Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard, Nicholas Ball, Aubrey Morris, John Hallam, Chris Jagger, Bill Malin
Plot: When the crew of the space shuttle Churchill discover a spaceship hidden in Halley’s Comet the crew choose to investigate finding three humanoid life forms in suspended animation which they choose to bring back to Earth unaware that they are a trio of space vampires.
Review: When we look at the “Masters of Horror” collective Tobe Hooper would be another of the directors like Stuart Gordon and perhaps to an extent Joe Dante whose work never really gets the recognition it deserves. More so in Hooper’s case were he found early success with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” arguable one of the scariest and intense movies ever made, only to find it overshadowing the films which followed as he strived to replicate it with the films which followed in career littered more recently with more misses than hits.
This film really marked the beginning of the decline for his career which would following its release descend into medeocricy outside of the occasional high point which can be found in his TV projects such as the pilot episode for “Dark Skies” and his episodes for the “Masters of Horror” series. This film however would be the first film in a three-picture deal which he was offered Cannon Films following the success of “Poltergeist” and which would lead to Hooper directing both the “Invaders From Mars” remake aswell as the cult favourite “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”.
So were do we begin with this film? Its far from an easy question as this is a film which is seemingly never sure what exactly it wants to be as we start off as an “Alien” style space movie whose similarities are not all that suprising when you consider that the script was co-written by Dan O’Bannon. From here the film seems to be settled into its Space Vampire groove, only to then shift into a body snatchers mood before then switching to an all out zombie apocalypse on the streets of London. It’s a wild and random ride to say the least and one I will attempt to decipher in this review as best as I can, but even as I sit down to write this review I’m left with the same sense of confusion that I got with Hooper’s experimental hippy debut “Eggshells”.
The first half of the film is actually pretty enjoyable as we get the crew of Churchill investigating the mysterious craft, finding fossilised giant bat like creatures and our trio of naked space vampires asleep in suspended animation. Originally this discover sequence was to be shot in silence which would have been really interesting to see, especially when how this opening portion is shot and the zero gravity movements of the characters are almost hypnotic to watch and there is so genuine tension to these scenes of exploration aboard the alien craft.
Unsurprisingly the focus is placed on the hot naked space chick (May) and not the two space studs who are pushed to the background for the most part. Back on Earth she of course wakes up suddenly and wastes little time sucking the lifeforce out of her victims all while wandering around completely naked and with little desire to actually find clothes. In a fun twist her victims which are reduced to shrivelled husks also start feeding on the lifeforce of anyone near them causing this vampire like virus to soon begin spreading out of control, while those unable to find a victim explode into dust which for some reason never gets old.
We are also introduced at this point to our hero and SAS Colonel Caine played here by an impossibly young looking Peter Firth who I was most familiar with his role in the TV series “Spooks” as the MI5 officer Harry, so it was kind of surreal to find him randomly turning up here. Inturn his appearance really gives the film a feeling of a Doctor Who episode, especially as he carries this Quatermass attitude which I really wasn’t expecting to find with this film.
While it seems at this point that you know were the story is going with Hooper seemingly crafting a space vampire romp, things instead take a turn for the random when Churchill crew member Tom Carlsen (Railsback) suddenly returns to earth in the ships escape pod. Carlsen randomly shares a psychic link with the female space vampire who for some reason they never both to name, even in the credits she is listed as “Space Girl”. The psychic link angle really is overplayed throughout the second half of the film which is also were the film starts to grind its gear and loose the momentum it had in the first half with Hooper working in a bunch of Dracula style seduction dream sequences between Carlsen and the female vampire. It also serves to take us out into the British countryside for no real discernible reason I could think of other than to stretch the film out or that Hooper just really fancied filming in the countryside. The body snatchers angle this diversion introduces makes absolutely zero sense and what I would say needed to be cut from what is a greatly inflated runtime which needed to loose around thirty mins. At the same time it would also mean losing Patrick Stewart's appearance as the manager of a hospital they believe she is hiding out in.
The ending though is really were the film not only jumps the shark but the whole aquarium as the film suddenly turns into a full blown zombie apocalypse which you can’t but wonder if it served as the inspiration for the post-apocalyptic London of “28 Days Later”. This finale Hooper just goes nuts and throws everything at the screen with Caine battling his way through the zombie hordes and seeing how much Peter Firth is seen smiling throughout these scenes its hard to tell if he’s just having fun or just given into the fact that he’s just resigned himself to the fact that none of this is making the slightest bit of sense. It is however a lot of fun to see London being reduced to rubble, thanks to Hopper getting access to a recently closed model village which he could blow up as a substitute London.
Were the film really excels however is with the special effects, in particular the practical effects throughout the film thanks to John Dykstra whose work here really stops the film from being just another throw away Cannon title, while making it non to surprising that it was also one of their most expensive productions alongside “Master of the Universe” and “Superman 4: The Quest for Peace”. What it does give us though are dried husk zombies whose body rejuvenate when they suck the lifeforce out of their victim or explode into dusty clouds when they can’t. By the finale they are more traditional looking zombie effects which is to be understood, but really made up for by some fun body horror elements.
A truly random experience which certainly could have afforded to hack out half an hour, especially the distraction provided by the third act which throws in the unneeded bodyswappers element which really brings nothing to the film apart from adding confusion to the film which would have taken away from the film more had the finale been so much fun. Its hard to say were this film lies in terms of being good or bad as it somehow manages to fall somewhere outside of such ratings and while its far from Hooper’s best film its one which is still worth watch if only to be astounded by its sheer randomness as there really is nothing else quite like it.