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Lifeforce

TOBE Hooper's bizarre adaptation of Colin Wilson's science-fiction novel The Space Vampires comes in the "international" cut as well as the original North American theatrical version. Either version is equally odd, but fascinating in spite of itself.

A British-American space mission to Halley's Comet discovers an alien vessel drifting in the comet's wake. The vehicle's interior -- part hellscape, part womb -- yields lots of desiccated bat-creatures and three comparatively well-preserved naked humanoids occupying what looks like Plexiglas coffins.

Pushy American Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback) orders the humanoids taken back to their ship. Days later, that is presumed to be a big mistake as the crew members have apparently been killed one by one, only to be discovered by a rescue shuttle. In London, the three still intact humanoids are examined. The lone female (French actress Mathilda May) awakens and quickly transforms a guard into a corpse-like husk. She escapes, still naked, while a no-nonsense SAS agent (Peter Firth) and a scientist (Frank Finlay) attempt to solve the mystery with the help of the newly discovered Carlsen, who left the spacecraft via a convenient escape pod.

As it is essentially a modern-day vampire tale, Hooper attempted, but failed to achieve a Hammer horror tone for the film, with touches of the sexier Dracula cycle and a smidgen of the more apocalyptic Quatermass movies.

Hooper's ambitions may be grand, but the tone of the film is just jarringly wrong. It turns out there's a reason the film is primarily remembered as the sci-fi movie with the naked woman roaming unashamedly throughout. May, who pivoted from a ballet career into acting, is impressively impassive in the role of a different kind of vampire seductress. By contrast, Railsback and Firth are utterly charmless heroes. (Where was Peter Cushing when we really needed him?)

Even so, this is an entertaining piece exploitation cinema classed up by that multitude of English accents, including that of Patrick Stewart, who has a scene of psychic trauma that predates his Dr. Xavier character by 15 years.

In 1985, Lifeforce was trounced at the box office by the sappier Ron Howard sci-fi film Cocoon. For what it's worth, Lifeforce remains the far more watchable movie.

Blu-ray DVD extras include interviews with Hooper, Railsback and the lovely, but vaguely embarrassed May. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

The Howling: Collector's Edition

THE year 1981 saw a pair of werewolf movies hit the screen after a lupine dry spell of a couple of decades.

Both An American Werewolf in London and The Howling happened to be excellent films, each with a comic underlay that somehow makes the terror more terrifying.

But it is only now that The Howling gets the Blu-ray DVD release it deserves, courtesy of Shout Factory.

Dee Wallace (still best known as Henry Thomas's mom in E.T.) is Karen White, a TV journalist traumatized by an encounter with serial killer. She and her hubby (Christopher Stone) go on a retreat to "The Colony," a hot tub/group therapy/new age haven run by a pop psychologist (Patrick Macnee) with an agenda of getting patients in tune with their animal selves.

In the face of werewolf attacks, the mission proves to be more literal than intended for Karen.

Simultaneously a droll send-up of pop psychology and a genuinely scary monster movie, this is a sophisticated piece of pop horror.

Director Joe Dante, who got his start editing coming-attraction trailers for Roger Corman, demonstrates a mastery of cutting a movie for maximum impact. (His co-editor Mark Goldblatt gets his own DVD extra.) 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

Jack the Giant Slayer

DIRECTOR Bryan Singer tells us the bedtime story of Jack and the Beanstalk, gracefully embellished to accommodate a feature length.

Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a good lad sent by his uncle to trade in the family horse for a few dollars to sustain their failing farm. The village is no place for a plucky rustic. He gets to come to the defence of a comely lass who turns out to be Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), but Jack returns from his mission with only a few beans to show for his horse-trading.

At the same time, Isabelle decides to run away from home, and finds herself escaping a storm, taking refuge in Jack's farmhouse.

We all know what happens when one of the beans hits earth. A massive beanstalk sprouts and carries Jack's whole cottage skyward, with the princess still inside.

Soon, a detachment arrives from the king, led by the noble Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and the less-than-noble high constable Roderick (Stanley Tucci), who knows more than he says about the appearance of this exotic vegetation. Roderick alone anticipates that the giants of the bedtime stories are real -- and numerous.

So up they go to rescue the princess.

The actors have fun with the material, especially McGregor, who rather excels at essaying British pluck, and Tucci, who reins in his penchant for thespian excess to deliver a sneering rotter of some quality.

Singer does insert some real-world dynamics here, especially when it comes to ambition. In both human and giant realms, there is enough two-faced treachery here to give Game of Thrones a run for its money.

Pity the visual effects are not all they could be. In particular, the giants have a video game/CG look that serves to diminish the overall production. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 20, 2013 C16

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