Every horror-loving teenage boy in the ’80s remembers the first time they saw Mathilda May.
It was director Tobe Hooper’s name and some fantastic-looking gore and effects photos in Fangoria magazine that made Lifeforce a must-see, but by the time the end credits rolled all of that had been forgotten. The film was (and still is) goofy fun, but even today the most memorable aspect of the entire movie is Miss May, in the buff, for roughly 90% of her screen time.
If that’s not enough of a reason to give the film a watch the actual plot involves space vampires (Buck Rogers shout out!), zombie-like victims, massive destruction and mayhem in the streets of London, and Patrick Stewart saying the word “naughty” as only he can.
Keep reading to see what I learned from the commentary track for Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce.
Commentators: Tobe Hooper (director), Tim Sullivan (moderator)
1. Hooper’s longer cut of the film is presented here with a transfer supervised by the director himself. He even color-timed it to his original specifications.
2. Menahem Golan handed Hooper Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires and strongly suggested he adapt it into a feature film. The deal was in place by the time Hooper finished reading the book.
3. Asked if he ever considered tackling the script himself Hooper replies that he only likes writing with a partner. He called in Dan O’Bannon to work on it, but the script was still a work in progress when filming began.
4. The crew had to compete for stage space as Legend and Return to Oz we’re filming there simultaneously.
5. The first appearance of Mathilda May, one of many where she’s completely nude, occurs while they’re discussing the film’s scope, size and widescreen. “Especially for Mathilda May’s breasts,” volunteers Sullivan.
6. Full-size models were made of the three naked aliens for the wide shots of them in their glass cases. “Her [May] model I understand,” adds Hooper “is a high-ticket collector’s item.”
7. Hooper recalls the difficulty of filming the actors on wires feigning weightlessness as the days often involved lots of vomit. Sullivan mentions that it’s a possible trend as Hooper also had extras puking from the carousel during The Funhouse.
8. The title was changed from the original The Space Vampires because the studio began noticing an allergic reaction to the B-grade inference.
9. Asked if he considered framing May’s nudity out of some of the shots Hooper replies that he’s never heard such a stupid question. Oh, wait, that was my reaction. Hooper actually says the producers encouraged more shots of May’s nude body.
10. Sullivan seems to think Olivia Hussey was also up for May’s part, but Hooper wouldn’t confirm. He does add that it was incredibly difficult to find an actress willing to play the role. Other male actors considered for roles included Klaus Kinski, George Peppard, John Gielgud and Terence Stamp.
11. One of the male aliens is played by Mick Jagger’s brother, Christopher, and the other was supposed to be played by Billy Idol.
12. Hooper referred to the space vampire’s victims as “the walking shriveled.”
13. Steve Railsback’s dream sequence where he’s seduced by May benefits most from Hooper’s new color-correction. Sullivan notes the scene’s Bava/Argento influences.
14. The two men agree that the film is about “men dealing with the feminine mystique or the feminine terror.” Hooper adds men dealing with “the feminine inside themselves.”
15. Sullivan tells Hooper that special effects artist John Dykstra claims to have designed the space vampires’ spaceship modeled on an artichoke. “If John said that,” says Hooper, “I’ve known him to always be an honest and truthful man so it could be.”
16. Patrick Stewart has said several times that Tobe Hooper is his favorite director to work with.
17. Stewart shot one of his scenes as scripted with the dialogue line “He’s been bad.” The actor pulled Hooper aside and whispered that maybe saying “He’s been naughty” would be better. Hooper agreed, and that’s the version they went with for the film.
18. The scene where May is speaking from inside a possessed Stewart uses a verbal cadence and cuts between the two actors to show their connection. They had struggled as to how to make that clear until Stewart came up with the cadence idea and went off with May to practice.
20. Sullivan is disgusted by the “nasty” scene where one of the zombified(?) soldiers hanging onto the helicopter inadvertently pulls the skin off the back of his own hand. Hooper happily takes credit for the idea.
21. The super bright space ball moving down the street above the panicked people was actually a “naked 10k bulb” being pulled on a wire.
22. Sullivan asks Hooper what the first thing is that comes to his mind when someone mentions Lifeforce today. His answer is a very succinct and timid “Mathilda May.”
Best in Commentary
- Tobe Hooper: “It’s about relationships. It’s about the relationship between men and women and how that can turn, how there can be a dominance in a relationship that can flip flop back and forth.”
- TH: “In the early stages of shooting waxing her completely so she was completely, totally nude. [long pause] There was a way of thinking that that would make her look less nude. It didn’t. And so she had to grow her little bikini thing back.”
Lifeforce is one hell of an odd flick. It’s a lot of fun to be sure, and while the commentary isn’t nearly as entertaining it still manages some fun moments. Hooper’s way of talking about May’s waxed vagina is particularly priceless. It was unclear at first why a one-person commentary needed a moderator, but having listened to it all I can only assume they wanted someone to prompt Hooper’s memories and anecdotes. Sullivan is clearly knowledgeable on the film (and horror movies in general), and his enthusiasm is appreciated.
Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack should be a day one buy for genre fans for the movie itself as well as the wealth of special features included here.