Tobe Hooper Review: The Sci-fi Horror
For this feature, Tobe Hooper teams up with Dan O'Bannon, the writer of Alien, to bring us what has been labelled by some as "lesbian vampires from outer space". It's actually more bi-sexual than lesbian (or possibly simply bi-curious), it's not really vampires as we understand them (though they're more like vampires than the immortals in Highlander were admittedly), but still the "outer space" element is definitely true.
I also Kind Of have a review of Hellraiser: Bloodline (not a Tobe Hooper movie, of course). I say "kind of", because I found something rather cool on Youtube. A re-edit of the movie including deleted scenes (some of them very rough). At some point I intend to watch the typical theatrical cut, but I had to share this altered version.
This does not start off well. We begin on a spaceship with a crew whose acting talent is negligible. In particular, a woman operating a monitor appears to deliver all her lines in an irritating monotone. On the ship they discover three naked figures contained in some kind of pods, two of them male and one of them female. The two males play a much smaller role in the rest of the film. They also discover frozen bat-like creatures.
Anyway, the woman in her pod seems to have a hypnotic effect on the crew from the start. Most of the crew do not make it to Earth. It's not long before the female pod-woman is encouraging men to kiss her and then stealing their life force. It turns out that once you have your life force stolen you have to either regularly suck the life force out of someone else or you explode into dust.
Now on the one hand, the mystical seduction stuff IS kind of creepy. But I can't help but feel that Dan O'Bannon has got a little carried away with his reputation from "Alien". "Alien" was not exactly explicit in its relevance to sexuality asides from the suggestive imagery of Giger. (And even Giger's imagery is somewhat toned down in that film. I don't think I'm the only one to have been shocked by how explicitly sexual Giger's artwork is, having not really recognised those aspects in the movie series.)
So here, the threat of the alien vampire thingies is tied up with their ability to bring people to them through sexual attraction. The idea that sexuality is terrifying is clearly a regular trope (and we see it in Hellraiser too), but the film often feels quite trashy. I've actually got to give Tobe Hooper credit for managing to make the atmosphere so compelling since this could have been done a lot worse.
There's one scene where this becomes particularly ridiculous. One of characters whose exposure to the aliens has made him psychic (yeah okay whatever), decides to hit a woman he and a British intelligence agent wish to question. When hitting her he announces "I can sense that this woman is a masochist. She wants me to hit her." He says this very matter-of-factly and the woman genuinely does seem to be enjoying his rough approach, but for me as a viewer the scene was absurd. Sado-masochism is based on trust, so being a masochist doesn't mean you are going to enjoy being hit by random strangers. What's even more ridiculous is the reaction of the accompanying intelligence agent whose response to the onset of sexual violence is to sit on the sofa and announce casually "well I personally am a voyeur". Now there's no way any director could have made this any less ridiculous. We even have the excellent Peter Firth (the boss of MI5 in the TV series "Spooks") playing the British intelligence agent and he tries to make the line as casual as he can. It's just utterly stupid and, like I stated above, I think Dan O'Bannon is just going out of his way to add sexuality-related stuff (even if it's stuff he doesn't personally understand).
The lifeforce-draining effects have not aged well. They clearly involved a lot of work, but they do not look good. In that same year, Dan O'Bannon personally directed the film "Return Of The Living Dead" and the effects on some of the zombies in that look quite similar. However, the difference is that ROTLD is a comedy, while Lifeforce actually expects us to take this stuff seriously. In the long term that means that Lifeforce suffers for its out-dated effects a great deal more. (Though to put that comment in perspective, ROTLD is one of my favourite horror comedies of all time.)
After a lot of meandering pointlessness we come to the final act of the film where (a model of) London is on fire and the alien spacecraft is busily sucking bright blue life force into space. It's at this stage where all hell is breaking loose that the film finally seems to get back into the swing of things. The threat of having your soul sucked out and carried off by aliens is clearly pretty scary and with a few um... 'infected'(?) figures announcing the futility of trying to stop what is happening, the urgency is very clear. Once again, I have to give credit to Tobe Hooper for getting the tone right. Even though the plot is stupid, the dialogue is absurd, some of the minor actors clearly aren't great and there's a cheapness to the film in general, Tobe Hooper clearly does his best with what he's got and I don't think anyone could have done a much better job with the script.
Just to quickly expand on the cheapness, Lifeforce is one of the films produced by Cannon films during the period where it was controlled by Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus. The films they released during this period are well known for being stingy on the budget and somewhat compromised. That includes (only naming those films I've actually seen) "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace" (clearly the most embarrassing of the Superman sequels) and Tobe Hooper's own "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2". It even includes my personal favourite, "Masters Of The Universe" starring Dolph Lundgren which, as much as I love it, was clearly compromised. (This is particularly obvious in the final fight scene where the filmmakers speak of plans to construct an intricate set especially for that scene which all appear to have been scrapped in favour of multi-coloured lights.) Interestingly they also made "The Company Of Wolves" which is actually very good. (The director wasn't happy about it being marketed as a horror movie by Cannon, though personally I found it pretty disturbing so I don't really think I can take the director's side on that.)
