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A fine example of big-budget schlock

  • Jul 3, 2011
  • by
The most cruel, complimentary and accurate comment that could be made regarding this film is that it's probably the best of its genre that Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus ever produced. These two Israeli schlockmeisters have made more money from cheap, exploitive movies than probably anyone else in film history. Of course, this particular entry in the long line of cheesy Golan-Globus fare isn't as good or as interesting as it is because of them. Far more amazing than the film itself is the talent that they managed to assemble for this extravagantly goofy flick: celebrated horror director Tobe Hooper, cult screenwriter and director Dan O'Bannon, special effects wizard John Dykstra and composer Henry Mancini.

The plot, in summary: a space shuttle investigates a really long spacecraft near Halley's Comet. Inside the alien ship, an exploratory crew from the shuttle discovers a bunch of dead bat-like creatures and three snazzy, art deco sarcophagi containing three pale figures: a really, really, really hot chick and two fruity-looking guys. Following a series of incredibly bad decisions typical of horror film stupidity, the three creatures find their way to Earth, reveal themselves as vampires of a sort and start turning people into all kinds of zombies. The vampires have an unfair advantage because they're running amok in England, where the inhabitants don't own firearms, have a natural propensity for incredible gullibility and have created a soft, pink culture that's pretty much just ripe for the taking.

The chick vampire (hilariously named "Space Girl" in the film's credits) is portrayed by the pristine, impossibly gorgeous, perpetually nude Mathilda May. Space Girl actually possesses a number of attributes that make her similar to many of my ex-girlfriends: intense beauty, a hidden agenda and a tendency to suck the very life out of anyone who gets too close to her. Now, this is how it works: Space Girl and her male associates drain the titular life force out of people, who then become freakish zombies and seek out the life force of others, effectively doing the bulk of the vampires' hard work for them. When that time of the month swings around, the two (fabulous) guys drain the spirits of their victims and transfer them to Space Girl, who then transmits the energy of these human souls to her creepy-looking mothership. It's akin to a pyramid scheme, except that there's no money involved, they kill people and it really isn't like a pyramid scheme at all so never mind. Look, I watched this whole thing twice just to write this review and I'm starting to feel as though some of my life force was drained.

The screenplay for Lifeforce was adapted from Colin Wilson's novel The Space Vampires, the story of which bears certain similarities to O'Bannon's own Alien screenplay. The story is inventive and features a number of novel plot twists, but also twice as many holes and some wince-inducing dialogue. I'm inclined to blame the latter on co-screenwriter Don Jakoby; it's difficult to accept that the man who wrote Dark Star, Alien and even his own directorial debut, The Return of the Living Dead, could have scripted anything so insipid.

The performances are a mixed bag. It really is amazing to me that Steve Railsback has enjoyed (and squandered) so many lead roles, considering that he looks like something that I regurgitated and couldn't act his way out of a speeding ticket. Here, the dog-faced shlub overacts again, wailing like some stupid animal in lieu of human emoting and absolutely ruining every scene that he's in. The only explanation for his enduring career must involve photographs of studio heads in the act of murdering prostitutes. Peter Firth and Patrick Stewart deliver typically convincing performances; next to Railsback, they look even more impressive than usual. May doesn't so much act as just woodenly recite lines, but that really doesn't matter; it's not as though she was cast in this movie because she has any acting talent.

Dykstra's effects are also presented with varied results; the best of them are extremely impressive, while the worst are at least silly enough to be amusing. There is something to be said for the fact that many effects are executed on an enormous scale, but so many of them are so amateurish that it's obvious that most of the less demanding effects had nothing to do with Dykstra. Mancini's score, while excellent, doesn't always seem congruous in certain scenes, and for good reason: it was originally composed (then rejected) as music for Hitchcock's brilliant Frenzy!

While they're renowned for their cheapness, there's no denying that Golan-Globus put their mouths where their money was when producing this film: a budget of nearly $25 million bought not only top-notch talent, but also an enormous production. But costs are clearly cut in so many areas that the whole package still feels like the B-movie that it really isn't: Halley's Comet is an obvious matte painting; gravity on the space shuttle exists whenever the alternative isn't convenient; most of the models and miniatures look like models and miniatures. As with Dykstra and O'Bannon, I refuse to blame Hooper for the failings of this movie. Every scene is carefully framed and competently shot. But the film's editing is so atrocious and outtakes were reportedly so egregious (Hooper himself was annoyed by Golan and Globus's decision to cut a full 15 minutes of footage from the US release) that it almost seems as though the producers were trying to sabotage a project that they'd spent an enormous amount of money on. But in reality, this was nothing short of typical Golan-Globus incompetence, a trait that cost them this time: while moderately successful throughout Europe, North American box office sales for Lifeforce totaled approximately half of the movie's production costs.

It's easy to imagine how good this movie could have been if it had been produced by competent people. So much talent was squandered in Lifeforce that the movie is that rarest of cinematic failures: a big-budget flop that feels like a B-movie despite its lavish production.

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August 12, 2011
This was one hot film when I was growing up. Mathilda May was like a sex goddess. I watched this one quite a bit much to the dismay of my parents. The film is flawed but such an indulgent treat that I can proudly call a guilty pleasure of mine. Sadly, the dvd transfer really sucks so hopefully someone will do something better going forward & re-release the film.
August 14, 2011
Considering MGM's current financial condition, I wouldn't hold my breath unless they sold their Cannon properties to an ambitious distributor with quite a lot of capital!
August 16, 2011
You're prolly right. It sucks because I kinda would like to see this again one day but oh well. It was a fond memory.
More Lifeforce reviews
review by . October 31, 2013
Oh, good gravy!  In the summer of 1985, I was the type of hungry movie goer that normally would’ve flocked to something that looked like LIFEFORCE.  I couldn’t tell you why I didn’t – I honestly don’t recall any specific reason – but I do remember asking a friend of mine who had taken a date of his to go and see it.  “It really isn’t any good,” he told me, “but it does have this gal with massive boobs who pops up every now …
review by . October 10, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Beautiful nude woman starts space vampire apocalypse. No, this isn't a B movie either.
Lifeforce is one of those movies you hear about for the same reason, the naked woman who was in it.  Kinda like how Total Recall is remembered largely for the three breasted hooker.  I finally got around to seeing Lifeforce and realized the talent that was involved in this movie which gets overlooked.  John Dykstra who pioneered special effects for Star Wars was involved in this, Dan O' Bannon who wrote and came up with the idea for Alien wrote the script, Henry Mancini did the …
Quick Tip by . October 10, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Sci fi/Horror movie about a joint US and British space exploration that brings home a trio of entities that could bring about an apacolypse. A lot of talent involved doesn't add up to a lot but it's fun for what it's worth
review by . May 08, 2009
Lifeforce is a Cannon funded film directed by Tobe Hooper. It's a very interesting film that deals with a pair of space vampires who are accidentally brought back down to Earth during the latest space shuttle mission. Steve Railsback stars as the sole survivor of the tragedy. But really folks the movie is a mere showcase for the natural beauty of Mathilda May. She's one smoking hot number. The director was a huge fan of Female Vampire (a.k.a. Erotikill). Miss May recreates Lina Romay's title role …
About the reviewer
Robert Buchanan ()
Ranked #20
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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