Saturday, June 8, 2013

Blu-ray Review: LIFEFORCE (1985)

2-Disc Collector's Edition 
Region Code: 1/A
Rating: R
Duration: 101 Minutes / 116 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, 5.1 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Cast: Mathilda May, Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard
Director: Tobe Hooper

Synopsis: A mission to investigate Halley's Comet discovers an even stranger phenomenon: an alien spacecraft! Following a deadly confrontation, the aliens arrive on Earth, where their seductive leader begins a terrifying campaign to drain the life force of everyone she encounters. Her victims, in turn, continue the cycle, and soon the entire planet is in mortal danger. And when the mission's sole survivor (Steve Railsback – The Stunt Man) sets out to destroy her, he comes face to face with the most charming - and horrifying – being he's ever known. Will he be able to destroy the lovely vampiress...or will he become yet another victim of her fatal charm?

It must have been '86 during a sleepover at my friend Barry's house that I tuned into a late night showing of Lifeforce on HBO or Showtime, one of the premium pay cable channels. I slept over at Barry's house every chance I could, he was a shit-ton of fun and a very great friend, plus he had cable television - not that I slept over just to watch cable TV... he had an Atari 2600, too! During these sleepovers it seemed I would always the last one awake  and inevitably left to my own devices I would scan the cable channels for something scary to watch. It was during these dark hours of the night I first came upon George A. Romero's Day of the Dead (1985), Larry Cohen's Q (1982), Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), J. Lee Thompson's Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) while chowing down on a bottomless bowl of Golden Grahams, which was my preferred cereal at the time and Barry's mom always had it in abundance. To this day there's few things I enjoy more than a late-night viewing of a 80's slasher and a bowl of cereal, it's till the shit. 

Settling into Lifeforce I was hooked right from the very start,  the international spaceship Churchill, commanded by the American Colonel, Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback), is on a scientific mission to investigate Haley's Comet when they happen upon a massive 150-mile long alien craft hidden in the comet's tail. In reality Haley's Comet was due to return to our sector of the solar system that same year plus I was a NASA space nut like most kids my age, it was a perfect melding of my love of horror, teenage lust and space exploration. When the film revealed the stunning French actress Mathilda May as the main vampiress completely nude in a state of suspended animation let me just tell you that the sight of her perfect breasts were almost too much for my young mind to comprehend, it was a sublime sight.  I distinctly remember becoming flushed at the sight of her voluptuous figure and guiltily peering around the living room to be sure Barry's parents wouldn't  spy me watching what I considered to be space-porn! Star Wars (1977) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) were pretty great sci-fi fantasy films but they weren't exactly brimming with breasts, this was a new sci-fi experience for me and I liked it, A LOT!

The crew return to the Churchill with the trio of humanoid aliens to the ship and make preparations to return to Earth. A few weeks later all radio communication is lost with the Churchill and the listless spaceship arrives in Earth's orbit but space command is unable to make any contact with the crew. They launch another shuttle to intercept the ship and they discover the ship has been gutted by an intense fire, the bodies of the crew are burned beyond recognition but the trio of aliens encased in the strange sarcophagus are untouched. The sarcophagus are brought to London where they are studied at European Space Research Center under the direction of Dr. Leonard Bukovski (Gothard) and Dr. Hans Fallada (Frank Finlay) but as preparations are being made for an autopsy the female alien (Mathilda May) awakens and seduces a guard sucking the life force right outta him, the draining process turning him into a shriveled corpse. The vampiress escapes the guarded research facility and before you know we find out that the aliens are actually shape-shifting space vampires who drain the life force from their victims, whom in turn re-animate a few hours later as life force craving zombie-vampires, it's a vicious cycle and in quick succession London is overrun with life force-sucking zombies.

Unexpectedly Col. Carlesen (Railsback) returns to earth in an escape pod landing somewhere in Texas, he's brought to London where he relays a version of what happened to the crew of the ill-fated Churchill. Carlsen joins forces with a British military officer Col. Caine (Peter Firth, Tess) and psychiatrist Dr. Armstrong (Patrick Stewart) and set out to put an end the the vamp virus that plaguing London before it becomes worldwide epidemic. Complicating the matter is the discovery that the space-vamps can transfer their consciousness into victim's bodies which makes it difficult to track their whereabouts, we also find out that for some reason Carlsen has a psychic-link with the vampiress.

What an epic and strange sci-fo horror film, it's adapted from Colin Wilson's 1976 novel Space Vampires by Dan O'Bannon (Alien) it definitely has a few head scratching moments but I am completely willing to forgive and ignore these imperfections because I just love this film,  it's chock-full of wonderful gore and gross-out special effects with a British cast of genre familiars who fully embrace the bizarre goings-on, director Tobe Hooper says he set out to make a 70mm Hammer horror film and the cast are giving it their all to make it happen. British familiar Aubrey Morris appears as Sir Percy Hoseltine whom bares witness to the horrors unfolding in the latter half of the film, he's pretty great but I can only ever see him as Alex's creepy probation officer from A Clockwork Orange (1971), such a perv! Star Trek: The Next Generation's Patrick Stewart is quite memorable in an unhinged performance ending in a disgusting torrent of blood pouring from every orifice in his face, it's good stuff for the gore hounds.  The word unhinged doesn't quite do justice to the performance of star Steve Railsback's who takes it just a bit too far during a few scenes, but it's quite an entertaining, there's no denying that.

