80’s Trash of the Week: Lifeforce (Space Boobies)

A modern Hammer film with gobs of nudity, this is one of the most expensive B-movie productions ever made. It never rises above vulgarity, but it manages to be an entertaining diversion. It begins as 2001: A Boob Odyssey and ends up part Sexorcist, part zombie apocalypse, with a touch of Highlander.
Originally titled “The Space Vampires,” based on the book by Colin Wilson, it was given a high-concept title for U.S. release and re-cut to be more of a blockbuster sci-fi flick. It was trounced by Cocoon of all things, and its failure helped put the final stake in the heart of Golan-Globus films. (Sorry. Cold iron. Through the abdomen, the old way). It’s a shame, really- for while it is awful, it is a good sort of awful. Directed by Tobe Hooper with incredible effects by John Dykstra, with Mathilda May (The Tit and the Moon) walking around naked all the time, some scenery-chewing by Steve Railsback (Cockfighter, Barb Wire) and Patrick Stewart possessed by a lusty female vampire, it is endlessly entertaining, albeit confusing and rather like a teenage anime in its story.

Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon also wrote Alien

Another movie influenced by the coming of Haley’s Comet, Hooper altered the original screenplay to include it. The space shuttle is having a rendezvous with the comet and finds an enormous, 150-mile long vessel behind it. It is organic in nature, sort of like the ship from 2001 crossed with a crusty umbrella. The shuttle is conveniently blocked from communicating with Earth by the comet, so they go investigate the ship. Inside they find thousands of dessicated bat-like creatures, and three naked humans- or at least what appear to be humans. The crew unwisely brings them back to the shuttle, and– after an annoying flash forward– we lose contact with them. A rescue mission finds everything barbecued except the 3 humanoids, and Colonel Carlsen (Steve Railsback) who’s a bit unhinged by his experience.

Back on Earth, the humanoids are kept for study at a government lab. There the female awakens, hypnotizes her guard with her perfectly formed D-cups and some unworldly powers, and sucks the energy out of him, leaving a lifeless husk. She escapes, and soon her escorts follow suit. They can also jump to other people’s bodies if they are killed, or even if they’re not. Carlsen is brought to London, and we learn he has a psychic bond with the female, and they track her using him. He can sense when someone is possessed by her, and likes to beat it out of the women, and sometimes the men. Patrick Stewart, the director of a mental hospital, gets possessed by the girl and starts talking in her voice, and even wants to get it on with Carlsen. This, along with his role in Jeffrey, probably doesn’t help the gay rumors. It’s hilarious to watch.

Did I fall asleep in the tanning booth?

Shortly thereafter, they learn that the dead guard isn’t really dead, and has to suck the life out of people, in the form of pretty blue lightning, every few hours or he’ll explode into dust. By the time they realize this, a space zombie epidemic is overtaking London, as the space vampires beam our lifeforce up to their ship, to revitalize their doomed race. There are some quite spectacular effects for ’85, including some very realistic looking emaciated zombie puppets, Patrick Stewart puking up gallons of blood which reform into the Space Girl from the inside out, and some lovely bat creatures when we finally see their true form. And of course, Mathilda May’s buxom form strolling about nude is enough to forgive the severe shortcomings of the story. That and the performance of Peter Firth (“Spook”) as the cop turned vampire hunter; he acts so naturally that we forget the confusing and bizarre jumps the plot will take.

Headshot works on space
vampires too.

As a 14 year old, I could not comprehend how feel-good dreck like Cocoon with Wilford Brimley, Don Ameche and Steve Guttenberg could trounce such fare at the box office. The old-folk demographic must have watched it in droves. 1985 was probably the last year you could depend on gratuitous boobs at the movies, and Lifeforce tried to corner the market. Just look at them. When the Space Girl (she has no name) tells Carlsen that she modeled herself after his desires, we believe it. But the movie does have problems-it tries to be too many things at once. At first we have a quiet space mystery, then a supernatural thriller, then a horror movie, then a zombie movie, and finally an attempt at science fiction. The aliens are compared to the vampires of legend, but they really don’t resemble them at all; it’s hinted that they visited before, but we see no evidence of how these soul-stealing aliens could have inspired the vampire myth.

Baby, you got real ugly.

The author of the book thinks the adaptation is horrid, the comet was shoehorned in without the usually dependable screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s approval, and thus the story is a huge mess. When you find out what the source of Carlsen’s psychic bond, you’ll wonder if M. Night Shyamalan was a script doctor. The tone varies from creepy in a good way to silly to creepy in a bad way, when Carlsen tries his sadomasochistic interrogation methods. But despite all its flaws, the movie has a certain kind of charm beyond boobies- it really does feel like an updated Hammer film or silly pseudo-science fiction film like Island of Terror; as the scientists discover the nature of the invaders, and Peter Firth’s set jaw in the face of a zombie-infested London. Not bad fare for a late night.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 1
Could it be remade today? Not with all the nudity.
Quotability Rating: Only ironically.
Cheese Factor: Stilton
High Points: Mathilda May
Low Point: Patrick Stewart mimicking Mathilda May
Gratuitous Boobies: My god, it’s full of boobs!