopperFan at 7:26 AM on February 7, 2012


From the * review: "I don't even know if I could call this movie a good one or a bad one, it's too ridiculous to even judge."

I reviewed LIFEFORCE back in the day. As I recall, rather than pass judgment, I just offered up the 1980s version of a SPOILER ALERT and summarized it, concluding with one of my all time fave lines from any movie, good or bad: "Exterminate with thermonuclear device."

But I did say it was better than BACK TO THE FUTURE.
posted by philip-random at 8:08 AM on February 7, 2012


My first memory of this film is it being endlessly advertised on Cinemax or something with naked space vampire lady walking around. Boobies, on late night cable! I saw the movie later, as an adult, and definitely enjoyed it. Good movie to watch while drinking with friends.

The Wikipedia article has a pretty crazy casting story with John Gielgud, George Peppard, Anthony Hopkins, Terence Stamp, and Klaus Kinski all involved at one point or another before production. The only one missing is Malcolm McDowell.
posted by Nelson at 8:22 AM on February 7, 2012


Nthing this film as one of the all time greats of bad movies. It gets everything right/wrong.

Where I work, we name the equipment (cameras. GPS units, etc) rather than give them a number. And I get to name them. Mathilda is everyones fave GPS unit (after Traci, for obvious reasons). I honor Mathilda May for her awesome mostly naked performance.

And a similar film that came out about the same time (the 80's were a gold mine of awesome B-flicks) is Forbidden World/Mutant. Crazy awesome horrible filmaking.
posted by elendil71 at 8:43 AM on February 7, 2012


Another vote for Mathilda May being the best thing about this film. I was fascinated by it as a teenager, and upon recently watching it again, I was happily surprised by some of the black humor I'd forgotten in the dialogue, as pointed out upthread. It has so many WTF elements (constant nudity! vampires that are actually aliens! gratuitous Tobe Hooper! homoeroticism!) and awkward special effects that were, at the time, pretty standard.

I get why they vampires were naked; 15-year-old me couldn't figure out why the female was wearing so much makeup, though.

It truly is one of the great/awful 80s films.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:54 AM on February 7, 2012


saw that in the theater
posted by Ironmouth at 10:02 AM on February 7, 2012


Saw it at the drive-in as a second part of a double feature. I think I was 10 (we'll not discuss what my parents were thinking). I haven't seen it since, but to this day I can't remember being more freaked out by a movie.
posted by WASP-12b at 11:06 AM on February 7, 2012


"....The only one missing is Malcolm McDowell."

And Michael "I got paid just as much for the bad ones as for the good ones, maybe more" Caine.
posted by Bill Peschel at 5:19 PM on February 7, 2012


I loved/love this movie. In a long history of movie going it remains the only movie I've ever paid to see three times.

KHAAAN! pretty much nails what I thought was so great about it. I start laughing at the randomly rotating shots of the astronauts with their tiny cute plumes (FUUU 2001 Space Odyssey) and I don't stop laughing until the giant umbrella sails off into space. BUT IT'S COMING BACK bwahahahahaha.

Everyone in the cast goes to great lengths to play the whole thing completely straight, and they succeed spectacularly.

My favourite lines are "Here I go". (best use of shakespearian operative word in a movie ever) and "I wouldn't be surprised if we were dealing with a pattern here.". Both have been catchphrases for me for years and years.

Still cracks me up, 27 years later.
posted by lastobelus at 9:43 PM on February 7, 2012


All this stuff being said, can anyone give a proper sourcing and attribution for Lifeforce? Sure, there are the Nigel Kneale/Quatermass references, but were there any other British films or serials that contributed to this OTT blend of science-fiction and Gothic horror?

(Just asking.)
posted by vhsiv at 12:34 PM on February 11, 2012


It's based on the book The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson.

I always associated it with Planet of The Vampires (which is sort of the opposite of Lifeforce in that its space vampires are always immaculately dressed).
posted by stinkycheese at 1:01 PM on February 11, 2012


It reminded me a lot of James Herbert's horror novels too, London being threatened with some awful cataclysm and all.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:04 PM on February 11, 2012


Thanks, stinkycheese.

(For some reason, I have some other -- possibly false -- memory of another British sci-fi movie that featured both a cathedral and an alien invasion.)

(I might be thinking of Day of the Triffids.)

Either Planet of the Vampires or Space Vampires has been cited as a source for Dan O'Bannon's Alien (1979).
posted by vhsiv at 1:58 PM on February 11, 2012


That'll be Planet of the Vampires - the Space Jockey scene is practically a straight lift. Though while Planet of the Vampires is sort of interesting, but not nearly as much fun as Lifeforce.
posted by Artw at 7:24 PM on February 11, 2012


I concur that Lifeforce is more fun but Planet of the Vampires deserves to be seen for its costumes and decor alone.

And vhsiv, I wonder if it couldn't be War of the Worlds you were thinking of? The earlier 1953 film prominently features a church.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:25 PM on February 11, 2012


I have no idea what went on with the costumes there... "space suits? I have some leftover fetishwear that will do!"
posted by Artw at 8:38 PM on February 11, 2012


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