With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
Tobe Hooper’s body of work in horror runs the gamut of tone and style. From the groundbreaking, relentless terror of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to the comedic B-horror of anthology Body Bags, Hooper was fearless in his approach to the genre. His three-picture deal with Cannon Films post success of Poltergeist perfectly encapsulates that, as all three films are so vastly different from each other that a casual viewer likely wouldn’t connect them back to the same director. Of the three, Lifeforce had the biggest budget he’d ever been afforded, giving him scale and ambition in a way he hadn’t been able to play with before or since. Based on the 1976 novel by Colin Wilson, The Space Vampires, Lifeforce is the strangest sci-fi horror film that audiences and critics didn’t quite know what to make of upon release in 1985.
The crew of the space shuttle Churchill find a long artichoke-shaped spaceship hidden in the coma of Halley’s Comet. Inside they find hundreds of massive desiccated bat creatures, and three preserved, naked humanoids. Naturally, they decide to take the naked humanoids back with them. Contact with the Churchill crew is lost shortly after, and a rescue mission reveals that the ship was burned. Only the three humanoids made it out intact. Well, save for Colonel Tom Carlsen, who’s later found on an escape pod and confesses to setting fire to the Churchill to spare Earth from catastrophe. The female humanoid wakes up and begins draining the life force from all humans she comes in contact with, turning London into ground zero of a zombie apocalypse and leaving a trail of shriveled human husks in her wake.
That’s right, Lifeforce is part zombie film, part dreamlike space odyssey, part erotic vampire tale, and part creature feature all wrapped up into one long ode to Hammer horror. While it may be most remembered for its copious nudity, namely that of lead female vampire played by Mathilda May, Lifeforce won awards for its special effects by Apogee, Inc. and its founder John Dykstra (Star Wars, Kong: Skull Island). The special effects were complex and required a really large crew, and the complex nature of the effects resulted in production falling way behind schedule and over budget. The animatronics involved with the shriveled victims and bat creatures, the electrical lights emitted from the humanoid vampires, and more meant a slew of talented artists working well past production. Many scenes originally in the script were never even filmed as a result, further adding to the strange dreamlike feel of the movie.
Hooper’s initial cut of the film, running over two hours long, was trimmed for release, further cutting out scenes from the script. A commercial failure at the box office, it was the last big budget movie Hooper would get to make. His remaining two Cannon films, Invaders from Mars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, had much smaller, diminishing budgets. He was back to micro-budget or direct-to-video fare after that. It’s a shame really, because Lifeforce is a great example of genre-bending weirdness that only a director like Hooper was bold enough to attempt. There’s never been a vampire movie like this before, and never will be again.