The special effects are front and center for the duration of Lifeforce, the narrative and plotting may leave a bit to be desired from time to time but the effects, while somewhat dated today, are fantastic from start to finish, this is a fantastic special effects extravaganza. From the early space scenes to the burning of London and the numerous zombie-vamps and optical effects this is a glorious spectacle of 80's sci-fi horror, the practical in-camera effects and animatronic shriveled corpses of the undead are among the best on film bar none in my opinion, a dazzling spectacle.

Honestly, this is one of those films so laced with 80's teenage nostalgia it's nearly impossible for me to judge it by the merits of the film alone, that said, for what it's worth, this is my favorite vampire film, my favorite Tobe Hooper film, and one of my favorite sci-fi horror films all rolled-up into one.  

Blu-ray: Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce (1985) is presented on Blu-ray from Shout! factory imprint Scream Factory with an AVC  MPEG-4 encode in it's original widescreen scope aspect ratio (2:35:1) and it's truly a stunner of a presentation. This  restored, high def transfer was overseen by director Tobe Hooper himself with a brand-new color-timing and it's noticeable from frame one, this looks fantastic. The newly color-times images are deep and rich plus the night scenes benefit greatly from improved contrast. There's not much if any evidence of video tampering either, there's a nice robust layer of natural film grain intact. The 1080p upgrade brings with it a healthy amount of fine detail and sharpness which was missing from the previous lackluster DVD edition, Lifeforce is quite a sight on Blu-ray!

Audio options include an English language DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1 mixes with optional English subtitles. The 5.1 is quite immersive and Henry Mancini's score and fantastic title theme sound outstanding  Dialogue, effects and score sounds great. everything is well balanced, nothing overpowering - it all comes together quite nicely. 

Onto the special features, we begin two full length audio commentaries, the first commentary comes by way of director Tobe Hooper moderated by Tim Sullivan. They start off right away discussing the fantastic director-approved film transfer and Hooper's new color-timing. It's a nice commentary and Hooper recalls quite a bit about the film and it's production. Sullivan is a spirited moderator and burns up quite a bit it's duration himself with fanboy-esque enthusiasm and  appreciations, I enjoyed it.  The second commentary is with special effects designer Nick Maley moderated by Red Shirt Pictures' Michael Felsher. It's another insightful look back at the film through the eyes of the special effects man, who considers the film his best work, if not his best remembered.

Onto the retrospective featurettes produced by Red Shirt Pictures we begin with Space Vampires from London with Tobe Hooper (9:57) who speaks about the genesis of the what he refers to as a 70mm Hammer Film, it's cheesy original title of Space Vampires and working with Canon Films. Speaking fondly of writer Dan O'Bannon and Production designer John Graysmark who also worked on Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, as did much of the production crew. It's a great video interview peppered with scenes from the film and behind-the-scenes video.

Carlsen's Curse with Steve Railsback (7:07) features the actor reflecting on his post Helter Skelter (1976) career in Hollywood, fondly recalling his work with Tobe Hooper on Lifeforce plus the effects work of John Dykstra and Director of Photography Alan Hume. We get a fun Patrick Stewart anecdote and Railsback looking back on the wire work for the space walks, Mathilda May and the film's cult status.

Dangerous Beauty with Mathilda May (15:15) has the stunning actress openly discussing the subject of her ample nudity, her unlikely turn as an actress following a career in the ballet, working with director Tobe Hooper and actors Steve Railsback and Frank Finlay and what sounds like a traumatic eight hour session in make-up for one particularly elaborate special effect shot.

Vintage "Making-Of LIFEFORCE" Featurette (21:16) a vintage feaurette from '85 which is pretty great, revealing behind-the-scenes videos of numerous special effects shots and on-set  interviews with Tobe Hooper, Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay and special effects masters Nick Maley and John Dykstra. The special effects behind-the-scenes stuff is awesome, revealing how many of the optical tricks, miniatures and animatronics were used in the films and how the finished scene looked, loved it.

The entertaining selection special features are rounded out by a Still Gallery featuring 70 behind-the-scenes shots, stills and theatrical artwork for the film plus two Theatrical Trailers (3:30) and a TV Spot (:30). Scream Factory's 2-disc Collector's Edition also includes a standard-def DVD of the longer, and superior, international cut of the film with the same special features as the Blu-ray disc. It also includes a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original theatrical art and brand new artwork from artist Justin Osborne  which is also featured on the slipcase cover.

Special Features: 
- The original theatrical version in HD (on the Blu-ray Disc only)
- Audio Commentary with Director Tobe Hooper, moderated by Fillmmaker Tim Sullivan
- Audio Commentary with Special Make-up Effects Designer Nick Maley
- Space Vampires from London with Tobe Hooper (9:57) 

- Carlsen's Curse with Steve Railsback (7:07) 
- Dangerous Beauty with Mathilda May (15:15)
- Original “The Making of Lifeforce” Featurette (21:16)
- Still Gallery
- 2 Theatrical Trailers (3:30)
- TV Spot (:30)

Verdict: Okay, I admit that the film is a bit of a mess and goes off the rails a bit, it's overly convoluted but at the end of the day I just love this damn film so freaking much, a special-effects driven space-vamp masterpiece of sexed-up science fiction horror, a very enthusiastic recommend from me and high marks to Scream Factory for the fantastic 2-disc edition loaded with brand-new special features. 4.5 Outta 5