Lifeforce DVD Review
Written by Eric Strauss
DVD released by MGM Home Entertainment
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby (based on the novel The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson)
1985, Region 1 (NTSC), 116 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on May 27th, 1998
Steve Railsback as Carlsen
Peter Firth as Caine
Frank Finlay as Fallada
Nicholas Ball as Derebridge
Mathilda May as Space Girl
Many horror fans believe director Tobe Hooper did nothing of note after his seminal The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the Steven Spielberg-influenced Poltergeist. But the science-fiction/horror film Lifeforce may be the exception to that rule. The film is one part Alien-esque science fiction, one part supernatural thriller and one part Dawn of the Dead, with the story progressing from outer space to the heart of London.
The film begins with the space shuttle Churchill on a mission to explore Halley's Comet on one of its rare visits to the solar system. But the crew of the Churchill finds more than it bargained for when it finds a giant spacecraft hidden in the comet's corona. Col. Carlsen, the commander of the mission, leads a team into the spacecraft, where they find two types of creatures: large bat-like ones, and three perfectly preserved, seemingly human ones.
Once the humanoids make their way back to Earth, all hell breaks loose as they prove to be life force-draining "vampires" — and it is up to Carlsen and the British government to track them down across England, and then stop them before they can destroy London and claim its souls for their own purposes.
The acting is strong, with Steve Railsback (The Stunt Man) and Peter Firth (Chill Factor) effective as the tormented Col. Carlsen and the enigmatic SAS Col. Caine, respectively. Railsback is somewhat over the top, but that style plays well against Firth's understated performance. The two colonels are aided on their quest by a pair of eccentric scientists, the death aficionado Fallada (Frank Finlay, Cthulhu Mansion) and the weary Bukofsky (Michael Gothard, The Devils of Loudon) — who spends most of film suffering after a too-close encounter with one of the vampires — as well as Britain's Home Secretary (Aubrey Morris, A Clockwork Orange) and a few others.
(Trekkies, watch for The Next Generation's Capt. Picard, Patrick Stewart, in a small but memorable role.)
But what is undoubtedly the film's most memorable performance, and the one that probably has elevated this film to its minor cult status, is that of then-newcomer Mathilda May as the "Space Girl," the leader of the vampire creatures. What is it about the lovely May (The Jackal) that makes her performance stand out? The French actress spends most of her on-screen time naked. Stark naked. Fortunately, she is either comfortable with her body or able to hide any awkwardness well, and turns in a fine performance , beyond just being a pretty face (and more).
The film dates to 1985, and while the effects don't show the CGI polish of the current era, they are good, handling bat-aliens, drained corpses and vampire-zombies with equal aplomb. The low budget shows in places, but only to those paying close attention.
Overall, the script mixes the film's multiple genres well if a few plot holes can be overlooked, and Hooper's direction keeps the tension high. Throw in the actors' sturdy performances, and the result is a solid feature well worth a look if you enjoy your horror with a healthy dose of science fiction.
(Note that the disc contains quite a bit of additional footage not seen in the American theatrical release, but never feels padded as some "director's cut"-type discs do.)
Video and Audio:
Lifeforce is shown in non-anamorphic widescreen with a ratio of about 2.35:1. The image and colors are quite soft, but the picture generally is clear. The film, more than 10 years old when the DVD was released, suffers from some print damage and grain, and there are occasional bits of digital artifacting. Still, the video is solid enough to bring out the necessary details in the many dark scenes, and certainly superior to VHS/television quality.
The Dolby 5.1 track is likewise unexceptional, with the voices and music mostly coming from the front speakers and the rear surrounds mostly used for effects.
The mix also suffers from low dialogue — if the speaking voices are at an audible level during conversational scenes, the effects and music often drown them out when the action kicks in (often suddenly).
There are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
The only extra, besides the additional footage integrated into the film, is an unexceptional theatrical trailer in 2.35:1 widescreen. This disc was released back when MGM included an 8-page booklet full of liner notes with its DVDs, and that booklet is the only other real extra.
Lifeforce is a worthy entry in the sci-fi/horror canon, but the DVD is a bit lacking in its audio/video presentation, as well as the extras department. The film has a few flaws, but it is an eerie, exciting romp that deserves to be known for more than the nudity of its female lead.