‘Lifeforce’ (1985)

‘Lifeforce’ (1985) Space vampires — gotta love ‘em!

Genre screenwriter of the ’80′s, Dan O’Bannon wrote ‘Lifeforce’ in 1984. A USC classmate of John Carpenter, he assisted the director by writing both their Masters’ Theses and the theatrical expansion of the film ‘ Dark Star ‘ (1974). By 1985, O’Bannon’s previous big deal was the groundbreaking ‘ Alien ‘ of 1979. Because it and ‘Star Wars’ introduced the stylistic approach of ‘Used’ or ‘Dirty Space’ in art-direction for these kinds of features doesn’t mean that this was the only way to produce them.

Rather than dismiss ‘ Lifeforce ‘ out-of-hand as a sort of schlock and primitive exploitation feature, it’s important to recognize that the film draws upon the ‘esteemed’ traditions of British horror and science-fiction – specifically Hammer and American International features like that of the Quatermass franchise (specifically ‘ Quatermass and the Pit ‘, 1967), Doctor Who and ‘ The Day of the Triffids ‘ (1962), if not the works of Gerry Anderson (‘ UFO ‘, ‘ Space:1999 ‘ and ‘ Thunderbirds ‘). But none of these influences would be a surprise if other reviewers recognized writer O’Bannon’s genre-scholarly appreciation for ‘ Queen of Blood ‘(1966) and ‘ It! The Terror from Beyond Space ‘(1958) – the immediate sources for ‘Alien’ (1979).

mathildamaylifeforce-2.jpg Granted that this film has many ‘legacy’ elements, it’s worth comparing this film to its more immediate peers – 1981′s ‘ An American Werewolf in London ‘ and ‘ The Company of Wolves ‘ (1984) – other 80′s films that share a ‘looking-back’ while they adapt those stories to the 80′s zeitgeist. All three films drew on earlier incarnations of the same genre, but they sexed-up their themes (because they could). At the same time they recognized the tongue-in-cheek, humorous aspects of their projects.

Neil Jordan’s ‘Wolves’ played to many of the psychoanalytic memes floating around during the ’80′s psychoanalytic zeitgeist, while ‘American Werewolf’ curdled its theme as a ‘coming-of-age’ film. Because of the artistic license taken, these three films are no less valid than the latter-day dramedy inherent in the ‘Scream’ franchise, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ and ‘Final Destination’. The latter teen-targeted, films seem to be part of a box-office trend, whereas the 80′s films like ‘Lifeforce’ belong to the canon of British sci-fi – even if they were written by an American.

In many ways ‘Lifeforce’ holds up much better than latter-day disaster and alien-invasion flicks (‘Independence Day’, ‘Armageddon’, ‘Deep Impact’) in that the ‘solutions’ don’t reside in gun-battles and weaponized payloads of testosterone. At the opposite end of the pole, it is unfortunate that Steven Soderbergh and James Cameron didn’t examine Tarkowski and Lem more closely before they remade ‘Solaris’…

The goal of this film was fun, not ponderousness or stupidity.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment