Hello, unknown masses that I convince myself are reading my articles; I am back with another Netflix horror film report. Once again I sat down to watch something horrific. I was torn between three films. One was Lifeforce, which I had seen as a young lad. The second was The Langoliers, also rather nostalgic. The third film was 5 Girls starring Ron Pearlman. I said what the hell, I was sick of Ron and those girls taunting me so I started watching it. Bad idea. It was ever so tedious with its non-existent plot and its awful acting and I couldn’t make it through the whole thing since I kept falling asleep. I decided that something was needed to redeem this experience. As soon as I hit play on Lifeforce I was instantly rewarded.
The film begins with a fast tracking shot over a meteor or something and immediately makes a promise to bring you an awesome film by the incredibly badass and blaring score that covers the credits. My adrenaline was pumping and I was ready for sci-fi action horror. No sooner can you say all three genres before they all hit at once. I quickly joined the intrepid crew of a space shuttle intercepting Halley’s Comet. What should be inside this comet? Yes! A giant spaceship! The sci-fi fan in me screams with delight at the sight of this massive alien behemoth. In the vein of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien the crew sets about examining the huge, awesomely artistic space ship. Thankfully it does not contain anything as deep as a lost satellite from earth, or anything as fearsome as a nest of alien eggs, no, it contains thousands of giant space bats that are all dead and one very nude and very well proportioned female.
She may look all surprised to be hauled back to earth, but we soon learn this was her devious intention all along. I know we all hate when aliens make themselves look human just because the movie doesn’t have the budget for creature effects, but this time it makes sense! She is in this form, as she states, to lure in the men and suck out their life energy. It goes like this: she makes out with/sucks the life out of a guy and then he goes and does the same to his friends and they do the same to their friends. Before you know it, all of London is a bunch of life sucking zombie vampires. (yes, this film is randomly British) The budget in these scenes is clearly not the problem, it’s massive! Huge back lots set on fire, explosions that are not at all necessary to convey the intensity of the situation but still add to it, and hundreds of extras and dummies littering the streets making it one of the most massive gore fests never to be touched by visual effects. It is during this madness that it hit me. The intent of this film is very clear.
In 1985 the zombie craze was well established. Also the vampire film wasn’t exactly in full swing but there was enough going on with things like Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu and Andy Warhol’s Dracula to create the desire for some blood and/or life suckers. Most importantly Alien and other sci-fi horror films had come out and so the demand was obvious. A space-vampire-zombie film must be made; and so it was that Lifeforce came into being. The film hits every genre and hits it hard, creating a spectacle in each that is rarely matched. But is it only spectacle and male to male kisses involving Patrick Stewart that make this interesting? No, there is more.
Psych, it’s not just giant bat things.
The interesting thing about the vampire bits of this film is its direct inverse of the traditional model. We have seen many times the sexy male vampire (aka Klaus Kinski) seduce the innocent maiden. She is drawn to him, irresistibly, unstoppably. His sexual power over her is complete. In Lifeforce the vampire is female. She even states that the alien vampire race probed the human mind and that she is the embodiment of their ideal female. The male characters that are seduced by her have the same slack-jawed wide-eyed look about them as they fall into her web of sexiness and life-sucking. I suppose that in a film where you’re using about every cliché in every genre possible it is good to mix things up with an inverse of the traditional sexual roles. Is it progressive? Probably not, just an attempt at spicing things up. Whether the woman is a victim or a seducer, the fact remains that she is defined entirely by her sexuality.
All together, Lifeforce is maddeningly enjoyable. It is almost irritating how such a little known and sort of ridiculous movie can be so entertaining and also have had such an absurd budget and amazing crew work on it. It begs the question of just what makes a blockbuster really catch on. Lifeforce has all the traits of what would seem to be a huge action sci-fi horror classic, but none of the recognition. Maybe it’s the luck of the draw, or maybe it’s just that the writing and characters were not up to snuff with the hits that have staying power. The film has an array of horror film references as wide as the lens used to shoot the entire thing, but what it lacks in shallow focus it makes up for in shallow characters. Out of two main characters, Col. Carleson ,the American one, who is in love with the vampire, is nothing but a sniveling blob, oozing ever closer to her in hopes for just one more life-sucking kiss. The other protagonist, the good old British boy Col. Caine may yield the most loveable character in the film but this is only by default. In the beginning of the film Caine is rather unlikeable and snaps at everyone with a blatant air of superiority. However, by the end of the film, his get-things-done no nonsense bravado makes him the most likeable guy around. In the words of Sarah Conner, “In an insane world, it was the sanest choice.”
Character and archetype foibles aside, the film still delivers on a genre film level. It hits all its marks and leaves you quite satisfied. Though it is not remembered in cinema history as the film that successfully combined three of the most prevalent genres of its time; the fact remains that it did just that. If anything it is proof that it takes more than a genre meld and an impressively crafted film to have staying power, it really does come back to the characters and the story. As far as this article having staying power because of its story, I will end with an important truth: The most awesome spectacle imaginable is for naught without a character we care about there to look at it with us.