Monday, June 23, 2008

Big Trouble in Little Britain

When Stacie Ponder at Final Girl offered her readers a choice for the next Film Club selection, I jumped at the chance to partake in that uniquely American institution they call democracy. Being Canadian, however, I botched it magnificently. "Schizo" was my first pick, and when that horse started coming up lame I panicked at the prospect of potential minority status and changed my vote. After the polls closed and the ballots were tallied, the winner was...Lifeforce! Hooray, my guy won! I was finally among the political elite!

As I busied myself affixing my "Food of the Gods lost, GET OVER IT" bumper stickers, however, it occured to me that the movie I thought I was voting for whilst pulling that virtual lever was actually an entirely different movie from the one rattling around in my election-addled brain. You see, Lifeforce is a 1985 vampire shocker from Tobe Hooper, whereas I was thinking of John Carpenter's 1988 aliens-among-us paranoid opus They Live.

Oops. Oh well. I suppose, like Waldo-spotting and parallel parking, democracy doesn't come as naturally to some as it does to others. I resolved to watch the movie anyway, having not actually seen it, and having absolutely nothing better to do.

The first section of the film is familiar territory for Dan O'Bannon, as he riffs on his own "Alien" script by placing his star, Steve Railsback (Helter Skelter, Ed Gein) aboard a spacecraft which has gone off-mission to investigate an alien ship.

They find the dessicated corpse of a gargoyle-like beast and a trio of nude humanoid aliens apparently in stasis.

After the decision is made to carry the their discoveries back to their own ship (The Churchill), a title card informs us that Some Time Has Passed.

A team of astronauts (piloting the ill-fated shuttle "Columbia" no less) are sent to dock with the silent and drifting "Churchill" to investigate. They find the fire-blackened interior wrecked, the crew dead, and the escape pod jettisoned. I would have blamed droids at this point, except that not all of the unlucky astronauts are accounted for. The three capsules containing the naked sleepers, however, are discovered undamaged and returned via the shuttle to Earth.

These sequences are rather impressive, by the way, and the visual effects and modelwork overall look great.

The next bit of the movie introduces us to various British actors (the remainder of the film is set in London) and stuntpeople (Tip Tipping, Stuart Fell), most of whom have appeared in at least one episode of Doctor Who. It's really sad how I know this.

Anyhow, the femalien vampire escapes her confinement and promptly sucks the "lifeforce" out of anyone she and her monumental bosoms encounter.
Beware the vampire's shadow-puppies!

Get used to these. You'll be seeing a lot more of 'em.

The two (less aggressively naked) male aliens also awaken, but are quickly blown to bits by a couple of hastily-thrown grenades. Since it's the lady vamp who's running the show, it's a pretty moot sequence.
The guy on the right is Mick Jagger's brother Chris, and the other guy once played a Cyberman. Seriously not kidding.

Next we meet Peter Firth's character, a refreshingly intelligent and perspicacious military type who begins conducting an emergency manhunt for the escaped soul-sucking crumpet. When her victims begin spontaneously re-animating, we learn that the vampires' curse is dangerously contagious.
Winehouse - Live at Leeds. Kidding!

Actually, it's more of an excuse to show off the level of animatronic sophistication those effects wizards had back in the pre-CG days. Nice for its time, but probably too hokey for most modern audiences, especially considering the female corpse looks suspiciously like the bisected zombie from O'Bannon's "Return of the Living Dead".

Steve Railsback's escape pod is recovered in Texas, and after a quick shave, he returns to London to assist in the investigation. Once hypnotized, he establishes a psychic link with the body-hopping harlot, which proves invaluable in causing Patrick Stewart (yes, that one) to holler dramatically, in that inimitable way only British actors can.

And then they kiss.
Yeah, just go with it.

Aboard a military helicoptor, Railsback confesses he was the one who torched his ship in order to prevent the aliens from reaching Earth. Suddenly, a message from the research lab confirms that the creatures are indeed vampires, and can be destroyed with whatever elaborate, lead-shafted, medieval weapons one has handy. Good to know!

Picard and another drugged passenger choose this exact moment to get airsick.

It's quite gross, actually.

We're talking Tubgirl gross.

Peter Firth gags accordingly.

London erupts into chaos as the vampire spaceship enters Earth's orbit. Not even doubledecker buses plastered with giant gin adverts can escape the carnage...

Alien ship with brolly attachment at full extension.

Deftly evading (or just plowing through) the hordes of clamoring zombies, Firth hotfoots it back to the lab to grab the sword-of-swords while Railsback "homes in" on Chesty McBreastie's location - St Paul's. Not without a sense of irony, these space-vampires.

Firth, sword in one hand, pistol in the other, heads to the famed Cathedral for a little payback. Only one man can stop him...
And his name is Rick Astley. Ok, no, it's the remaining male vampire, who is quickly dispatched.
Bleargh! Pierced by the Sword of Convenience!

Firth enters the church, and is nearly blinded for his troubles:

After some extended canoodling, finally the hand-off. The sword is thrust, and the lovers are dust.
Or...are they?

Wow. I totally want to watch that again. It was goofy, quotable, batshit crazy, gory, and somehow still very, very British.

Regarding the title of this post - I'm reminded again of John Carpenter. His career started out with "Halloween", an independent horror flick that rocketed him onto Hollywood's radar, very much the way "Texas Chainsaw" worked for Tobe Hooper. A few years later, buoyed by bigger budgets and industry clout, Carpenter made "Big Trouble in Little China", a wild, perhaps undisciplined vanity project that baffled critics and many moviegoers at the time. And yet honestly? It was, and still remains, an awful lot of fun.

I'm not proposing that "Lifeforce" is on par with BTiLC, nor even half as good, but isn't it at least analogous in the sense of sheer unrestrained, joyful abandon? And if this is, indeed, Tobe Hooper's cinematic "grand folly", then why not enjoy it for exactly the same reasons?

I sure did.


At 11:46 AM, June 25, 2008, Anonymous ebrittingham said...

I am so glad you enjoyed it! I was one who voted for it on Final Girl's website.

It is a family favorite around my house; the kids (they're all adults now) still want to see the "nekkid vampire lady" when we're just sitting around. That, and "Little Shop of Horrors" (the musical of course!).

At 3:46 PM, November 24, 2008, Blogger Jenos Ridan said...

I saw that one just yesterday. I'd be among the first to jump at a chance to write a remake. Or heck, even star in it. Playing the role of the astronaut or even some no-name would be sweet.


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