Horror fans mourned the passing of legendary director Tobe Hooper, who directed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist, and other films. I never much cared for the TCM movies; they mostly consist of running, brutality, blood, and tears. And Poltergeist spawned a terrible sequel, not to mention a wholly unnecessary remake. Despite my quibbles about his most famous franchises, Hooper did direct one of my favorite movies of all time: Lifeforce.
A novel-length book could be written about the departure that the film Lifeforce took from its source material, Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires, but I won’t do that here. Wilson himself loathed the movie, with good reason. So the two cannot be compared.
The Space Vampires, written in 1976, posits a bizarre first-contact scenario: in the 22nd Century, the Space Research Institute’s spacecraft Hermes, captained by Olof Carlsen, finds a gigantic, derelict space ship floating in space. They take some of the human-looking, though apparently dead aliens back to Earth with them, and as it turns out, the aliens are actually body-switching vampires that eat life-energy (life force, if you will). This presents a significant problem, particularly because there are plans to haul the gigantic space ship back to Earth for deeper study.
This is a very talky sort of novel, where the characters discuss the science of life energy and how it can be manipulated at great length. In this respect it’s almost like a police procedural, as Carlsen, once he returns to Earth, joins famous scientist Hans Fallada on a Europe-spanning quest to learn more about these aliens and how to stop them. What’s clear is that the author, an occultist himself, was using this novel as a vehicle to advance this idea of manipulable life energy: how some people just seem to suck the life out of a room, the energy-exchanging relationship of masochists to sadists, and mental illness as it relates to life force. As a firm believer in the scientific method, I didn’t find Wilson’s ideas to be credible, though they were fascinating to read.
Parts of the novel read like a Sherlock Holmes mystery in that there’s great emphasis on brandy, whiskey, and sandwiches. I rather liked that part; it set the book very firmly in England, with English people as the good guys. Because it was written in the mid-1970’s, the future Wilson describes is both less sophisticated and more advanced. They have flying cars called Grasshoppers, but no Internet. Video phones but no handheld computers. And everyone smokes. As the wise man said, the future ain’t what it used to be.
There’s a good bit of sex in the novel, but it’s described with discretion. This drawing and giving of life energy often has an intimate component to it, which translates to Olof Carlsen making a number of, ahem, lady friends, despite being a married man. It’s the life energy thing, man: he can’t help it.
Things move quickly at the end, when the aliens describe their true nature, where they came from, and what they plan to do. This is where Lovecraft’s influence makes itself known. What struck me is the use of the name Ubbo-Sathla, which is an outer god created by Clark Ashton Smith. Wilson, having been published by Arkham House himself, cannot have chosen this name by accident. Does that make the aliens in the novel Cthulhoid in some fashion? Hard to say.
Wilson’s adept at making the unbelievable credible, and he includes details in description and conversation that draw you into the story despite yourself. With a name like The Space Vampires, the novel should be more pulpy than it comes across. It still holds up, even after more than 40 years in print.