Lifeforce, director Tobe Hooper’s foray into space based terror, is very much a product of its time. The Sci-fi / horror starring Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Mathilda May and Frank Finlay (as well as a brief surprise appearance by Patrick Stewart), is one of those films with an unmistakable 1980’s air which stands up surprisingly well after nearly thirty years – well almost.
Whilst exploring the farthest reaches of space, the crew of the space shuttle Churchill discover a massive one hundred and fifty mile long alien spaceship hidden within the corona of Halley’s Comet. Though the ship initially seems devoid of life the Churchill’s crew soon find out what inhabited it, with potentially devastating results for not only them but the entire human race.
Lifeforce falls into a group of films that everyone remembers, but which no-one can be sure they actually saw. Made in the wake of Hooper’s best work – the glory days of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Salem’s Lot (1979) and Poltergeist (1982) were a mere memory by the mid 1980’s – this obscure film is one of those which unfortunately has trouble sustaining the promise it deludes to in its initial space bound scenes. The opening segment of the film – based on bestselling English author Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel The Space Vampires – is reminiscent of space opera epics like Alien (1979) and more recently Prometheus (2012), where an apparently abandoned alien spaceship holds undisclosed terrors for the unfortunate group of human explorers who happen across it.
It’s when the action – along with the alien beings discovered on the spaceship and what’s left of the Churchill’s exploration team – is transported to Earth, that the film begins to unravel. The impressive sense of claustrophobia established within the confines of the Churchill and the later grandeur of the alien spaceship’s cathedral-like interior, is diluted by the insubstantial air of a soulless London where the earthbound part of the film plays out. Add to this the farfetched premise of a female alien who spends most of her time walking around naked, a plague which decimates London’s populace in mere hours and an ending that gives the impression the filmmakers didn’t know how to finish what they’d started, and the result is a disappointing shadow of what could have been an original and taught shocker.
As a piece of extraterrestrially tinged whimsy, Lifeforce occasionally shows weak signs of life, however, in the end, it falls well short of the classic status it could have potentially achieved.