I’m a big sucker—pun most certainly intended—for vampire movies. I’ve always enjoyed the vampire mythos, and find them to be terrifyingly fascinating villains (or anti-heroes). The concept of immortality in a fallen, ever-changing world is itself a haunting prospect, one filled both with opportunity and, ultimately, hopelessness.
I also love science-fiction movies, notably those that take place in space. The sense of boundless adventure and the thrill of exploration combine with high-tech gobbledygook to make for some fun stories. Sci-fi, like horror, also has the ability to be among the best social commentary put to paper.
With 1985’s Lifeforce, those two genres are combined in a pleasing, memorable way. Indeed, the film is based on a novel called The Space Vampires, which gives the game away on the front cover. The vampires of the film and the novel are energy vampires, sucking the lifeforce from their victims, luring them in by shapeshifting into the guise of what the human victim most desires in a mate. In doing so, they turn their victims in ravenous husks who must feed on the energy of others to survive. If they don’t, they explode into a puff of dust and ash.
Lifeforce apparently did very poorly at the box office and with critics, but I found the film to be immensely entertaining. Again, it combines two of my favorite motifs—vampires and space exploration—into one package, but the space- and globe-trotting story was quite fun, too.
The film begins with the Anglo-American crew of The Churchill making an expedition to Halley’s Comet, which is making one of its once-in-a-lifetime passes near Earth. In the coma of the comet, the crew detect a massive, needle-shaped vessel with an umbrella-like aperture: an alien derelict floating in space. Inside the derelict they find three naked humans—two men and one woman—in clear, plastic coffins, whom they take aboard their ship. They also discover hundreds of desiccated corpses of a bat-like alien race.
When The Churchill returns to Earth, its entire crew is dead—save one survivor, Colonel Tom Carlsen. The three humanoid bodies are taken to a space research center in London for dissection. Before the autopsy on the woman-alien can begin, however, she wakes up, instantly seducing the orderly. When she kisses him, he quickly turns into a desiccated husk.
From there, a plague of vampirism spreads throughout London, with Carlsen eventually revealing what happened about The Churchill: the woman and the two men consumed everyone aboard, saving Tom due to his uncanny bond with and attraction to the woman. Carlsen and a military investigator jet helicopter all around London, finding that even the Prime Minister has become an energy-devouring husk when he consumes his secretary.
They find that the woman vampire alien has taken up in a cathedral in central London, where she is using as a transmitter for the lifeforce sucked from the thousands of the city’s victims. The cathedral acts as a conduit to send drained lifeforce to the ship, presumably to reawaken the bat aliens on board.
Like Viy, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, what I loved about Lifeforce were the creature effects. You don’t see the vampire-aliens in their bat form too frequently, but it’s quite terrifying. What the film does show—and it’s even more terrifying than the giant sentient shapeshifting bats—are plenty of desiccated people, drained down to nearly skeletal husks. The way these victims look when they’re on the verge of death is haunting—and sad.
In one memorable scene, the orderly that succumbed to the female vampire’s kiss finds himself locked behind a chain-link barrier. He has become so starved for lifeforce, he charges the group of scientists observing him. In doing so, he runs into the fence, immediately bursting into a cloud of dust and ash. What a way to go!
The film can drag a bit at points, and the frantic efforts to find the shapeshifting female vampire make the plot a bit convoluted sometimes, but it’s fun watching the characters desperately try to stop the spread of extraterrestrial vampirism throughout England. The final scenes in London, in which everyone is fleeing frantically from energy suckers, gives a sense for the chaos and terror the aliens have wrought.
In all, I very much enjoyed Lifeforce. It’s been several weeks since I have watched it—I’ve been sitting on this review for some time—but I’ve been excited to write about it. Sure, I can’t remember the names of most of the characters, but it’s not really that kind of movie. The characterization is secondary to the plot, which is all about attempting to thwart hyper-deadly space vampires.
Really, “hyper-deadly space vampires” is all you need to know!