Movie Discussion: Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985)

  • Monthly Theme: Alien Invasion
  • The Film: Lifeforce
  • Country of origin: U.S.A.
  • Date of U.S. release: June 21, 1985
  • Studio: Golan-Globus Productions, et al.
  • Distributer: TriStar Pictures & The Cannon Group
  • Domestic Gross: $11.5 million
  • Budget: $25 million
  • Director: Tobe Hooper
  • Producers: Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan and Michael J. Kagan
  • Screenwriter: Don Jakoby & Dan O’Bannon
  • Adaptation? Yes, of the 1976 novel The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson.
  • Cinematographer: Alan Hume
  • Make-Up/FX: John Dykstra
  • Music: Henry Mancini
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. B-movie actor Steve Railsback (Helter Skelter, Turkey Shoot, et al.).
  • Other notables?: Yes. Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the X-Men films.
  • Awards?: Best Special Effects Award at the 1985 Sitges-Catalonian International Film Festival.
  • Tagline: “In the blink of an eye, the terror begins.”
  • The Lowdown: A team of astronauts find a rogue vessel of alien origin and, inside the vessel, a sexy trio of naked catatonic humans. They bring them down to Earth, only to discover they’re space vampires who feed on human lifeforce. Will their plot to destroy the world be successful?

If you haven’t seen Lifeforce our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.

Kristine: Surely you know that I was not very excited when I saw that this month’s theme was Alien Invasions. Science fiction/space and I are not best pals (remember when we watched Alien?). But I don’t think this movie is really about space, right? It’s about horny men allowing their base desires to bring down society (and evil lady pussy power).

Sean: Well, did you like it? I’m curious.

Kristine: I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. I thought it was ridiculous to the hilt and sometimes pretty funny but also pretty confusing given the simple and familiar premise. What about you?

Spacevamp Xanadu

Sean: Oh I love this movie, but it is pure batshit insanity.

Kristine: For sure.

Sean: And it is also so Freudian that it makes me die.

Kristine: Oh yeah. The weapon of defense? The spaceship? The vagina chambers?

Sean: It seems like it is possibly a satire about men who hate women. But at the end of the day, I think it is just a celebration of men who hate women, which is so ‘80s.

Kristine: I agree. Because Sean, all ladies want and need men’s lifeforce (metaphor alert!) and when they take it from you, you die. But not before you have betrayed all of your bros and brought society down in the process.

Sean: The worst is when those horrible men all go to that poor red-headed woman’s house and assault her. Carlsen goes, “She’s resisting. I’m going to have to force her to tell me. Despite appearances, this woman is a masochist! An extreme masochist! She wants me to force the name out of her. She wants me to hurt her!”and his bro, who is there watching, says, “I am a natural voyeur” and licks his lips. It is a rape scene.

Spacevamp Cervix

Kristine: I hated that scene. That guy who is watching with the tight, curly blonde hair shall hereafter be known as The Short ‘n’ Curlies. He was part of why the movie was so confusing to me. The protagonist of the movie kept changing – first it was Carlsen, then it was the biologist dandy, then it was the Tony Blair-looking guy, then it was The Short ‘n’ Curlies…

Sean: The men were all interchangeable. But also, this movie is hella gay, as is appropriate for an ‘80s horror movie. So far we’ve noticed that the 1980s = intense homoeroticism and blatant misogyny. Lifeforce essentially boils down to the following message: ‘Bros before hos, but what if you kissed your bros? Oh no! the universe would explode into chaos! Okay, lets just rape the hos then, because women wanna destroy all the bros and gays ‘n’ ladies are vampirezombiemonsters….’ Basically, catnip for 12-year-old boys.

Kristine: Absolutely. And this movie imagines women as sub-verbal sleepwalkers with super prominent boobies and non-existent, non-visible vaginas.

Sean: Where was the labia?

Kristine: No clue. All Carlsen and Spacegirl (gag) did was awkwardly make out, 12-year-old style. No in-and-out.

Sean: I think the only appropriate way to watch this movie is as a comedy and a series of Freudian confessions of repressed urges. And through that lens, I love it.

Kristine: Fair enough. Do you agree that it’s not about space?

Sean: Well, it’s about the Gothic.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: I mean, you saw all the parallels to Nosferatu right?

Spacevamp Joan Rivers

Kristine: I was listing them for my boyfriend as we watched: suspended animation chambers = coffins. Transferring the specimens via spaceship, the whole crew dies en route = boat scene (Also, didn’t this crew watch Alien? Don’t bring back shit from space).

Sean: I know. The beginning is so indebted to Alien, it’s ridiculous.

Kristine: Right?

Sean: And yes, instead of the plague ship drifting into the harbor like in Nosferatu, it is the ship drifting back into orbit around Earth. All the tropes of the Gothic vampire story gets reimagined using the aesthetics of science fiction. It makes sense to me that Hollywood would think that the best way to repackage the vampire story in 1985 was as a space zombie movie.

Kristine: Sure, I can dig that.

Sean: The opening music is so Spielbergian, and the movie that follows is so not, which tells you right off the bat that the makers of this movie might not really have had a grasp on the tone of the project.

Spacevamp Salute

Kristine: Yeah, you’re right. During the opening music you’re thinking “whimsical adventure á la E.T. or a Superman movie or an ‘80s Star Trek movie” and it’s really “phallic zombie whorewoman and gonzo repressed homo urges.”

Sean: Totally. So, besides the classic Nosferatu stuff, this movie also made me think of both Carrie and Village of the Damned. In a lot of ways, Spacegirl is just Carrie White from the last 15 minutes of Carrie repackaged as a naked spacewhore.

Kristine: I was just about to say how I got the giggles whenever Spacegirl’s gaze petrified one of the men and allowed her to suck the lifeforce out of them, because it reminded me so much of the evil niños in Who Can Kill a Child? and the Hitler Youth in Village of the Damned.

Sean: I know. And also, both Lifeforce and Village of the Damned are these sci-fi movies about male insecurity and paranoia, where some otherworldly virile force comes gushing from the depths of space. In Village of the Damned it is the “beam from space” that impregnates the ladies and here it is giant space sperm that hides a diva witch and her two twink bodyguards.

Kristine: Very good point. Is Halley’s Comet as a symbol of destruction and chaos related to the destructive twink love/evil death vaginas?

Sean: I think it is just GODSPERM.

Kristine: I agree. Hello? The shape alone.

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 9.24.12 AM
Spacevamp Blood Event

Sean: Kristine, doesn’t that sound like an industrial band from the ‘90s? GODSPERM. On Wax Trax.

Kristine: Yep. Their first album is entitled Halley’s Comet. Track number one is “Hidden in the Tail.”

Sean: Track 2 – “Blood Clot.” I was imagining you dying during that blood clot sequence, since I know you rail against your own mooncycle.

Kristine: It was grodius. Poor Patrick Stewart.

Sean: I know. His insides turned into a pulsating clot that became Spacegirl. (By the way, when she was a Clot Goddess she looked just like Lilith from True Blood).

Kristine: Yes. I was going to comment on those he-vampires. I actually thought their roles were negligible. Maybe they originally had larger parts that were cut from the final version? They seemed unimportant.

Sean: The dichotomy between the reception/treatment of Spacegirl and the two twink/hardbodies was really fascinating to me. In fact, maybe the most fascinating thing about the movie. While the movie is really comfortable objectifying/vilifying Spacegirl, it doesn’t seem to know what to do with those twink he-vamps.

Kristine: Speaking of objectifying Spacegirl, I was made very uncomfortable by the ugly guards at the space center who surround Spacegirl and are all, “Let’s get her” and it’s real rapey. Not to mention trying to lure her with their disgusting “sammy” scraps and talking to her like she is a retarded dog.


Sean: Those guards…

Kristine: Nasty, right?

Sean: The most hilarious line in the entire movie is after they find the dead woman in the park (who has been killed by Spacegirl), and one of the cops looks at the other cop and says, ominously, “Now…. she has clothes!” about Space Girl. I was laughing so hard.

Kristine: Dun dun dun!

Sean: I was also so grossed out by how all the men keep remarking about how “unbelievable” Spacegirl is, or how they just cannot believe what they’re seeing when they look at her. It was this very pubescent, adolescent wonder at the sight of a naked woman. I just kept being like, Really, you just cannot believe it?’ She wasn’t so hard to believe, I thought.

Kristine: What about that drooling astronaut at the beginning who was all, “I’ve been in space for six months and she looks perfect to me”?

Sean: This movie is a case study in the objectification of women and the demonization/repudiation of homolust feelings.

Kristine: That’s why those teenage boys in the park are perfect, because their perved-out instincts to try to catch Spacegirl and the redhead ‘doing things’ is age-appropriate. But it’s also what all these grown ass men of authority want to do – those horny teenagers are the Greek chorus of Lifeforce, speaking for all of heteromankind.

Spacevamp Karma

Sean: Oh my god, that excitement over the possibility of lesbian action. I was like, ‘Um, it ain’t lezzies who go to public parks to get head, boys… Just fyi!’

Kristine: That’s very true. Cruising at the park isn’t characteristic of the Lavender Menace.

Sean: No. Just another misdirection in this movie’s complicated cosmology of queer desires.

Kristine: Frankly, I was surprised that those horny astronauts even brought the twinks back with them. I was shocked that Carlsen wasn’t all, “Yeah, umm, we only really need one specimen… Lessee, maybe this one here that happens to have the large mammaries?”

Sean: But that’s the thing about the gayness. I have a whole Twink Theory for this movie.

Kristine: Oh, this’ll be good…

Sean: So, when that one ugly doctor gets glamored by Spacegirl, he tells his colleagues, “She was the most overwhelmingly feminine presence I’ve ever encountered. I was drawn to her on a level that…” And one of his pervy friends is like, ““Was it sexual?!!!????”and he answers, “Yes, overwhelmingly so. And horrible.”

Kristine: Love it.

Spacevamp in the Nude

Sean: Ok – so right there the movie has established that whenever a spacevamp glamors you, it is the most overwhelmingly erotic and dangerous/dirty thing in the universe. And two of the vamps are twink/underwear models. (Fyi, the filmmakers apparently came this close to casting Billy Idol as one of the twinks, but then didn’t).

Kristine: That’s a lie.

Sean: Is not. Anyway, whenever the spacetwinks (or any of the vamped-out male victims of Spacegirl) are glamoring people we know that its an erotic exchange. The movie is very clear about that, but it can only hint at acknowledging it. Spacegirl also tells Ugly Carlsen, “Our bodies are unimportant. As you and your men approached in your ship, we changed them for you. We entered your minds and found there new bodies. I took my shape from your mind.” So, we know that they probed the minds of the space crew and took the sexy forms they found there. Which resulted in: one girl and…. two twinks????

Kristine: A-ha! Proof that 2/3 of the astronaut population is into twinks.

Sean: How many of the away team that found the vamps were women?

Kristine: I think just one lady was part of the discovery team.

Spacevamp Twink Sandwich

Sean: Ok, so then where’d all the fucking twinks come from? Why don’t the spacevamps choose the forms of three sexy ladies if the astronauts are such heteros?

Kristine: Because of gay. I mean, Sean, did you notice the astronaut uniforms included dove-grey slip-on suede Pat Benatar knee boots?

Sean: Okay, those Benatar boots were boss. But the spacevamps chose the sexforms they found in the minds of the men, right? Which means twinks. Second part of my Twink Theory: Fallada (fellatio?) is the King ‘Mo.

Kristine: Surely you mean that he is the Queen ‘Mo.

Sean: Thank you. Queen Fallada. Remember my whole thing when we discussed The Fourth Man about the trope of linking gay sex to death because it is “non-procreative”?

Kristine: Yep.

Sean: So, they make this big deal about how Dr. Fallada’s door claims that he’s into biochemistry, but he’s actually into… Death! I’m sorry, I meant “Thanatology” (the study of death). And we know that death means gay buttsex = dead womb = nonprocreative fucking. In fact, when the two twinks from outer space are first killed, Fallada is so upset because he can’t do an autopsy on them any longer. He wanted to get in there and look around.

Kristine: Right, and Fallada was stoked when he got shot. Remember he was all, “Death… I’m coming“?

Sean: Yes. Carlsen, like, stumbles upon Fallada alone in the lab with one of the dead twinks and there’s a huge rod sticking out of the twink, and Fallada is like, “One of the two male vampires – one of the transformed ones. The old way – a leaded metal shaft penetrating not through the heart but through the energy center two inches below the heart.” His advice about what to do with the twink-vamps is to penetrate them in the classic manner, Kristine.

Spacevamp Mutual Masturbation

Kristine: Oh, I know. Remember, I said that the death rod of defense was the most phallic thing in the whole movie, except for maybe the giant penis ship from outer space.

Sean: The final point in my Twink Theory. I’ve saved the best for last. When Patrick Stewart compels Carlsen to make out with him???

Kristine: OMFG.

Sean: And like, the universe explodes into supernatural lights and winds and pure chaos, like the doorway to Hell has been opened by two sets of male lips touching each other? And the movie is like, “See what happens if two guys kiss?????!!!!!” I was laughing so hard with delight and shock during that whole thing.

Kristine: It was too much.

Sean: Far too much. Do you remember what the Final Twink says to The Short ‘n’ Curlies at the very, very end? When The Short ‘n’ Curlies stumbles across the Final Twink all naked and throbbing with supernatural space energy?

Kristine: Final Twink says something like, “Give it to me,” but I don’t remember exactly what.

Sean: He says, “It’ll be much less terrifying if you just come to me.”

Kristine: That’s right. Total gay sex.

Spacevamp Gay Kiss

Sean: He might as well have said, “Once it’s all the way in, it doesn’t hurt. Trust me.”

Kristine: Yep.

Sean: (Which is true, fyi).

Kristine: That reminds me about how dudes give lady virgins the old Band-aid analogy.

Sean: I have no fucking clue what the hell that is, but it sounds horrible.

Kristine: Hold on, I am dying laughing….

Sean: What is that?

Kristine: Just that it’s less painful to do it all in one go then little by little. Like ripping off a Band-aid.

Sean: Oh my god, ew!

Spacevamp Icicles

Kristine: Well, that’s what they say to coerce us into taking the whole enchilada.

Sean: I actually thought of you during this movie when the Mission Control people were like, “We found the escape pod from the ship” and one guy asks “Where?” and the guy says, “Texas!”

Kristine: Oh yeah, we laughed a lot at that line, too. I mean, the implied dread and horror at the mere mention of Texas. One of the reasons that Texas line is great is that even though I know it’s NASA-related, it also felt like Tobe Hooper was giving himself a shout-out, right? I feel weird asking this, since my Tobe Hooper knowledge is minimal, but does Lifeforce “feel” like a Tobe Hooper movie to you? It seems so different than the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies.

Sean: Oh, it is so different. He had a weird career. He directed Poltergeist, which was, of course, crazy successful and on the strength of that success he got a three-movie deal at Cannon Films. Lifeforce was the first movie he delivered to them as a part of that three-movie deal. Also keep in mind that the urban legend about Poltergeist is that Steven Spielberg actually directed most of it and Tobe Hooper is only ceremonially considered the director of that movie. But can you imagine the movie execs at Cannon being like, ‘The Poltergeist guy is making our next movie!’ and imagining the huge hit he was going to deliver them… and then he delivers Lifeforce?

Kristine: Ha!

Sean: So pervy and so not Poltergeist.

Kristine: Why do you think he chose to set this in London and not in Texas?

Spacevamp Slut-Shaming

Sean: I have no idea. That’s a good question.

Kristine: It seemed odd. I’ll admit that seeing all the chaos and devastation in the streets of London is more exciting than, say, the suburbs of Houston, but those scenes weren’t long enough to justify the setting. I kept thinking that the setting would be connected to some significant plot point concerning cultural difference or political strategizing, but it never happened. Or I thought that Britain being an island would be strategically important, like it could be isolated/quarantined easily. But that never seemed significant. So, overall, the choice of the setting was a mystery to me.

