Lifeforce (1985), director Tobe Hooper’s foray into space-based terror, is very much a product of its time. Starring Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Mathilda May and Frank Finlay (as well as a brief surprise appearance by future Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Patrick Stewart), Lifeforce is one of those films with an unmistakable 1980s air which stands up surprisingly well after nearly thirty years – well, almost. Whilst exploring the farthest reaches of space, the crew of the space shuttle Churchill discover a massive 150 mile-long alien spaceship hidden within the corona of Halley’s Comet and decide to board.
Though the ship initially seems devoid of life the Churchill’s crew soon find out what inhabited it, with potentially devastating results for not only them but the entire human race. Lifeforce falls into a group of films that everyone remembers, but which no-one can be sure they actually saw. Made in the wake of Hooper’s best work – the glory days of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) were a mere memory by the mid-eighties – this obscure film is one of those which unfortunately has trouble sustaining the promise it deludes to in its initial space bound scenes. The opening segment of the film – based on bestselling English author Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel The Space Vampires – has more than a touch of Alien (1979).
It’s when the action – along with the alien beings discovered on the spaceship – is transported to Earth, that the film begins to unravel. The impressive sense of claustrophobia established within the confines of the Churchill, and the later grandeur of the alien spaceship’s cathedral-like interior, is diluted by the insubstantial air of a soulless London where the rest of the film plays out. Add to this the far-fetched premise of a female alien who spends most of her time walking around naked and a plague which decimates the populace in mere hours and the result is a disappointing shadow of what could have been an original and taught shocker. As a piece of extraterrestrial-tinged whimsy, Lifeforce occasionally shows weak signs of life, but in the end it falls well short of achieving classic status.