Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Lifeforce, 1985

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(Not that I need an excuse to watch this magnificent misfire, but last month I came across Stacie Ponder’s Final Girl blog, specifically this post announcing the next movie for her film club. Since I’m shameless and will do anything to get links and up traffic, I figured I’d join in.)

(And I’m a day late in posting this. Many apologizings!)

If you know anything about this movie, you might be amazed by how good it is.

If, however, you know nothing of Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce… you’ll just sit watching it, your jaw slack, waiting to see how it outdoes it’s ridiculousness next. And do not fear — it will.

First of all, if you have any appreciation for the female form, you must see this film. It features Mathilda May at the age of 19, one of the most stunningly beautiful women ever put on film, completely and totally nude for great lengths of time. (Roughly fifteen minutes toward the beginning of the film, and a few lengthy scenes near the end.)

But apart from that (very excellent and healthy) reason, you still have to see this movie, because it’s nuts. Bonkers. Certifiable.

It begins as a space adventure/horror film, as a spaceship prepares to enter the tail of Halley’s comet.

The middle part is a naked-space-vampire-invades-Britain horror flick.

And it ends as an end-of-the-world apocalyptic zombie thriller.

The first two movies are fairly well connected. The third is not. Not even to itself.

But oh, is it ever fun.


For the record, I’m watching the DVD which features a cut of the movie at least ten minutes longer than the US theatrical release. ((Seemingly none of the extra footage is of naked Mathilda May. Big surprise. ))

The film opens with titles over some nifty asteroid models ((It was released in 1985, no CG effects outside of Tron and The Last Starfighter, and this movie is much the better for it. )) with a throbbing, bombastic score by Henry Mancini. ((The really odd thing about this is that according to IMDb, this was a rejected score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy. Mancini doing a score for a naked space vampire movie is weird enough, but a naked space vampire movie using a score meant for a mad strangler picture is even weirder. ))

After the credits end, we get a Voice of God narrator telling us about the spacecraft Churchill, and it’s new engine, the “Nerva” system ((I don’t think that’s meant as a joke… )), which allows constant propulsion and thus constant simulated gravity as it moves. Nice of them to cover that aspect, so few movies do. This comes over a neat shot of the Churchill against Halley’s Comet in the distance, followed by interiors of the crew at work.

The crew finds on radar an object in the head of the comet. An object 150 miles long, and two miles high. A ship.

As they approach it, they see that the surface is heavily pitted, meaning that it’s been there a long time. They pull up near it, and four of the crew go EVA, entering the huge derelict. One observes that the passage they enter looks “like an artery”, while Carlsen mouths a line that will haunt you later — specifically in the third act — a really lame attempt to set up the nonsensical ending: “I almost feel like I’ve been here before.”

Inside, they find the former occupants, large humanoid bat-like creatures, all dead, completely dessicated — that word is used by a character and, you might be shocked to learn, is NOT immediately explained by another character through painfully on-the-nose exposition. It is explained a moment or two after, as another character says something that such a character in such a situation might actually say (!!!), a line about how all the fluid would have evaporated into the vacuum over time. ((Okay, okay, it’s a little on the nose, but it struck me as something someone might say to himself when presented with such an overwhelming situation. It feels in character, rather than an audience-information-delivery system. ))

While the four bag one specimen inside the enormous ship, the crew in the Churchill outside witness the same enormous ship come to life, as it extends something from its tail section. As the crew inside and out communicate, one says “The only way to describe it is, it’s like a giant umbrella.” And inside, concurrent to that, a portal opens and light shines out on the astronauts. Carlsen and the other three go toward it to investigate.

In that enormous chamber, they find hundreds or thousands of clear containers. Three of which contain nude human figures, a woman and two men. Carlsen approaches them, and feels something. This is nicely communicated by the way the shots are composed, edited, and matched together, showing a connection between the woman and Carlsen, or at least his feeling of one.

The astronauts take all three humanoids back to the Churchill, as well as one of the dead bat-things. The Churchill departs, making its way back to Earth.

Thirty days later (as a title informs us), the Churchill drifts in orbit around the Earth, totally incommunicado with Mission Control Great Britain. The Columbia shuttle is sent up to rendezvous with it. NASA astronauts dock with and enter the Churchill, and find it’s been “completely gutted” by a fire. All the crew are dead.

But in the tug bay, the three humanoids remain untouched and in suspended animation inside their clear encasings.

Offscreen, the bodies are brought down, and the cases open of their own accord (we learn in a bit of dialogue), and one of the bodies is about to be autopsied.

Alas, a guard standing watch finds her too alluring, walks in, and she wakes up and makes out with him, leaving his body a dried-out husk. Naked Space Girl then waltzes out of the government facility, knocking senseless anyone who is in her way with lightning effects. She shatters a floor-to-ceiling window and sashays off into the night, still wearing not a stitch. ((Bless you, Mathilda May, for not feeling any shame or discomfort, and showing the world what loveliness is. 🙂 ))

Her victim, the guard, is in bad shape. Not just dead, but practically mummified. An autopsy is started less than two hours after his death, but just as the doctors performing the autopsy get started, he comes alive, and sucks the life out of one of the docs, restoring himself to his previous appearance, while the doctor falls dead and mummified to the ground.

