Lifeforce (film)

Lifeforce is a 1985 British science fiction horror film directed by Tobe Hooper, written by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby, and starring Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May, and Patrick Stewart. Based on Colin Wilson's 1976 novel The Space Vampires, the film portrays the events that unfold after a trio of humanoids in a state of suspended animation are brought to Earth after being discovered in the hold of an alien space ship by the crew of a European space shuttle.[6] The film received negative reviews on release. It grossed $11.6 million in the United States.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byTobe Hooper
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onThe Space Vampires
by Colin Wilson
Music byHenry Mancini[1]
CinematographyAlan Hume
Edited byJohn Grover
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • 21 June 1985 (1985-06-21)
Running time
101 minutes[2]
CountryUnited Kingdom[3]
Budget$25 million[4]
Box office$11.6 million (US)[5]


The crew of the joint British and American space shuttle Churchill, under the command of Colonel Tom Carlsen, finds a 150-mile-long spaceship hidden in the coma of Halley's Comet. Inside, the crew discovers hundreds of desiccated bat-like creatures and three naked humanoid bodies (two male and one female) in suspended animation within glass containers. The crew recovers a bat-alien and the three bodies and begins the return trip to Earth. However, during the return journey, mission control loses contact with Churchill and a rescue mission is launched to investigate.

The rescuers discover that Churchill has been gutted by fire. The present crew are dead and the escape pod is missing, yet the three containers bearing the bodies remain intact. The bodies are taken to the European Space Research Centre in London. Prior to an autopsy, the female alien awakens and drains the life force out of a guard. She then escapes the facility and proceeds to drain other humans of their life force, revealing an ability to shape-shift. The guard revives after two hours and also displays the ability to drain others of their life force. Soon thereafter, the two male vampires wake and attempt a violent escape, but are apparently destroyed.

Meanwhile, in Texas, an escape pod from Churchill is found with Carlsen inside. Carlsen is flown to London, where he describes the course of events, culminating in the draining of the Churchill crew's life force. Carlsen explains that he set fire to the shuttle with the intention of saving Earth from the same fate and escaped in the pod. However, when he is hypnotised, it becomes clear that Carlsen possesses a psychic link to the female alien. Carlsen admits to Caine that, while on Churchill, he felt compelled to open the female vampire's container and share his life force with her. Carlsen and SAS Colonel Colin Caine trace her to a psychiatric hospital in Yorkshire. There, the two believe they have managed to trap her within the heavily sedated body of the hospital's manager, Dr. Armstrong. Carlsen and Caine later learn they were deceived, as the aliens had wanted to draw them out of London.

The two male vampires have survived by shape-shifting into the soldiers who killed their previous bodies, and now the pair are infecting most of London's population. As Carlsen and Caine are transporting Dr. Armstrong back to London, the female alien escapes from her sedated host and disappears. Martial law is declared as the vampire plague sweeps through the city, the victims seeking out other humans to absorb their life force and perpetuate the cycle. The absorbed life forces are channeled by the male vampires to the female vampire, who transmits the accumulated energy to their spaceship, which is now in geosynchronous orbit over London.

Dr. Fallada impales one of the male vampires with an ancient weapon of "leaded iron". He contacts Carlsen and Caine and surmises that the creatures have visited Earth periodically with the coming of Halley's Comet, creating the vampire legends. He delivers the weapon to Caine before succumbing to the infection. The female vampire is tracked by Carlsen to St. Paul's Cathedral, where she is lying upon the altar, transferring energy to her spaceship. She reveals, much to Carlsen's shock, that they are a part of each other due to the sharing of their life forces, thus sharing their psychic bond. Caine follows Carlsen to the cathedral and is intercepted by the second male vampire, whom he kills. Caine throws Carlsen the weapon, who impales himself and the female alien simultaneously. This action causes the release of a burst of energy that blows open the dome of St. Paul's. The two ascend the column of energy to the spaceship, which then returns to the comet as Caine watches.




Lifeforce was the first film of Tobe Hooper's three-picture deal with Cannon Films, following Poltergeist in 1982, which was a collaboration with producer Steven Spielberg. The other two films are the remake of Invaders from Mars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.[7]

Filming began on 2 February 1984. Before Hooper was finally approved, Michael Winner was offered the chance to direct the film.[8]

The film was originally filmed and promoted under the same title as the Colin Wilson novel. Cannon Films, which reportedly spent nearly $25 million in hopes of creating a blockbuster film, disliked The Space Vampires for sounding too much like another of the studio's typical low budget exploitation films.[9] As a result, the title was changed to Lifeforce, referring to the spiritual energy the space vampires drain from their victims, and it was edited for its US theatrical release by TriStar Pictures into a 101-minute domestic cut that was partially re-scored by Michael Kamen, with a majority of Henry Mancini's original music remaining.

