Main cast: Steve Railsback (Colonel Tom Carlsen), Peter Firth (Colonel Colin Caine), Frank Finlay (Dr Hans Fallada), Mathilda May (“Space Girl”), Patrick Stewart (Dr Armstrong), Michael Gothard (Dr Leonard Bukovsky), Nicholas Ball (Roger Derebridge), Aubrey Morris (Sir Percy Heseltine), and John Hallam (Lamson)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Lifeforce is always going to be known for three things: the lead actress Mathilda May is naked for almost throughout the entire film, this movie is far more ambitious than good, and it got a severe critical and box-office drubbing when it first came out in 1985. Looking back now, I have no idea why anyone would think this thing is ever going to be a box-office success; if anything, it only demonstrates that one can actually overestimate the allure of having a lead actress that walks around without any clothes on.
We begin with a space crew finding an alien space craft that is hidden behind Haley’s comet. Their exploration of the craft uncovers some creepy-looking, bat-like dead things… and three beautiful humanoid specimens – one woman, two men – in all their naked glory and encased each in what seems like coffins. Then all contact with the crew get cut off, and a rescue mission discovers that all the staff are dead. But hey, they find the three unconscious humanoids, which they bring back to Earth. Oops, they awake, and they turn out to be creatures that suck out the life force of humans, leaving behind a desiccated husk that can later be “reborn” as another vampire-like being like these aliens.
Colonel Colin Caine leads the efforts to track down and stop these aliens, and joining him is the sole survivor of the original crew, Tom Carlsen, who claims to have escaped in a pod when he realized that his crew mates were all dead. Ah, but can Carlsen be trusted? How can these vampires be stopped before they transform more of the country into beings just like them?
The biggest reasons to be unhappy with this movie are (a) the lack of details when it comes to these aliens – Mathilda May’s character is simply credited as “Space Girl” throughout the whole movie – and (b) the ending is more of a “What the…? That’s it?” eye-rolling affair than a satisfying conclusion. The script could be tighter as well, with characters that vanish abruptly as the movie progresses as well as long-drawn, often unnecessary scenes that are inserted mostly to be filler.
In addition, some of the special effects really look hokey, with the desiccated husk things looking more like claymation gone wrong than anything scary.
So, you may be wondering, why bother with this movie then? Well, it’s hard to explain on paper, but Lifeforce has a campy, charming look and feel that makes it an endearing watch despite its many obvious flaws. In fact, the people behind this movie seem to have thrown in the towel and just let things rip as the film progresses, because things get increasingly outlandish and bizarre, culminating in a scene that is more at home in a softcore parody of a Japanese anime. This is not a bad thing, mind you, as the movie ends up becoming bad in a fun, let’s watch and laugh manner rather than just bad in a boring, uninspired manner.
The naked female alien thing may seem exploitative on paper, but on film, the whole nudity thing jives well with the rest of the movie and doesn’t feel too much like a fanservice for the horny people in the audience. It still is, though, make no mistake, as the male vampires spend far, far, far more time clothed compared to their female leader. Steve Railsback also shows some skin, but nobody talks about that because back in those days, it is assumed that only straight men watch movies and hence, nobody cares about male actors showing skin. Let’s just say that there is no shortage of skin shown in this movie, although the context of the nudity is rarely erotic or sexy. Still, if that’s your thing, then this movie will hit all your bling-bling. Oh, and this movie has Patrick Stewart’s first on-screen kiss… and it’s with Mr Railsback. How can anyone not like such a movie?
Sure, this movie is very silly and absurd at times, and Mr Railsback isn’t the best actor among the cast, not by a long shot. However, it is also unintentionally hilarious in a good way, and can be entertaining at the end of the day. Hence, while I won’t exactly call Lifeforce a must-see movie, I think it’s nowhere as terrible as the initial reviews of this movie would suggest. So long as folks know what they are getting – a silly, goofy movie best watched for its entertaining absurdity instead of plot or characters – they will be alright.