Dawn of the Proto-Nerd: Why Lifeforce Doesn’t Suck

The novel, The Space Vampires, which was published in 1976 and written by Colin Wilson, blew my mind. It, along with The Mind Parasites, were brilliantly conceived and executed. The prior was a unique twist on the vampire legend where the vamps were from space, their 150 mile long ship hidden in the tail of Hayley’s Comet, and did not suck blood, but fed off the life-force of their victims. They consumed the life-energy, the souls of other beings. It was a masterfully written book that explored the occult idea of psychic vampirism. I would compare the chilling effect of this book, and The Mind Parasites, to the similar “creeped-out effect” H.P. Lovecraft’s work had.

So, in 1985, a movie was made of the novel. It was directed by Tobe Hooper (who had recently come to fame as the directer of the highly successful Poltergeist) and written by Dan O’Bannon – who had written 1974’s Dark Star, a cult classic, and  1979’s AlienWith special effects by John Dykstra and a score by Henry Mancini, how could they go wrong? Hell, it even had Patrick Stewart in his third film role! Lifeforce bombed at the box-office, even though critics were fairly evenly split about the merits of the film.

Why? And did it deserve such a poor showing?

First off, it came out the same week as Ron Howard’s Coccoon, which didn’t help. Secondly, it was a tad too smart for the average movie-goer! I recently re-watched the film, which is notoriously hard to find, and loved it even more than I did when I saw it at the theatre! By the way, Colin Wilson hated it! He said, “John Fowles once told me that the film The Magus (made from his highly successful novel) was the worst movie ever made. After seeing Lifeforce, I sent him a postcard, telling him I had done him one better.”

Here is why this proto-nerd feels that you should give the film your attention: To begin with, for the first third of the film, the nearly perfect specimen of womanhood, a 20 year old Mathilda May, is completely naked and unabashedly so! For me, that is a good enough reason to love this movie! But let me be less testosterone driven and give you a few other reasons.

Colin Wilson’s book is so much inside of the character’s heads, that it is near impossible to bring to the screen properly; I doubt if he could have done a better job. Right from the start, the film grabs you! The discovery of a space ship over 150 miles long and 2 miles wide, hidden in the umbra of Halley’s Comet—I mean how cool is that!? Dykstra’s special effects are awesome and believable. Do not judge by today’s standards, at the time, trust me, these were cutting edge!

The crew of the shuttle boards the gargantuan ship and finds all the bat-like creatures aboard dead, except for 3 human-like creatures in suspended animation in crystal coffins. Of course, they bring them aboard the shuttle and eventually to Earth, where soon enough all Hell breaks loose. Turning traditional vampire tales on their heads, these creatures begin to suck the souls out of their human prey, eventually sending them up to their ship which acts like a life-force collector. The humans trying to stop them are always two steps behind. The main vampire, played by Ms. May, can jump from mind to mind of anyone she has come into contact with. By the time the authorities catch on, the city of London is in chaos!

If you are a fan of the recent deluge of zombie movies, you will find in this film where many of the original ideas came from. The scenes of mayhem, and the speed at which the plague of death spreads are right out of the latest Brad Pitt adventure. As much as I liked Hooper’s remake of the fifties classic Invaders From Mars, I think this is his Magnum Opus! Weird, quirky special effects, a smart and original premise, great acting (one scene with Patrick Stewart channeling the female vampire is great fun) and an interesting ambient score make this film pure FUN!

You can find this film on You Tube, watch it with an open mind. If you do, you will be pleasantly surprised. it is a film worthy of a second viewing— and today it is uber-campy!