Colin Wilson and Lifeforce (1985)

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Colin Wilson and Lifeforce (1985)

Let us deviate from the usual Lovecraft centric movies and talk about an author who contributed to the mythos and the works that came from them.

Colin Henry Wilson (born 26 June 1931) is a prolific English writer who first came to prominence as a philosopher and novelist.  Wilson has since written widely on true crime, mysticism and other topics.  He prefers calling his philosophy new existentialism or phenomenological existentialism.

Wilson explored his ideas on human potential and consciousness in fiction, mostly detective fiction or science fiction, including several Cthulhu Mythos pieces.

Like his non-fiction work, much of Wilson's fictional output from Ritual in the Dark (1960) onwards has concerned itself with the psychology of murder — especially that of serial killing.  However, he has also written science fiction of a philosophical bent, including the Spider-World series.

In The Strength to Dream (1961) Wilson attacked H. P. Lovecraft as "sick" and as "a bad writer" who had "rejected reality" — but he grudgingly praised Lovecraft's story "The Shadow Out of Time" as capable science-fiction.  August Derleth, incensed by Wilson's treatment of Lovecraft in The Strength to Dream, then dared Wilson to write what became The Mind Parasites — to expound his philosophical ideas in the guise of fiction.  In the preface to The Mind Parasites, Wilson concedes that Lovecraft, "[f]ar more than Hemingway or Faulkner, or even Kafka, is a symbol of the outsider-artist in the 20th century" and asks: "what would have happened if Lovecraft had possessed a private income - enough, say, to allow him to spend his winters in Italy and his summers in Greece or Switzerland?" answering that in his [Wilson's] opinion "[h]e would undoubtedly have produced less, but what he did produce would have been highly polished, without the pulp magazine cliches that disfigure so much of his work. And he would have given free rein to his love of curious and remote erudition, so that his work would have been, in some respect, closer to that of Anatole France or the contemporary Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges."  Wilson also discusses Lovecraft in Order of Assassins (1972) and in the prefatory note to The Philosopher's Stone (1969). His short novel The Return of the Lloigor (1969/1974) also has roots in the Cthulhu Mythos - its central character works on the real book the Voynich Manuscript, but discovers it to be a mediaeval Arabic version of the Necronomicon - as does his 2002 novel The Tomb of the Old Ones.

Tobe Hooper directed the film Lifeforce, based on Wilson's novel The Space Vampires.  After its release, Colin Wilson recalled that author John Fowles regarded the film adaptation of Fowles' own novel The Magus as the worst film adaptation of a novel ever.  Wilson told Fowles there was now a worse one, the film adaptation of Lifeforce.


The Space Vampires is a British science fiction horror novel written by author Colin Wilson, and first published in England and the United States by Random House in 1976.  This is Wilson's fifty-first book.  It is about the remnants of a race of intergalactic vampires who are brought back from outer space and are inadvertently let loose on Earth.

The titular space aliens are energy vampires, as opposed to the familiar stereotypical blood-sucking Earth vampires that suck blood and change into bats.  They consume the "life force" by seducing living beings with a deadly kiss and also have the ability to take control of the willing host bodies of their victims.  Though initially the aliens' "true" form appears to be a bat-like creature, the creatures are ultimately revealed to be insubstantial energy-beings from a higher dimension.  The novel's main protagonist is Captain Olof Carlsen, the commanding officer of the space exploration vehicle which discovered the vampires' spacecraft.

The concept and set-up of the novel was apparently inspired by, and loosely based on, the purported phenomenon and mythological legend of psychic vampirism.

In the late twenty-first century, far out in a nearby asteroid belt, a gigantic derelict castle-like alien spacecraft is discovered by the space exploration vehicle Hermes, commanded by Captain Olof Carlsen.  Investigating the spacecraft's interior, the astronauts first discover the desiccated corpses of giant bat-like creatures, then three glass coffins containing three immobilized humanoids - two male and one female - preserved in a state of suspended animation.

Nothing to do with this book, just came up while searching for "space vampires" Returning to Earth with the preserved humanoids, Carlsen discovers the true nature of the beings when one of them kills a young man, a reporter (and the son of a friend of Carlsen) whom Carlsen illicitly allowed to view the body. The woman kills her victim by completely draining his life-force (a quantifiable energy measured by a device called "lambda-field scanners"), then, when Carlsen attempts to intervene, partially draining him of energy as well. Carlsen is left still alive, but unable to prevent the woman from escaping from the hospital.

Carlsen joins forces with Dr. Hans Fallada, a scientist researching energy vampirism and longevity, to find the escaped vampire and recapture her.  In the course of their investigations they discover that the aliens can transfer from one body to another, and that the other two have also escaped; they also discover the potential for energy vampirism - and more generalized voluntary energy transfer - that exists in all humans, and the parallels between vampirism, criminality, and sexual fetishization.  At last Carlsen tracks down the vampires in London, their leader having possessed the body of the Prime Minister; but their confrontation is averted when representatives from the Nioth-Korghai, the vampires' original race, appear and offer the vampires (the Ubbo-Sathla, as they call themselves) the chance to regain their original nature as higher-dimension energy-beings.  The vampires accept joyfully, but destroy themselves upon regaining the ability to see themselves for what they had become.

