Friday, October 26, 2012

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The Plague's the Thing!

I promise you I have been watching horror flicks. Soon, Poltergeist!


In Lifeforce, Tobe Hooper and The Cannon Group give us a tale of a decimated spaceship bringing three mysterious humanoids back to Earth. And wouldn't you know it -- they're energy vampires, intergalactic antecedents of the bloodsuckers of legend! Soon, they escape, and it's up to SAS Captain Peter Firth and surviving American astronaut Steve Railsback to stop the creatures as they spread their plague throughout London.

What starts promisingly, even nightmarishly, soon dissolves into a run-of-the-mill, so-so acted, nonsensical bore. Railsback becomes the narrative's hero, and he's just nowhere near as interesting as, say, scientist Frank Finlay or Home Secretary Aubrey Morris. I don't know if it's the fault of the severe edits from post-production, either, because even in the moody beginning Railsback is a problem. You lull yourself into a false state of security, assured that since all the astronauts died, he went with them. But no! He's the lead! And chasing around blue lazers that are supposed to be souls! NEON SOULS FROM OUTER SPACE! Or something.

I was immensely disappointed, and between this and last year's viewing of The Funhouse -- which is admittedly more of a noble failure than a terrible movie -- I was beginning to wonder if maybe everyone was right. Maybe The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was an anomaly.

More on that later, though. Out of five black cats, Lifeforce gets two. I'm being generous.


I loved this film the first time I saw it, but that was two years ago now. I had to re-visit it, even if it was just to watch Clu Gulager and brag to myself that I've met and spoken with him a number of times since moving to LA (he heard me singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and told me I had a wonderful falsetto).

Ok, so, Return of the Living Dead is about two guys at a medical supply warehouse who accidentally open a toxic container that was meant to be shipped to the military. This container releases a zombie and a chemical that not only slowly kills them, but gets into the air and awakens the dead. And these are the type of dead who want BRAAAAAINS and can talk and run and are really fucking creepy. The two guys soon find themselves battling the zombies alongside their boss, the younger employee's girlfriend, her friends and an undertaker.

What everyone loves about Return of the Living Dead is the humor. It's a horror-comedy, so there's plenty of grisly laughs to be had. What I especially love about Return of the Living Dead is the empathy it has for each of its protagonists. Both of the guys who release the toxins are pretty doofy, but instead of settling for "buncha dummies" laughs, the film gives them stakes, real fear about their predicament, and choices that are alternately horrific and tragic.

Rich in character, suspense and humor, it's no surprise that it's Dan O'Bannon who both wrote and directed the picture. He is, of course, the screenwriter of horror masterpieces Alien and Dead & Buried (brilliant!), as well as the visual effects guru/co-writer of Dark Star (John Carpenter's first film) and disappointed screenwriter of -- guess what? -- Lifeforce! If one was to choose between his 1985 plague offerings, of course, it's this one that wins. Because, I mean:

So awesome! Five out of five black cats!

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