A brief history of space vampires in the movies

Pub date September 18, 2007

70MM MANIA With everyone vulnerable to psychic Taser attacks through e-mail and cell phones, you don’t have to peek over shoulders to be a space vampire today. Is there any doubt that space vampirism is running rampant?

The answer, my friends and fellow Criswell worshippers, is no. This makes the sheer lack of space vampire movies downright shocking. Leave it to Midnites for Maniacs programmer Jesse Hawthorne Ficks to confront the problem by reviving one of the greatest space vampire movies ever, Tobe Hooper’s 1985 Lifeforce. Now you can ponder space vampirism in its full, bodacious 70mm splendor, as primarily embodied by naked alien Mathilda May, who brought anarchic madness to London almost 20 years before 28 Days Later.

Lifeforce was coproduced by the Cannon Group, a name that — along with fellow producer Golan-Globus — is an absolute guarantee of mind-boggling visions. In addition to the ever-naked (except when wearing a trash bag) May, Lifeforce features Halley’s Comet, a space vampire nun, a screaming Steve Railsback (is there any other kind?), and an overblown score by Henry Mancini, who has wandered a long way from "Moon River." It also includes copious homoeroticism, especially when Patrick Stewart, chrome domed even back then, is possessed by May’s wily feminine spirit. Could Lifeforce have been crazier? It seems impossible. And yet: Klaus Kinski was originally supposed to play one of the film’s mad scientists. (It goes without saying that the scientist is mad.)

Within the It! The Terror from beyond Space–derived upper echelon of the space vampire canon, Lifeforce rivals Curtis Harrington’s 1966 Queen of Blood. In place of a naked May, Harrington’s movie offers a green-skinned alien vampire (the amazing Florence Marly) wrapped in an extratight bodysuit and sporting a hairdo that has been described as a "testy beehive" and a "turnip" by online reviewers and compared to Mister Softee ice cream by me. (Mario Bava’s 1965 Planet of the Vampires is more of an antecedent to Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien.) As for Lifeforce’s futurist twist on body snatching, it does live on in at least one 21st-century movie, 2001’s Kairo (a.k.a. Pulse), by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a director who also qualifies as probably the biggest fan on the planet of Hooper’s 1990 Spontaneous Combustion.


Fri/21, 7 p.m. (Ghostbusters) and 9 p.m. (Lifeforce); double feature, $6–$9

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120