Lifeforce (1985)


“Don’t worry. A naked girl is not going to get out of this complex.”

The Scoop: 1985 R, directed by Tobe Hooper and starring Steve Railsback, Peter Firth and Mathilda May.

Tagline: In the blink of an eye, the terror begins.

Summary Capsule: Space vampires run amok on earth, turning people into zombies and seducing a choice few. Also, they don’t wear a lot of clothes.

Justin’s rating: Two hickeys out of three makeout sessions.

Justin’s review: I imagine the audition of Steve Railsback for Lifeforce was an odd experience for him:

“Steve, do you have any problems making out with a completely beautiful and totally naked lady?”

“Heh… of course not!”

“How about making out with Patrick Stewart?”

“I… er, what?”

“Are you cool with beating a scantily-clad girl up for information?”

“Hey, who ARE you people?”

“Can you shout ‘Leave me ALONEEEE!’ over and over until you sound completely ridiculous?”


Is it Dawn of the Dead? Or Dracula? Hellraiser? Event Horizon? Ghostbusters? 2001: A Space Odyssey? Garbage? Cheese? Genius? Only director Tobe Hooper knows, and he doesn’t spell it out very clearly, instead preferring to mash together gobs of genres until we get a spectacle that will leave you wide-eyed and whimpering very softly. Lifeforce has to be seen to be believed, although if you feel it or smell it, that’s okay too.

Wasting no time in asking you to suspend your belief, Lifeforce kicks off with a weirdly-modified British space shuttle (now, with artificial gravity!) entering Haley’s Comet’s tail and stumbling upon a huge, derelict alien spacecraft. Now, if Alien taught us anything, any deserted spacecraft should remain that way until you can figure out how to nuke it from orbit. Unfortunately, these happy-go-lucky astronauts stumble into a huge chamber full of freeze dried Space Bats™ and three pods containing naked people things. Long story short, they take them onto the shuttle, and the next thing you know, the shuttle is in Earth orbit, burned from the inside-out, and only the naked aliens remain.

It turns out they’re a race of Space Vampires™ who are out to suck the lifeforce out of humanity. And possibly cows. And monkeys — but that’s it, mister!

The story unnecessarily complicates itself by giving the Space Vampires™ too many powers and abilities: they can turn other people into zombies (but only zombies who resurrect every two hours looking for more lifeforce to drain themselves or they turn to dust), leap into other bodies, mentally communicate with surviving astronaut Tom Carlsen (Railsback), turn into huge blood pool things, are mostly invincible… and so on and so forth.

Carlsen teams up with Col. Caine (Peter Firth), and the two of them form a secret club to fight the vampires. With t-shirts and special handshakes and everything. The bulk of the movie is the two of them stumbling after the plot, trying to figure out what the lead female Space Vampire™ is up to, and generally not finding out until it’s too late. Carlsen has a psychic link with the girl vampire, so he wastes minutes bulging his eyes out and describing to the audience what she’s doing. Which is, of course, totally terrifying. In fact, all movies should just be replaced by an old fart in a huge chair reading the script to us. Die Hard would rule in that format.

Lifeforce is overwhelmingly silly by the end, but there is a genuine element of awesomesauce in here as well: some of the special effects are very well done, and the demise of Britain’s capital is an excellent predecessor to modern movies that seem to revel in an annihilated London (28 Days Later, Children of Men, et al). Again, it has no idea whether it wants to be a scary horror movie, a splatterfest, an intimate psychological profile of why Space Vampires™ have mommy issues, or a chilling prediction of the future. Worried about the stock market, peak oil or nuclear terrorism? Bah! You should be sharpening your stakes and preparing holy water for the real threat, I say!

Listen, the film’s just a mess of ideas and directions, but it’s the sort of glorious mess that makes it worth your while, if you don’t mind random nonsense, nudity and completely unintentional double entendres. Personally, I think Railsback was just in it for the kisses, and Tobe wanted to see how much he could get away with in a movie before he was shunned from big budget filmmaking. Lifeforce might just be a one-of-a-kind bomb that people fondly remember after the dust settles, fires are extinguished and forest creatures return to repopulate the countryside.


  • Very stirring opening music, I’d say
  • Patrick Stewart!
  • Earth gravity in a shuttle? That’s convenient.
  • Giant space bats!
  • Can you lose fluids “to space”? I don’t think so.
  • Space Vampires don’t like clothes
  • If you’re going to go, I guess making out with a cute naked space vampire isn’t a bad way to go
  • “Natural voyeur?” Ew.
  • Souls are blue and bright

Groovy Quotes

Dr. Hans Fallada: Don’t worry. A naked girl is not going to get out of this complex.

Colonel Tom Carlsen: She’s resisting. I’m going to have to force her to tell me. Despite appearances, this women is a masochist. An extreme masochist. She wants me to force the name out of her. She wants me to hurt her. I can see the images in her mind. You want to stay? Otherwise wait outside!
Colonel Colin Caine: Not at all. I’m a natural voyeur.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Dawn of the Dead
  • Alien
  • Poltergeist

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