Then news hits that the missing escape pod from the Churchill has been found in Texas, containing Colonel Carlsen, still alive. He’s shipped back to England, and tells what happened aboard the ship. Then it turns out that he has a psychic connection with Naked Space Girl, and when hypnotized he can locate her even when she’s body-hopping (yes, we learn that she can possess other people somehow). Carlsen and Special Air Service Colonel Caine then hop out to the British countryside, trying to find whomever she’s possessing, so that they can find wherever her actual body is hidden in London. Or something.

They spend time tracking down a redhead, who turns out to be a nurse who works in an asylum for the criminally insane that’s run by Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Naked Space Girl is no longer possessing the redhead, but has moved on to someone else — Picard, we learn after a bit. Picard is drugged and hypnotized, and Carlsen talks through him to Naked Space Girl, some more stuff happens, and it turns out that the last twenty-thirty minutes we’ve spent outside of London has been a red herring. It’s not even important where Naked Space Girl’s body has been hidden, or at least the matter is more or less dropped at this point. Carlsen and Caine get back into the helicopter that brought them out to the countryside, and while en route back to London, get a report that London is under martial law, overrun by zombies.

It is at this point that the movie stops even trying to keep things connected and coherent. Carlsen and Caine have been out of London for what can only have been a few hours. The movie doesn’t make the chronology clear, but the trip out and back seems to take less than twelve hours, leaving in late afternoon, returning in darkness, probably after midnight. Granted, during that time, one of the male vampires got out (I left the stuff with their subplot out of my summary — bad blogger!), but still, even if he managed to suck the lifeforce out of ten people per hour, including the geometric progression, it seems a bit soon for martial law to already have been declared, the city quarantined, and NATO itching to nuke the place. Male Vamp got out after dark, so he’s been operating maybe — maybe — six hours or so. I mean, the military has razorwire fences up all around the city, and quarantine pens to stick people in for two hours to ensure that they’re not infected. ((Which is ridiculous. It’s been established that if you’re going to vamp out in two hours, then for that two hours you are apparently dead and dessicated. But following that rule wouldn’t give us the image of our heroes in a quarantine pen, so it falls by the wayside. ))

Anyway, the final act of the movie is full-on zombie apocalypse, and a rousing excuse to blow stuff up real good. (Excellent model work is on display here.) Carlsen decides to go into the quarantined zone to find Naked Space Girl, because the Male Vamp is collecting Life Force, and channeling it through her body, which acts as a conduit to send it up to the spaceship (which, also left out of this summary, has left Halley’s comet and taken up geo-stationary orbit directly above London). Caine accompanies him, and…

As if things weren’t screwy enough, this is where somebody gave in to their whims and made the movie a thing of surrealistic beauty. None of the rest of the movie makes a damn bit of sense, and it is glorious.

Carlsen finds Naked Space Girl, and she tells him that he’s one of them (the space vampires, that is), that he always has been, and that it’s time to rejoin them. (Remember that line from the beginning that I said would haunt you? Boy.) Carlsen then embraces her (they are now both naked, no real explanation of how), Caine finds the two of them and throws Carlsen a leaded-iron sword (another plot point I neglected to include), and Carlsen impales Naked Space Girl and himself with it.

And then they beam up to the spaceship, seeming unharmed by the impalement.

And then the spaceship turns away and leaves.

Roll credits.

And if you haven’t actually seen it, I am impelled to add: I am sooooo not kidding.


So, okay, you’ve got dozens and dozens of minutes of Mathilda May going starkers, and she’s very much worth looking at. An aesthetic delight, you might say.

But the movie has more than that going for it.

It’s very well directed, it’s mostly well-acted, and the story is profoundly disjointed. It is, in other words, cheese on wheels. You can watch it to enjoy how good it is, and you can also watch it to revel in how over the top, ridiculously bad it is. From whatever level you approach it, it is ridiculously entertaining.

And it resists logical analysis magnificently. No matter what angle you attack it from, no matter what rationalizations you apply to it, it is simply not possible to integrate all of the elements of this movie into a coherent whole. The only other movie I’m aware of that is so gloriously nonsensical, in the final analysis, is the Roger Corman cheapie The Terror, which is also very entertaining. (I reviewed it before, years ago, and might revisit it this year.)

When I say that it’s well-directed, I mean it. The shot selection, the framing and composition, the camera movements, the editing, it’s all done for specific reasons and generally to very good effect — particularly in the opening Churchill sequences, and in Carlsen’s narration and flashbacks to the Churchill.

And the acting, too, is good. Some argue that Steve Railsback was miscast as Carlsen, but he’s intense and believable. Mathilda May also manages to be quite good as Naked Space Girl, and not because she’s naked. She acts with her eyes, and does so very, very well. (Her line readings aren’t quite so good, but they’re not bad, either.) I also liked the guy playing Colonel Caine.

But the movie as a whole? Wow. Just, wow. It’s brilliant and awful at once.


Anyhow, for examples of Mademoiselle May’s gorgeousness, click on through. Absolutely NSFW.

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