Sean: Yeah, it’s weird.

Kristine: Is 1985 too early to make a case that Lifeforce is an AIDS metaphor? I mean, the depletion of the lifeforce, leaving desiccated and wasted bodies behind, three plague carriers infecting a large metropolis…

Sean: I would agree that this is completely a post-AIDS movie. The club queen and her two twinks infect the straight heteromale world with AIDS and bring about the downfall of society? Sounds like Reagan-era cultural politics to me. Especially because, in the movie, the act of love/sex is always talked about in terms of death. “You’re giving me your life,” Carlsen says to Spacegirl and she replies, “You’re taking it.” That’s how eroticism works in this movie – the robbing of life energy. “That girl was no girl. She’s totally alien to this planet and our life form. And totally dangerous,” one guy screams at one point. This movie’s monster is The Girl That Is Not a Girl. Which, to me, = Eddie Murphy and Hugh Grant knuckle-deep in a transexual hooker’s a-hole.

Kristine: God, I miss the shenanigans of the ‘90s

Spacevamp Baptist

Sean: Is that why all the guys just cannot freaking believe what they’re seeing? Because she has a little penis tucked between her legs?

Kristine: Her crotch is a mystery, that much is certain.

Sean: After Carlsen dominates and straddles Patrick Stewart’s writhing, orgasming body, he says, “He touched me on the shoulder and I saw into his mind.” I was like, ‘That’s what cruising is!’

Kristine: You are killing me. I, too, found the straddling of Stewart to be excessive.

Sean: I have a sociological question to ask you. Have you looked over or read about the Santa Barbara shooter’s manifesto?

Kristine: Oh god. The little I started to read sent me into a high state of hysterical angst and I promised my boyfriend that I wouldn’t research it until I had some distance from the horror/trauma of the event.

Sean: Ok, well I read the whole fucking 140-page thing.

Kristine: Oh god.

Sean: And I was thinking about the intense hatred for women in the manifesto and I had that ringing in my head while I was watching Lifeforce, especially since the movie presents Carlsen as this wronged lover (spurned by SpaceGirl) and all of his bros are trying to help him get over/defeat her. So much of this movie is really just one bro telling another bro: “She’ll destroy you!” and saying that she’s inhuman. This movie is all about men convincing each other than women are not human…

Kristine: I hate Carlsen, and why didn’t anyone blame him since this whole thing is his fault? He opened her chamber to molest her and then was all, “She did it! She made me fondle her!”

Spacevamp Death Church

Sean: That same idea – that women are ‘responsible’ for the dark urges/impulses of men – takes up a lot of the Santa Barbara shooter’s manifesto. He actually argues for an understanding of women as “beasts” and suggests we build concentration camps in which we would eradicate 80% of all women and then store the remaining 20% for breeding purposes only.

Kristine: I am seriously getting upset…

Sean: Sorry – but hang in there. The guys in the movie keep telling Carlsen, “She’s destroyed worlds!”about SpaceGirl. I started to suspect that the screenplay was written by a recently jilted guy who is seriously angry at womankind.

Kristine: I’m convinced that you’re right.

Sean: I am wondering (here’s the sociological question): Are men just more apt to turn their own subjective failures with individual women into a hatred of all women? Because anecdotally, I don’t feel like heterosexual women are as apt to genuinely hate all men when they experience romantic disappointments and/or betrayals. I’ve heard women say stuff like, “Men are pigs,” but all the women I’ve ever known become instantly optimistic again once they like a new guy… I’ve never seen a general hatred for all men fester in heterosexual women, whereas I feel like that’s a common thing for heterosexual men to harbor.

