The sun-scorched macabre delirium of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The carny-slasher nightmare of The Funhouse. The festering scumbag sleaze of Eaten Alive and the deranged gallows humor of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. When he passed away in 2017, director Tobe Hooper left behind a horror legacy that remains remarkably distinct to this day. Even in a movie maybe partially ghost-directed by Spielberg (aka Poltergeist) or a zany Body-Snatchers-for-kids (aka Invaders from Mars), his directional fingerprints shine through: provocative hells crafted from Americana’s dark underbelly, textured aesthetics that embraced artifice and the macabre, grisly skin-crawling violence. This was the director that Cannon decided to give $25 million to adapt Colin Wilson‘s novel The Space Vampires.

The studio and audiences probably didn’t expect for Hooper to go wild and make a blockbuster love-letter to Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass, filtered through Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires, filtered through cosmic-horror doomsday, filtered through Dracula. But 1985’s Lifeforce indulges in all of those disparate elements, a bonkers sci-fi-horror pulp adventure treated as a dead-serious apocalyptic epic. In some ways, it’s actually quite reminiscent of Ishiro Honda’s sci-fi films — Godzilla, Rodan, Matango, The Mysterians, etc. — and their commitment towards turning the most unabashedly odd sci-fi premise into serious drama. (And surprisingly, by its final act, Lifeforce also shares a similar love for exploding city miniatures!)

Hooper opens big and beautiful, like an Amazing Stories cover brought to life through ‘80s special effects. A team of astronauts enter a fleshy vessel hidden within the green glow of Halley’s Comet; its bio-mechanical arteries lead to a catacomb of desiccated batmen and three entrancing humanoids entombed in crystal coffins. Right from the start, Lifeforce is way out there. Hooper never once diminishes the batshit crazy edge of his Lovecraftian Dracula epic. Not long after that opening, Mathilda May’s naked space leech is literally sucking men dry and scientists are attempting to understand incomprehensible alien biology by researching historical vampire myths. In other words, Hooper created the most expensive and spectacular Quatermass movie ever made.

However, Lifeforce’s greatest surprise is how its insanity crystallizes into what is essentially a sci-fi procedural adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There’s a Van Helsing in Frank Finlay’s Doctor Fallada and Jonathan Harker in Peter Firth’s SAS colonel Caine. Both Mina and Renfield are embodied in Steve Railsback’s astronaut survivor Carlsen, cursed with a sensual psychic bond to the space siren. The cursed voyage of the Demeter is paralleled aboard the doomed shuttle Churchill. May’s alien soul-sucker deserves to be in the pantheon of cinema’s great Draculas and his analogues. She exudes such sinister presence, has the hypnotic gaze down to a science, completely sells a mix of beyond-the-stars menace and classic Gothic aura.

The first half of Lifeforce is a relentless thrill. Consider all that fills its minutes: an autopsy gone horribly wrong, groaning husks that would be at home in writer Dan O’Bannon’s own The Return of the Living Dead, body-hopping possessions and a wild supporting performance from Patrick Stewart. If the film merely remained a science-vs-paranormal (wo)manhunt with humanity’s doom on the horizon, the entertainment factor would be immense.

But Hooper continues escalating, the otherworldly apocalyptic scale of the film never less than astounding. Blood-gushing body horror, city-wide devastation, odes to Romero’s undead: Lifeforce is Hooper’s auteur eccentricities unleashed without budget or scope to hold him back. Riveting, bleak and bombastic from opening titles to end credits, it must be seen to be believed.

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Copshop

A hard boiled pressure-cooker whose smaller scale only intensifies the tension and eventua…