An epilogue, set nearly a century later, reveals that Carlsen has used the techniques of benevolent energy transference he learned via his encounters with the vampires to live an extraordinarily long life, and possibly (it is implied) to have achieved a kind of transcendence upon his death.


Directed by Tobe Hooper

Produced by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan

Screenplay by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby

Starring - Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May

Studio - Cannon Films

Distributed by TriStar Pictures

Release date(s) - June 21, 1985

Running time - 116 minutes

Country - United States

Lifeforce is a 1985 science fiction film directed by Tobe Hooper and written by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby, based on Colin Wilson's 1976 novel, The Space Vampires.  Featuring Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May, and Patrick Stewart, the film portrays the events that unfold "after a trio of humanoids in a state of suspended animation are brought to earth after being discovered in the hold of an abandoned European space shuttle."

The crew of the space shuttle Churchill finds a 150-mile long spaceship hidden in the corona of a comet. The crew finds hundreds of dead, shriveled bat-like creatures and three naked humanoid bodies (two male and one female) in suspended animation within glass containers.  The crew recovers the three aliens and begins the return trip to Earth.

During the return journey, mission control loses contact with the shuttle and a rescue mission is launched to investigate.  The rescuers discover that the Churchill has been severely damaged by fire, with its internal components destroyed, and the three containers bearing the aliens are all that remain intact.  The aliens are taken to the European Space Research Centre in London where they are watched over by Dr. Leonard Bukovski (Gothard) and Dr. Hans Fallada (Finlay).  Prior to an autopsy, the female alien (May) awakens and sucks the "life force" out of a guard.  The female then escapes the research facility and proceeds to drain various other humans of their life force, revealing an ability to shape-shift.  It transpires that the aliens are from a race of space vampires that consume the life force of living beings, rather than their blood.

Meanwhile, in Texas, an escape pod from the Churchill is found, with Colonel Tom Carlsen (Railsback) inside. Carlsen is flown to London where he describes the course of events, culminating in the draining of the crew's life force.  Carlsen explains that he set fire to the shuttle with the intention of saving Earth from the same fate and escaped in the pod.  However, when he is hypnotized, it becomes clear that Carlsen possesses a psychic link to the female alien.  Carlsen and SAS Col. Colin Caine (Firth) trace the alien to a psychiatric hospital in Yorkshire. Whilst in Yorkshire, the two believe they have managed to trap the alien within the heavily sedated body of the hospital's manager, Dr Armstrong (Stewart); but Carlsen and Caine later learn that they were deceived, as the aliens had wanted to draw the pair out of London.

As Carlsen and Caine are transporting Dr Armstrong in a helicopter back to London, the alien girl breaks free from her sedated host and disappears.  When they arrive back in London it is clear that a plague has overtaken the city and martial law has been declared.  The two male vampires, previously thought destroyed, have also escaped from confinement by shape-shifting into the soldiers guarding them; the pair then proceed to transform most of London's population into zombies.  Following contact with the male vampires, the victims turn into "living-dead" and seek out other humans in order to absorb their life force, thereby perpetuating the virus.  The absorbed life force is collected by the male vampires and delivered to the female vampire, who transfers the accumulated energy to a waiting spaceship in Earth's orbit.

Fallada manages to impale one of the male vampires.  Carlsen then admits to Caine that, whilst on the shuttle, he felt compelled to open the female vampire's container and to share his life force with her.  She is later found lying upon a church's altar, transferring the energy to her spaceship.

Caine follows Carlsen into the church and is intercepted by the second male vampire, whom he dispatches. Carlsen manages to impale himself and the female alien simultaneously.  However, the female vampire is only wounded and returns to her ship with Carlsen in tow, releasing a burst of energy.  The two ascend the column of light that leads to the spaceship which then returns to the comet it came from.

The initial cut of Lifeforce as edited by Tobe Hooper was 128 mins long.  This is 12 minutes longer than the final version which had several scenes cut, most of them taking place on the space shuttle Churchill.  According to Nicholas Ball, who played the main British astronaut, Derebridge, it was felt that there was too much material in outer space and so the majority of the Churchill scenes were deleted.  Also, most of Nicholas Ball's performance ended up on the cutting room floor according to an interview he gave on the UK talk show Wogan in 1985.

Despite being credited on the US domestic cut, the following actors were deleted from that cut of the film: John Woodnutt, John Forbes-Robertson and Russell Sommers.  The Churchill commanding officer Rawlins, played by Geoffrey Frederick, was British, but in post-production it was decided to re-voice him by Patrick Jordan, a US performer.  Also in the US version, some of Geoffrey Frederick's voiceover heard on the Churchill is also dubbed.

The film was edited for its US theatrical release by Tri-Star Pictures to a 101 minute domestic cut version that was partially re-scored by Michael Kamen, with a majority of Henry Mancini's original music still remaining.  The original 116 minute international theatrical cut version, which is now currently available on video and DVD, contains more violent and erotic footage that Tri-Star cut from the domestic version, along with the entirety of Mancini's full music score in place of Kamen's occasional music cues placed at the last minute for US domestic prints of the film.


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