Aug 6, 2008

Review Contributed by Jon Jung

The Plot: Space vampires. They’re all around us, they want our lifeforce, they can possess us, and they’re naked. Men should be happy about this latter point since the extremely hot actress/model Mathilda May, who prances around fully naked throughout most of her screen time, is sort of their defacto leader. She transfers her powers over to Carlsen (Steve Railsback), an astronaut sent to investigate the vampire’s ship, who then unwittingly unleashes her powers onto earth and all hell breaks loose.

The Review: It must have sounded like movie gold to a cocaine-addled film executive: take a fairly prolific author’s (Colin Wilson) book, give it to a couple of hot and upcoming genre screenwriters (Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby), have it directed by a hot and upcoming genre director (Tobe Hooper), and cast a bunch of great character actors (Railsback, Patrick Firth, Patrick Stewart, et al). At one time, even Klaus Kinski and Olivia Hussey were associated with the project, though they both eventually got replaced. For the most part, this combination works but some of the excesses of the era do show up.

What works is the performances. There’s no doubt in my mind that when Railsback auditioned for the part of Duane Barry in the fledgling hit TV show The X-Files, he slipped Chris Carter a copy of Lifeforce, his phone number, and a note that said, “This is what I can do, I’ll be waiting for your call.” Railsback’s Carlsen and Barry are one and the same and both are handled frenetically well by Railsback. Patrick Stewart plays his usual type of character, a somewhat stuffy doctor. One of the great moments of the film, though, is delivered as he, possessed by the life force of May’s character, tells Railsback in her voice, “I love you”, and then later kisses him. Who knew Captain Picard was such a charmer?

Some have said that, in movies, the ‘80s have aged most out of the past three decades. One just needs to watch movies like Krull, Ghoulies, or Howard the Duck as evidence of that, while they can be enjoyable on a certain level, films of that era can have an unmistakable reek of cheap set design, bad rubbery prosthetic effects, and flashy but laughable visual effects. And that’s not to mention the bad haircuts and clothes. Lifeforce, even with all of the generally good acting, only somewhat fails to stave off the ‘80s stink from its production values. Sets look like…well, sets and, worse yet, also seem that they were recycled from Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” music video which Hooper shot a couple of years earlier. Similarly, the effects feel as if they were recycled from Hooper’s seminal Poltergeist from 1982: lots of strobelights and wind. With that said, however, Lifeforce also manages to have an atmosphere unlike its peers of the era. Perhaps it’s the mostly British cast or the muted tones of the film stock, but Lifeforce has a very Euro feel to it which makes it feel more organic and a little less kitschy than, say, Fright Night which was also released in ’85. Not Hooper’s best effort, but a fun, well-paced romp nonetheless.