It has been suggested that Lifeforce is largely a remake of Hammer Film Productions's Quatermass and the Pit. In an interview, director Tobe Hooper discussed how Cannon Films gave him $25 million, free rein, and Colin Wilson's book The Space Vampires. Hooper then shares how giddy he was: "I thought I'd go back to my roots and make a 70 mm Hammer film."[10][11][12]


The screenplay was written by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby. Tobe Hooper came up with the idea of using Halley's Comet in the screenplay, rather than the asteroid belt as originally used in the novel, as the comet was going to pass by Earth one year following the film's release. The time settings were also changed from the mid-21st century to the present day.[9] Michael Armstrong and Olaf Pooley were brought on during production to perform uncredited rewrites, Armstrong acting as a liaison between Hooper and the art department.[13]

Colin Wilson was unhappy with the way the film turned out. He wrote of it, "John Fowles had once told me that the film of The Magus was the worst movie ever made. After seeing Lifeforce I sent him a postcard telling him that I had gone one better."[14]

Special effects

The film marked the fourth project to feature special effects produced by Academy Award winner John Dykstra, who in 1986 was granted with the "Caixa Catalunya Award for Best Special Effects" in the Sitges Film Festival (located in Spain) for his special effects work in Lifeforce.[note 1] The umbrella-like alien spaceship was modelled after an artichoke, while the model London destroyed in the film was actually the remains of Tucktonia, a model village near Christchurch, United Kingdom, that had closed not long before the shooting of the film. It took a week to film the death scene of the pathologist played by Jerome Willis, and bodycasts of Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart and Aubrey Morris were made by make-up effects supervisor Nick Maley for their death scenes.

One effect near the end of the film involving the column of energy rising from the female alien through the top of St. Paul's Cathedral to the spacecraft was engineered by art director Tony Reading. A column of 3-M material was placed against black velvet and a crew member blew cigar smoke into its bottom. This image was then front projected onto a translucent projection screen behind the actors to create the energy column.[15]


James Horner was first asked to write the score before Henry Mancini was brought in and produced a score consisting of 90 minutes of an occasionally atonal and ambient music using the London Symphony Orchestra.[16] Mancini had agreed to do the film based on the original concept of a 15-minute essentially dialogue-free opening sequence involving the discovery and exploration of the alien spacecraft and the moving of the three aliens back to the Churchill, for which he composed a tonal "space ballet."[16]

For the American domestic version, Michael Kamen and James Guthrie were asked to write occasional music cues that were placed in at the last minute.[17][18][1]

Editing and post-production

The initial cut of Lifeforce as edited by Tobe Hooper was 128 minutes long. This is 12 minutes longer than the final version which had several scenes cut, most of them taking place on the space shuttle Churchill. According to Nicholas Ball, who played the main British astronaut, Derebridge, it was felt that there was too much material in outer space and so the majority of the Churchill scenes were deleted. Also, most of Nicholas Ball's performance ended up on the cutting room floor according to an interview he gave on the UK talk show Wogan in 1985.

According to interviews with Bill Malin, who plays one of the male vampires, the film went over schedule during production. Because of this some important scenes were never shot, and the film was shut down at one time because the studio had simply run out of money.[8]

Despite being credited on the US domestic cut, the following actors were deleted from that cut of the film: John Woodnutt, John Forbes-Robertson and Russell Sommers. The Churchill commanding officer Rawlins, played by Geoffrey Frederick, was British, but in post-production it was decided that Patrick Jordan would dub his voice. Also in the US version, some of Geoffrey Frederick's voiceover heard on the Churchill is dubbed.


Lifeforce was released on 21 June 1985 to poor box office returns.[19] The film opened in fourth place, losing a head-to-head battle against Ron Howard's science fiction film, Cocoon. The film earned $11,603,545 at the US box office.[20]

Critical response

On release, the film received negative reviews from American critics.[19] Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "[I]ts style is shrill and fragmented enough to turn Lifeforce into hysterical vampire porn."[21] Michael Wilmington in the Los Angeles Times said the film was "such a peculiar movie that it's difficult to get a handle on it."[22] Jay Carr wrote in The Boston Globe that "it plays like a tap-dancing zombie."[23] John Clute dismissed Lifeforce as a "deeply silly flick".[24] Leonard Maltin called the film "completely crazy" and said it was "ridiculous, but so bizarre, it's fascinating."[25]

