It's cold out there. The last few weeks of winter seem to last forever and the overcast skies bring a grey and miserable feeling to an already dull post holiday period. Icy showers have been hitting my window for a while now with little signs of respite. So what is to be done, maybe some feel good adventure films and family rated stories about heroic action? Well it is a nice idea. But the only sane choice is to get through a series of films about monsters, aliens and serial killers.
Getting things off to a suitable start we come to Lifeforce. The original story was titled The Space Vampires which explains everything you need to know about this plot. Along with elements from Dracula, it has the feel of a Hammer picture, something from the Quatermass series perhaps with a London setting and a number of British cast members - including a brief appearance from Patrick Stewart. The central duo are US astronaut Steve Railsbeck (Dwayne Barry from the X-Files) who teams up with an SAS Colonel played by Peter Firth. They attempt to stop everyone in London from being turned into grisly emaciated zombies that steal energy from the living, after mysterious human looking creatures are brought back from space mission to a comet. The story plays out with a pretty standard b-movie feeling but does have some fancy visuals courtesy of John Dykstra and a score by Henry Mancini which will seem strangely familiar to X-Men 2 fans. Both feel above what it deserves, but production values elevating the material is something that does happen several times in this little marathon.
In a double sci-fi feature from Tobe Hooper and Cannon Films, the 1986 remake of Invaders From Mars feels a lot more in tune with the era it comes from with several creature effects by Stan Winston and a plot about a school boy encountering a spaceship as in many other 80s releases (although it is a retread of the original story). It's hard to take seriously at all but has some memorable moments as people in the town come under alien control, mostly thanks to his sinister class teacher and a martian leader that looks like a certain Ninja Turtles villain. It loses any atmospheric mood quite early on as the pace quickly turns from suspense to military action, and the other creatures are far less creepy looking but it's still enjoyable for what it is - another amusing Dan O'Bannon script.
Moving into a more traditional setting away from horror, Outland also brings what seems to be far higher production quality to a story which is essentially a crime plot on a space station. The visuals are very reminiscent of Alien which is helped by the Jerry Goldsmith score. It looks very impressive. Yet the story itself is basically about a Western sheriff taking on corruption, albeit one with a sci-fi mega-corporation twist on things. Characterisation is a little light weight at times and Sean Connery's stubborn nature feels somewhat underwritten, but it has a lot of tension along the way and some fun if predictable set pieces thanks to the setting. It helps that the isolation of this (a mine inside Jupiter's moon Io) builds on the setup in which nobody wants to help and a blind eye is being turned to make money on the side.
Running into some less impressive production design with Battle Beyond the Stars, it might have a fledgling James Cameron working on its art direction, but the cheapness of everything is very apparent once the recycled space footage begins... and it doesn't just get done once or twice. The story just uses The Seven Samurai again, like several other films have done over the years, and has the mix of characters you can expect from that plot, though of course they are now aliens. The problem is that they never go far enough with the main character who comes off as flat, and the various allies he collects should have been given more screen time. The same goes for John Saxon as the villain, and while he essentially has his own Death Star to threaten their world with, it seems like he is absent for too long. The low budget charm only goes so far and they should have focused more on elements which don't require special effects.
PART TWO - PART THREE