Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985)

by Jacqueline Valencia

The appeal of films like the late Tobe Hooper‘s Lifeforce is that I like being entertained. It doesn’t matter if the film is good or bad, I frankly would like to feel like I didn’t waste my time watching it.  A good film provokes me to think or it makes me laugh, thrills me, or moves me in some way even though it doesn’t intend to. This movie is a little of all the above. Lifeforce is about sexy shape shifting soul sucking space vampires led by a female alien (known as the Space Girl and played by Mathilda May). There are bats, there are zombies, and there are a lot of incompetent male scientists who die trying to control a female vampire whose power depends on the male gaze. Take away the fact that she’s naked most of the time and add that in no part of the film is she not in control and she is neither violated in any way. For a horror film made when slashing women to gory pieces was popular, it’s kind of ahead of its time.


Based on Colin Wilson’s novel, The Space Vampires, it was produced by Canon Films, better known for churning out films like Delta Force, Death Wish, and (my fave – click here why) Hercules. The kitschy element in the film’s dialogue and execution is strong. While I am by no means a purist, the special effects here are old school non-CGI. This is a world built with miniature castaway models, body casts, dummies, and Industrial Light and Magic pioneer John Dykstra. It adds a certain charm to a scene when the camera pans past cartoonish life drained dummies in plastic bags and a survivor’s voice grimly recalls, “The life just…drained out of him. One by one the rest of the crew began to die…”


They may be cartoonish now, but there’s no denying they were done really well.  Look at the attention to detail in the face and hands of the drained zombie! There’s more, so much more.


Yes, that is a Sir Patrick Stewart dummy.

Men are held prisoner to the pull of the Space Girl and exhibit symptoms like mania, screaming, and feverish rantings, which all sound like the ravings of the “hysteria” women have been diagnosed with for centuries.

“I took my shape from your mind. I took your language. I became the woman I found there. Your deepest thoughts. Your deepest needs. I am the feminine in your mind, Carlsen.” – all said to the male protagonist of our story (Col. Tom Carlsen played by Steve Railsback) through the possessed body of another man.

How cool is that?

The film is steady in its unravelling, thrilling in its 80s schlock, it’s cheesy, it’s feminist (in a way), and if you’ve loved Tobe Hopper films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist you can see the same brilliance and exemplary dedication to his art here.

“I thought I’d go back to my roots and make a 70 mm Hammer film.” – Tobe Hooper

With that sentence he sums it all up. Rest in peace and goodspeed, Mr. Hooper. Thank you for making films I still keep parsing like a pulp novel you know (or hope) is saying so much more.



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