Digi-Schlock: LIFEFORCE (Scream Factory Blu-Ray/DVD Combo)

If any Tobe Hooper was overdue for the special edition treatment, it was Lifeforce.  It is rare for such an odd blend of genres to get produced with such a big budget – and the result was the kind of film that not only deserves a high-definition treatment but also demands to have its curious story told.  Luckily for the director’s fans, Scream Factory stepped in to tackle this long-awaited special edition – and the results are a high-caliber release that does justice to this oft-neglected film.

The package begins with an excellent anamorphic transfer of the film.  The blu-ray features both the international and U.S. cuts of the film via seamless branching while the DVD sticks to the international cut.  Whatever option you choose, this is a lovely transfer packed with crisp detail, vivid colors and a gorgeous celluloid texture.  Director Tobe Hooper supervised the color timing of the transfer himself and the results are the best this film has ever looked on home video.

The audio is also quite impressive on this transfer, giving the viewer the option of 2.0 or 5.1 stereo soundtracks.  Both are presented in a lossless format on the blu-ray and the 5.1 option was listened to for this review: it’s a real barnstormer of a track, with plenty of surround effects during the many setpieces and a similarly visceral treatment for Henry Mancini’s stirring orchestral score.

This set also includes a veritable bonanza of bonus features.  Not one but two commentary tracks start it all off.  The first features Hooper, with Tim Sullivan serving as moderator.  Sullivan is very enthusiastic about the film and takes the lead, directing the willing Hooper through a conversation about the film that balances scene-specific details with more general tales about the film.  Hooper discusses how he joined the project, the “magic tricks” used to achieve different visual effects and some fun bits of trivia (a sample: Billy Idol almost played one of the male space vampires).  Sullivan can sometimes get a little overexcited and rush the track but there’s never a dull moment on it and the nice camaraderie between him and Hooper makes for engaging listening.

The other track features makeup effects supervisor Nick Maley with moderator Michael Felsher.  Plenty of time is devoted to discussing the complexities of the various effects, particularly the scenes involving the animatronic dummies, and what it was like working with Hooper and the film’s visual and practical effects supervisors.  Felsher also gets Maley to talk about the history of his career, including fond memories of his work on The Empire Strikes Back and Krull.  It’s relaxed but very informative and offers some interesting insight into how the makeup effects business functions in the U.K.

There is also an array of vintage promotional materials to be explored.  An extensive image gallery includes stills and poster art from different countries, including an eye-catching poster for the film’s other title, Space Vampires.  Better yet, it includes some cool makeup FX photos from Nick Maley’s personal collection.  A trailer gallery includes 3 spots: a t.v. commercial and two theatrical trailers.  They all use the striking “eye vs. Earth” imagery that dominated the U.S. campaign and the first of the theatrical trailers is stunning, a mostly silent montage of shocking sights set to a throbbing synth soundtrack.

The jewel of the vintage promo material is “The Making Of Lifeforce,” an EPK created to promote the film.  It includes interviews with Hooper, Maley and visual FX maestro John Dykstra as well as quick interview snippers with Peter Firth and Steve Railsback.  This piece goes all out to sell the viewer on the production’s complexity and the amazing special effects, including several sequences that contrast how the effects were achieved on set with the way they look in the film.  It’s unusually detailed for an EPK and the FX-driven material makes it a keeper for the film’s fans.

Even better, there are a trio of new featurettes from Red Shirt Pictures to round things out.  The first is “Space Vampires In London”: it’s an interview with Tobe Hooper that acts as a 10-minute supplement to his commentary, with only slight overlap.  New material he covers in this segment includes how Dan O’Bannon got involved in the project and the technical challenges of different effects scenes. “Carlsen’s Curse” is devoted to star Steve Railsback.  He’s a gregarious interview subject and covers a lot in 7 minutes, including the grueling physical part of being in effects scenes, the protective attitude he and the crew had towards Mathilda May and a funny anecdote about Patrick Stewart.

However, the big surprise of the Red Shirt featurettes – indeed, of all the extras – is a 15-minute interview with Mathilda May entitled “Dangerous Beauty.”  The still-beautiful star reflects on the whirlwind nature of her first big acting gig, including the challenges of doing the nudity, learning the English language and her fond memories of the other cast members.  She is soft-spoken but quite charming as she shares her memories in a gently expressive way.

In short, this is yet another gem in the Scream Factory catalog and a must for Tobe Hooper fans.  If you love the grand-scale madness of Lifeforce, this set offers an appropriately deluxe way to indulge that love.

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