If every space invader with malevolent intentions of sucking the life from Earth looked anything remotely like Mathilda May, I doubt there would be much resistance — especially from the male population. As seen in Tobe Hooper's 'Lifeforce,' in which May dazzles and mesmerizes anyone who looks upon her, she has little need of words or witty charms. Or the latest in fashion wear for that matter. The buxom French beauty need only open her eyes, and any man with a beating heart and blood coursing through his veins instantly falls prey to her bewitching ways. In fact, the moment she stares into the eyes of another they're doomed. Male or female, human will is no match for resisting her deadly seductions, which she seals with a fatal kiss that leaves victims thirsting for more.
From the moment she and two other humanoids are found by astronauts in suspended animation aboard an organic but derelict spacecraft hitching a ride on Haley's Comet, May's unnamed alien vampire has been nothing but trouble. Male crew members of the Churchill space shuttle were the first to succumb to her dazzling fairness, but Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback) seems mysteriously immune to the creature and survives a disaster inside an escape pod. In London, Dr. Bukovski (Michael Gothard) and Dr. Fallada (Frank Finlay) attempt to research the humanoid beings, only to have more men fall victim to her stark-naked seductions. Carlsen is then teamed with Col. Colin Caine (Peter Firth) to find her before she wreaks further havoc.
With the highly unusual blend of science-fiction, alien invasion, zombie and vampire horror, the subtly apocalyptic-themed film has a wit and charm of its own that's weirdly seductive and freakishly irresistible. Like May's intoxicatingly gorgeous alien, 'Lifeforce' is a strangely compelling and captivating horror feature of the most eccentric sort, not only in its combination of genres but also in its tackling one of the most imaginative themes around. Based on a book by prolific writer Colin Wilson, which was published at a time when many were heavily interested in mysticism, aliens, the paranormal and the occult, the plot proposes vampire culture and mythology born out of beings from outer space, similar in some respects to the notion of pyramids built by alien technology. Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby's script stays true to this core idea, bonkers as it is, and Hooper miraculously turns this nonsense into an absorbing piece of entertainment that falls short of greatness but manages to be a good deal of fun when nothing else on the boob tube will satisfy.
A case could easily be made about the plot's misogynist undertones, which can appear near flagrant at times but surprisingly has nothing to do with the naked objectification of May's character. The discussion is particularly problematic when considering men are victims to a woman's sexual prowess, a being that quite literally defines power through her sexuality. Unfortunately, yielding such power is also one of destruction to the patriarchal order and apparently, the ruin of human civilization. Then again, countering that argument — and this is where the film's fascinating appeal comes in — is the idea that the story equally reveals the inherent weakness in all men, especially at the hands of a drop-dead gorgeous woman walking around in her birthday suit. The quest for ending May's reign of terror is on a deeper level born from Carlsen and Caine's fear of female sexuality, which the alien vampire while occupying Patrick Stewart's body suggests as naturally residing within all humans, which then could suggest the potential for humanity's annihilation in all of us.
In either case, such readings of Tobe Hooper's 'Lifeforce' can also be easily dismissed as nonsensical babble — comically, on par with the movie's cockamamie plot and its absurdly enthusiastic desire to be taken as serious sci-fi horror. And on that point, the filmmaker's attempt at terrifying audiences fails with embarrassingly disappointing results. Objectively speaking, Hooper's film is pretty bad, almost hilariously so, though not without some shocking makeup effects, amazing special visual effects by John Dykstra, stunning cinematography by Alan Hume and brilliantly haunting music from Henry Mancini. 'Lifeforce' may be bad, but it's the best possible kind of bad imaginable, which succeeds at also being wonderfully entertaining. There has never been an alien vampire as malevolently seductive and fatally irresistible as Mathilda May.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Lifeforce' to Blu-ray as a two-disc Collector's Edition under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc and DVD-9 copy on the opposing panel are housed inside a blue, eco-elite case with reversible cover art and cardboard slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken to a menu screen with music and full-motion clips. Buy direct from the website and fans get an exclusive, limited edition poster of the newly commissioned artwork with their purchase!
Space vampires land unto Blu-ray with a great 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode which often dazzles but also looks every bit its age. Several sequences are softer than others with noticeably poor resolution and flesh tones that seem rather sickly and flushed, but much of this can be chalked up to the condition of the source. While natural grain is thinly-layered and mostly consistent, providing a welcomed film-like quality, it's fairly apparent and pronounced in a few nighttime interiors, particularly towards the end. All things considered, it's to be somewhat expected and remains unobtrusive, thankfully. All things considered, the movie has actually aged quite well and looks fantastic.
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the transfer displays excellent, well-balanced contrast with sharp, crisp whites throughout. Details in clothing and hair are distinct, while London streets and buildings are well-defined, exposing every brick and crack on the side of walls and the roads. Background information during poorly-lit interiors is plainly visible and terrifically delineated. Facial complexions, for the most part, show plenty of texture and are quite revealing during close-ups. Primaries are bright and richly-saturated while secondary hues feel slightly subdued by comparison yet accurate from beginning to end. Black levels are deep and penetrating though they do tend to come off a bit strong in some spots. In the end, however, this highly unique but equally entertaining sci-fi horror flick has never looked better than it does on Blu-ray.
Once again, Shout! offers fans the choice between a 5.1 remix or a 2.0 stereo option, and as always, the latter DTS-HD MA soundtrack is the better and more preferred listening method. The former sounds much too processed, only adding a couple more decibels while feeling forced in the surrounds.
The stereo presentation carries a more natural air to it, as fills the soundstage with excellent fidelity and warmth. While effects spread into the other two channels with convincing off-screen clarity, dialogue reproduction is precise and well-prioritized in the center. The lossless mix comes with a fantastic, energetic feel as a variety of atmospherics and subtle noises, whether outdoors with the crickets chirping or indoors with the laughing screams of mental patients, keeps imaging constantly active and engaging. The mid-range is splendidly detailed with sharp distinction during the several loud segments of the aliens sucking the life from their victims, and the music of Henry Mancini exhibits wonderful intelligibility in the orchestration. Low bass is adequate and appropriate for a movie of this vintage, but it also comes with some appreciable weight and depth.
Altogether, 'Lifeforce' sounds marvelous on Blu-ray in 2.0 stereo.
Often remembered for actress Mathilda May's exceedingly revealing performance as a space vampire, Tobe Hooper's 'Lifeforce' is also a long-time sci-fi horror cult favorite fondly remembered for having one of the most bizarre yet highly imaginative movie conceits around: the genesis of vampire mythology and lore originates in outer space. The Blu-ray arrives with an excellent audio and video presentation and a nice collection of bonus material, making the overall package recommended for fans.