Oh yeah, also Patrick Stewart is in some of the film. He delivers a good performance, but I doubt this is a film he looks back on fondly.
Overall, Lifeforce is an interesting atmospheric sci-fi horror which will provide a unique cinematic experience for anyone who gives it a go. Sadly, it's no blooming good.
Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)
Reviews for previous Hellraiser films found at the following links:
Hellraiser (I changed my mind on this one and would now give it a C+ i.e. 3.5/5)
Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth
Okay, so this review is tackling a form of the Hellraiser movie that has never been released. A particularly industrious Youtuber has been involved in a neat little project to reconstruct the movie with deleted scenes and rough-cut footage and shift the timeline to make the plot clearer. I haven't seen the original theatrical version so I have no idea how this compares, but having become a fan of the series upon watching the sequel "Hellbound: Hellraiser II" I can definitely recommend this version.
The Youtube channel is here.
The first video out of 8 parts is here.
And while I'm on the subject of Hellraiser stuff online, the original short story "The Hellbound Heart" can be found as a pdf at this link here.
As I understand it, the original theatrical cut starts in outer space. This version takes a very different approach. The earliest scenes from "Hellraiser IV: Bloodline" used in this version are back in what must be something like the 18th Century. These scenes involve LeMerchant first making the infamous puzzle box of the series known as "The Lament Configuration".
However, prior to this lazarusryu begins this film with a key part of the ending of "Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth". Joey has just run into the two most inventive of the new cenobites created in Hellraiser III (and also the ones given the least time in that movie). We see how this particular section of Hellraiser III was resolved and we see that the Lament Configuration finishes up (very mild spoiler) buried in wet cement where a new building is about to be set up. As it turns out, this information is absolutely key to understanding the way the puzzle box turns up later on in "Hellraiser IV: Bloodline", so this new introductory scene is very helpful in both getting us into the right mood and setting up the story so far.
In "Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth" it was revealed that cenobites (or at least Pinhead) are a combination of a human with a demonic persona. So following from this idea, this scene in the 18th Century shows the summoning of a demon into a human body. This time the demon seems to be much more independent of her human host. It turns out that she can be bidden to do whatever her human summoner wants so long as they follow the vital rule: "Do not stand in Hell's way". This rule seems pretty vague, but it's used consistently in the film.
18th Century scenes are also used as flashbacks later on, but the next section of the film is in the modern day with a later descendant of LeMerchant (now with the surname of simply 'Merchant') and then the final part of the film all takes place in outer space with the latest descendent of LeMerchant. Each one of these descendants still holds skill in toymaking and has a connection in their nightmares to the ideas behind the Lament Configuration (due to a curse placed upon LeMerchant's family by the aforementioned demon). However, they also all share in a mission LeMerchant comes up with for himself. Since they know that the specifications of the Lament Configuration can create a portal to hell, LeMerchant comes to believe that those same patterns may contain a hint as to how to reverse it with a new pattern.
The plot is actually pretty good. The acting is actually alright too, asides from a set of twins who appear to have been mainly case because they happen to be twins and not because of their ability in line reading. The underlying creepiness and themes of sado-masochism are much more consistent in this film (as opposed to in Hellraiser III where the first quarter of the film kept that aspect and then the rest of the film seemed to promptly ignore it). Overall I would say that I preferred this to Part III. Part II (Hellbound) is still my favourite, but I might be willing to say I preferred Bloodline to the first Hellraiser movie since, as with Hellbound, this benefits from seeming less wacky due to the mythology having already been set up in previous installments.
The new cenobites in this movie actually seemed pretty cool and were all certainly a lot more interesting than stuff like the CD man in Hellraiser III. And they bring back The Engineer! (The monster with big teeth that Kirsty ran into at one point in the first film.) YAY! The appearances by Pinhead are awesomely fiendish and the new demon also has some great lines at times (though her cool speech towards the end is clearly from the rough cut- boo!).
The Engineer in "Hellraiser" (left) and in "Hellraiser IV: Bloodline" (right).
I am not one of those who enjoyed the extended cut of "Alien 3". I don't enjoy watching films where half the scenes don't look right. I'm actually really hoping that the original theatrical version of this is still as enjoyable. But I have to say that if this is the best version of Bloodline, that's okay. It's not perfect, but it has what I want from a Hellraiser film and it keep things sufficiently on track to leave me feeling wholly satisfied.
[Update: I have now seen the original version of "Hellraiser IV: Bloodline" and the re-cut isn't hugely different. Perhaps the most annoying cut from the final film is a speech given by the demoness Angelique towards the end. Also the original ending is rather more satisfying. However, despite how much this film was compromised, I still thought it was a pretty cool entry in the franchise and would not change my rating at all.]
x-posted to Halloween Candy