On the other hand, horror and comic book writer C. J. Henderson praised the film: “Lifeforce is an incredible film, and may by be the most intelligent vampire movie ever made ... [The ideas presented in Lifeforce] are beyond [others vampire movies] beyond all of them, light-years beyond ... the story is what makes this movie hum.... Lifeforce is a true, thinking sci-fi fan's film".[26] Andrew Migliore and John Strysik in their Lurker in the Lobby explain that Colin Wilson wrote The Space Vampires as a consequence of H.P. Lovecraft's publisher August Derleth challenging Wilson (who was critical of Lovecraft's writing) to write a Lovecraftian novel himself (a challenge that resulted in three such novels, The Mind Parasites, The Space Vampires, and The Philosopher's Stone), and they continue, "[Lifeforce] is big, splashy, and ... the scenes of an apocalyptic London are not to be missed. And the film, an obvious tribute to Nigel Kneale's Quatermass, has deep roots in Lovecraft's mythos".[12] Film critic Gene Siskel of Siskel & Ebert called the film a "guilty-pleasure", awarding it 3 out of 4 stars.[27]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Lifeforce holds a 60% approval rating based on 25 critic reviews, with an average rating of 5.56/10.[28] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 50 out of 100 based on 12 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[29]

Home media

The first release on video in the UK was the heavily edited US "domestic cut". The full "international cut" was not available until it was released by MGM in the 2000s. The first US release of the "international cut" was MGM/UA's 1994 release on deluxe widescreen letterboxed LaserDisc.

Scream Factory announced they would be releasing Lifeforce in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack on 18 June 2013.[30] This included the US domestic cut, as well as the international cut of the film.

Arrow Video released Lifeforce in the UK as a steelbook two-disc Blu-ray special edition in October 2013, with the same features as the US Blu-ray release.

See also


  1. This award (presented annually) is the Special Effects Award attributed by the Sitges Film Festival, but its name has changed among years, depending on different sponsors. In 1986 it was called "Premio Caixa Catalunya a los Mejores Efectos Especiales" ("Caixa Catalunya Award for Best Special Effects") since that year the sponsor was Caixa Catalunya, a local bank.


  1. Variety Staff (31 December 1984). "Review: 'Lifeforce'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  2. "LIFEFORCE". British Board of Film Classification. 5 July 1985. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  3. "Lifeforce (1985)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  4. The New York Times (4 September 1985). "Disasters Outnumber Movie Hits". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
  5. "Lifeforce". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  6. "Lifeforce". Film Society of Lincoln Center. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  7. Macor, Alison (2010). Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids. University of Texas Press. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-292-77829-0.
  8. "Lifeforce/Fun Facts". The Grindhouse Cinema Database. 20 July 2016. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  9. Scapperotti, Dan (July 1985). "The Hooper on Lifeforce". Cinefantastique. Oak Park.
  10. The Making of Lifeforce (2013) documentary, by filmmakers Calum Waddel and Naomi Holwill, included on the Lifeforce Blu-Ray.
  11. Miller, Thomas Kent (2016). Mars in the Movies: A History. Jefferson: McFarland & Company. ISBN 9780786499144. p. 180
  12. Migliore, Andrew; Strysik, John (2006). Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H.P. Lovecraft. Portland: Night Shade Books. ISBN 9781892389350.
  13. Collins, Frank (27 August 2017). "LIFEFORCE — Special Edition Blu-Ray / Review". Cathode Ray Tube. Retrieved 17 April 2018 via Medium.
  14. Wilson, Colin (2011). Dreaming to Some Purpose. Random House. p. 332. ISBN 9781446473603.
  15. Rizzo, Michael (2005). The Art Direction Handbook for Film. CRC Press. ISBN 9780240806808.
  16. Caps, John (2012). Henry Mancini: Reinventing Film Music. University of Illinois Press. pp. 193–98. ISBN 9780252093845.
  17. Broxton, Jonathan (2 July 2015). "LIFEFORCE – Henry Mancini". Movie Music UK. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  18. Alexander, Chris (16 November 2016). "Sound Shock: The Music of Lifeforce". CraveOnline Media. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  19. Caulfield, Deborah (10 August 1985). "Hooper Targets Martians". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 9 March 2013. Retrieved 5 June 2012. Instead, most movie critics took simultaneous vacations from the superlatives they'd laid on many summer films and panned Lifeforce with a vengeance.
  20. "Lifeforce (1985) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  21. Maslin, Janet (21 June 1985). "The Screen: 'Lifeforce'". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
  22. Wilmington, Michael (22 June 1985). "Movie Review: Fear in Forefront of Peculiar 'Lifeforce'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
  23. Carr, Jay (22 June 1985). "'Lifeforce' Misses a Great Opportunity". The Boston Globe. Boston Globe Media Partners. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  24. Clute, John (1995). Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 285. ISBN 9780789401854.
  25. "Movie Crazy". IndieWire. Penske Business Media. Archived from the original on 26 April 2016. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  26. Henderson, C. J. (2001). Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies: From 1897 to the Present. New York: Checkmark Books.
  27. Siskel, Gene (24 June 1985). "`Lifeforce`: Grotesque, But Still Fun". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  28. "Lifeforce (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  29. "Lifeforce Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  30. Dee, Jake (4 January 2013). "Scream Factory to issue Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce & Hammer's Vampire Lovers on Blu-ray this April". Arrow in the Head. Joblo Media. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
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