Directed by Tobe Hooper
Distributed by Scream Factory
Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce is representative of a ballsier time in cinema. For starters, the $25 million budget was incredibly robust for 1985. For perspective, James Cameron’s Aliens was delivered for just under $20 million one year later. Not only was Lifeforce a large monetary gamble for the heroes at Cannon Films, but they had enough confidence in the project to slate it for a summer release. Hooper had scored a massive success three years earlier in a similar slot, and so the hard R rating and lack of marquee value was of little concern to the folks at Cannon, who might’ve been hoping for Poltergeist’s numbers all over again.
They didn’t even match Poltergeist II (which had opened one month earlier). Of course, Lifeforce probably wound up being its own worst enemy. The film is a narrative disaster from top to bottom. Its focus is so scatterbrained that what begins as an alien vampire film soon morphs into an Andromeda Strain wannabe before changing gears again to focus on an extraterrestrial zombie invasion. Its characters run around spouting exposition so thick it practically dares the viewer to tune out. Oh yeah – there are pacing issues too.
A good thing, then, that Lifeforce is also kind of awesome. This was never going to appeal to the mainstream masses during the summer of 1986, and that’s okay. You have to respect the folks at Cannon for going full steam ahead with something this high concept and adult while hoping for box office gold. What we got is a movie that, for every colossal misstep, balances itself through examples of incredible artistry. The set design is spectacular, the make-up FX work is brilliant and the cast holds the convolution together as best they can. The gratuitous nudity of Mathilda May doesn’t hurt either.
But to call Lifeforce a complete wash on the story front is shortchanging it. No, the elements don’t mesh in a way that’s as satisfying as the filmmakers intended. The vampiric elements are the most compelling: People are punished for their most sexual machinations. When our ill-fated astronauts come across these alien creatures, Steve Railsback can barely contain his urges, even as his friends suffer terrible fates. As the situation in the film worsens, it turns into an odd cautionary tale about the consequences of succumbing to these desires. Just as David Cronenberg’s The Fly was a timely metaphor for the degenerative AIDS virus, Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce seems to have tackled the territory first – albeit with less success.
What is successful is Scream Factory’s stellar 2.35:1 HD transfer. Great colors, deep blacks and warm skin tones. This packaging includes a DVD counterpart, but honestly, it’s time to upgrade. The Blu-ray offers a far superior presentation. On the audio front we’ve got a DTS HD 5.1 mix that’s aggressive and rich. There’s a mono track included that I have not yet sampled.
Extras-wise, there’s a boatload. Let’s start by listing the U.S. theatrical cut of the film, presented in HD and clocking in at 101 minutes (the international cut runs 116). There are two commentary tracks, one by Tobe Hooper and the other by make-up artist Nick Maley (moderated by Michael Felsher). There are a few featurettes, a 15-minute talk with Mathilda May (who still looks phenomenal), a 10-minute chat with Tobe Hooper and a 7-minute piece with Steve Railsback. There’s also a 20-minute vintage ‘making of’ featurette. Theatrical trailers, a TV spot and a stills gallery round out the set.
Lifeforce is a curiosity that’s not always successful, but it is most definitely worth a look. It’s a visually stunning marriage of sci-fi and horror with some truly incredibly FX majesty. It looks all the better thanks to Scream Factory’s top-notch transfer. This film has actually never looked good on home video before, making this a must have release for any serious collector.
3 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5