Kristine: That’s an interesting question. One thing I did read about the shooting was a comment on Jezebel from that sick-making forum of adult male virgins (of which the shooter was a member). The comment read something like: “Don’t characterize all members of this forum as misogynists cause it’s not like Jezebel commentators aren’t always saying things like “kill all men” and “castrate them all!” And I was like, ‘What?’ I have literally never seen a comment like that on any Jezebel post, ever. Not even close. So, yeah, there does seem to be this tendency for men to hate the opposite sex as a monolithic group and for them to also assume women do the same… When, in fact, they don’t. I think it comes from being the dominant gender. They must think, ‘It can’t be my fault, because obviously I am awesome, so I must find fault in the other.’

Spacevamp AIDS Patient

Sean: It seems like women are more apt to fucking hate one guy who fucked them over, whereas guys take one instance of being fucked over and project it onto all women.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: That’s what I think the real subtext of this movie is, actually. I mean, I don’t know why all the twink stuff is there, but I think this movie is – at least partially – a tirade from a jilted hetero about the inhumanity and grotesquerie of womankind.

Kristine: You said this movie works as a comedy. But my question is, was it meant to be a comedy?

Sean: No way.

Kristine: Ok good, because I don’t think so, either.

Sean: It is meant dead seriously. Don’t you remember Poor Miss Havisham? I was so upset at her fate.

Spacevamp Lesions

Kristine: I don’t remember her.

Sean: Towards the end when they’re figuring out that everyone has become a vampzombie, they go to some big corporate building and the Head White Man in Charge is like, “Miss Havisham, Miss Havisham, I need to speak to you in private!” to his secretery and then we see them go around the corner and he makes like he’s about to kiss her and she’s all aflutter – but then he spacevamps her! And that’s how we know he’s been turned, and Poor Miss Havisham becomes spacedust.

Kristine: Oh yeah. I knew he was turned before he dusted Miss Havisham and so did Carlson and The Short ‘n’ Curlies, but they did nothing. How did we know? His excessive sweating and daubing of forehead with his hankie. It was the tell that someone was Infected, which we first see with Queen Dandy the biologist.

Sean: Like AIDS. Sweats and sores.

Kristine: Yep. So Miss Havisham is the sacrificial woman? Who stands in for all the women that jilted men would like to destroy?

Sean: Basically, yes.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: Total trash! (I’m not sure I loved it) AND Queerer than you’d think AND Super awesome, if you’re a 12-year-old boy

The Freak’s Rating: Batshit insanity AND Queerer than you’d think

4 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985)

  1. Watched this recently, and it was pretty bad – barely got through it. Some of the dialogue was incredibly bad. On the special features, a crew member is being interviewed and casually mentions that Hooper was off his face most of the time on set. Makes sense.

  2. Agreed – though I enjoy this movie’s specific brand of big-budget/poor-judgment badness. What’s “off his face” mean? Drunk? High? Insane?

  3. It seems to be popular among cult film fans, which is cool, it just didn’t work for me.
    Off his face = high. On drugs.

  4. “Tobe Hopper’s space vampire film has potential… but it loses its sights fairly early.

    The movie starts in space with space shuttles meeting with a comet to find a very organic looking copy of the Discovery from 2001.
    We have nice, zero G scenes and space mummies. But we soon become Earthbound (we do return to space in several flashbacks.) A neat start which achieves a Planet of Vampires quality loses focus, becomes an early prototype for Species and The Hidden with the alien running around, shifting shape, and being followed by a science team which includes a member with a psychic connection to the alien.
    Yeah, this is the one with the nude vampire running around, so is it an erotic, Hammeresque horror? Not quite, because she disappears after the first half hour only to return at the very end for a very STTMP-like finale.

    On the way there we see much of everything (exploding mummy vampires, possession, psychic drain, much electricity, zombie attacks, telekinesis, etc.) with nothing being long enough on the screen to have an ultimate, movie defining impact. This movie includes lots of pre-CG appliance and puppeteer effects, the mummies are cool, but I think the eyes are overlarge, bright and way to cute-looking to remain creepy.

    It ultimately ends up with an ambitious Quatermass and the Pit ending, the city is in chaos with zombie like possessed people attacking one another while the city burns.

    Ambitious, but scatter-shot. ”

    From an 11/12 viewing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s