Films really are a funny old business. One man's meat is often another man's murder. I once read a fascinating post at a forum by a very pleasant and intelligent man who was convinced that Lifeforce was actually one of the greatest films ever made, and he even had some anecdotal evidence to try to back up his point-of-view. Now I've gotta be honest here, fun as it is, I'm 100% convinced that Lifeforce ISN'T one of the greatest films ever made by any possible stretch of the imagination.
Co-scripted by Dan O'Bannon and directed by Tobe Hooper, this Colin Wilson novel adaption had an extremely generous budget of around $25 million. The first time that I saw a video sleeve for Lifeforce, I thought that it was gonna be a cheap b-movie. But no, it's actually a very expensive b-movie, or that's certainly the way that it comes across. Classic exploitation fare with no remorse or guilt at all! I've never read the Space Vampires book so I can only judge this film on a stand-alone basis.
The token American (almost everyone else bar May seems to be British) is played by Steve Railsback, who stars with Mathilda May and Peter Firth (together with various appearances by the occasional respected actor such as Patrick Stewart) in a very silly but very entertaining horror flick. Railsback is a US astronaut on the UK's space shuttle, the Churchill (er...yes, a UK space shuttle).
Together with the other naut'ies, he investigates an abandoned spacecraft where upon they discover long-dead human-sized bats on board, and then they come across 3 perfectly preserved humanoids. Oh yes, and they have no clothes on. At all. Two males (nether regions always hidden) and one steamy naked female. Upon spying the naked Mathilda May, the astronauts decide to take her (and her two companions) back to their shuttle. And who can blame them?!
Unfortunetly for those naut'ies, May and her two companions are vampires. Of a sort. They don't drain blood though, they feed on people's life-force energies instead, causing their victims to shrivel up like a 12 week old banana. Once, they arrive back in London, the shit hits the fan. Mathilda May walks around completely starkers whilst English security guards say things like "You won't believe what I'm looking at" just before they get a taste of pain. The victims then also become "vampires," but unlike the original three space beings, they explode violently into a cloud of dust (in a really cool way!) if they don't get their fix of life-force energy. The situation then gets much worse until finally London is just one huge trippy light show with people's life-force energies being sucked up to the vampire spacecraft. (Oh yeah, did I mention that the vampire spacecraft unfolds like a giant umbrella?!). Whilst all this is going on, vampires and zombies abound leg it around London causing a maelstrom of absolute mayhem. Good stuff!
It has to be said that Lifeforce does get VERY funny at times (well, natch) but Steve Railsback really doesn't help matters much with his terrible performance. When Mathilda May is seducing him, he's like "No, stop it! Leave me alone!" as he hams it up big time. I think he doth protest too much. Anyway, it's hard to have any real sympathy since most men would be highly envious of his situation. As for May, well she's just required to walk around naked and look very sexy. And she's damn good at it too. Credit where credit's due. As for Peter Firth, hahaha! There is so much pleasure to be obtained from this guy's performance as the SAS Colonel. BTW That isn't a compliment.
I have no idea what the financiers of this film were thinking. Probably something along the lines of, "Hey, we've got a writer from Alien, the director of Poltergeist and visual effects by someone from Star Wars. This $25 million film is gonna be a huge hit!" Hmmmm. This is probably what killed off the prospects of any more large budgets for Tobe Hooper, 'cause the film most definitely wasn't! It's a real treat for horror fans though, or more to the point, fans of incredibly stupid horror films which star sexy naked women.
The space sequences, the exploding victims and the other visual effects are all very impressive for 1985. And there's a huge amount of pleasure to be obtained from watching the UK's capital city and its entire population being completely decimated by the end of the film. I can't recall many large budgeted apocalyptic horrors being set in the UK. Certainly not on this scale anyway. And to add to the amusement factor, Lifeforce gets an absolutely stellar epic sounding score from Henry Mancini.
BTW I still don't understand the twist at the end. Does anyone?!
This is the unedited director's cut which runs roughly around 15 minutes longer than the theatrical or VHS incarnations. The DVD's print isn't anamorphic (tsk) and the print is somewhat grainy. You do get a 5.1 track and a trailer though. Seeing as how this MGM DVD was released as a mid-price DVD straight away, I don't feel like complaining too much about the lack of extras. But an anamorphic print wouldn't have been too much to ask for would it? Never mind.
I was too young to catch Lifeforce at the cinema upon its initial release so it's cool to now be able to watch it in its full widescreen ratio. It's not art, and it's not clever, but then again, neither am I! Highly recommended viewing in a crazily expensive exploitation movie way but it certainly is not one of the greatest films ever made!