So Bad They're Brilliant: Lifeforce

So Bad They're Brilliant: Lifeforce

Jan 11, 2011

When you're craving seriously spun-out, deeply strange, batshit crazy, interstellar dementia, grab yourself director Tobe Hooper's 1985 naked-vampires-from-outer-space epic. Though directed by the guy who gave the world the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, written by Dan O'Bannon (Alien) and Dan Jakoby (Blue Thunder), featuring effects by John Dykstra (Star Trek:The Motion Picture) and music by Oscar winner Henry Mancini, Lifeforce is so loopy and loveably terrible that it's one of the true immortals.

Here's the setup. The captain of a Brit-American space shuttle team investigating Halley's Comet (mispronounced Hay-ley's by the entire cast) imports from space three nude humanoids, despite the fact that they that have reduced his entire crew to shriveled corpses. Once on earth, the creatures unleash a deadly plague, rampaging hordes of foaming-at-the-mouth zombies and all sorts of fiery, end-of-the world calamity. The good news is that they also unleash blissed-out hilarity on the audience.

Lifeforce, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways. First, there's Mathilda May, referred to in the movie as, laughably, "The Space Girl." Trained dancer May looks so stunning spending most of her screen time naked as a jaybird that we almost buy a truckload of comically ripe dialogue describing her. Still, jeez, there are limits. A dazed, horned-up astronaut, sizing her up like she's the all-you-can-eat special at Sizzler, muses, "She looks perfect. I've been in space six months and she looks perfect to me." Growls another character: "That girl is no girl. She's totally alien to this planet and our life form – and totally dangerous."

Then, consider the remarks made by shark-eyed, lock-jawed captain Steve Railsback, who gives an epically awful performance. When questioned by military expert Peter Firth, winner of the Charles Laughton Award both for a startling physical resemblance and for Laughton-worthy mugging, the over-the-top Railsback practically quivers with orgasmic ecstasy: "She was the most overwhelmingly feminine presence I have ever encountered. I was drawn to her on a level…" Sexual, Firth asks? Railsback offers, "Yes. Overwhelmingly so. And horrible loss of control!"

While venerable Brit character actors like Frank Finlay and Aubrey Morris mince about endlessly jabbering about The Space Girl, the little minx breaks out of her holding cell. Noted thanatologist Finlay reassures, "Don't worry – a naked girl is not going to get out of this complex." Guards try to lure her with – we're not kidding – a potato chip and, "Come to me. Come to daddy…" but she zaps them with blue light and sucks out their…umm…lifeforce, courtesy of some of the world's least convincing special effects.

Things go supper nutty when The Space Girl and her two studly Space Boys (Chris Jagger and Bill Malin) stalk England spreading the plague by seducing, then taking over the bodies of others. Explains Railsback, "She's looking for a man…any man…a healthy man." He ought to know because he and May have been all over each other in a trippy sex scene shot with bright red filters accompanied by audio effects straight off a 99 cent downloadable Halloween CD. "The girl visited me…in my mind," says Railsback, practically foaming at the mouth.

The chase for the hot vampires leads to a lunatic asylum presided over by Patrick Stewart in a shouting, screaming, unhinged performance that reaches its zany climax when he - strapped to a gurney - begins speaking in May's voice and Railsback kisses him smack on the lips. Mayhem rocks London in a hail of fire, vehicles careening out of control and vampire zombies – including a nun – run amok. Then there's one of the two male vampires who lures Firth by saying, "It'll be much less terrifying if you just come to me," to which Firth says, "I'll do just that." But for jaw-dropping nuttiness, nothing, and we mean nothing, tops the fateful reunion of born-to-be-bad Railsback and May, the latter of whom explains, quite helpfully: "The web of destiny carries your blood and soul back to the genesis of my life form." And may the web of destiny carry your blood and soul to the lunacy of Lifeforce.

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