Lifeforce (1985)


If you remember “Lifeforce” from your youth, chances are an image is already in your head, and that image is of Mathilda May. For no doubt vital plot reasons, she plays virtually her entire part naked…trying to describe her in some way that doesn’t make me sound like a sleazy douchebag is proving difficult, so I’ll leave it there. Anyway, this movie co-stars a nude lady, is produced by shlock superstars Cannon and is based on a book called “Space Vampires”. Are you with me so far? Then read on!

Britain has astronauts and its own space shuttle, and a distinctly low-rent Mission Control (so, quite authentic-looking). Along with one American astronaut (because movies needed American leading men then, even ones as dull-looking as Steve Railsback), they go to Halley’s Comet and discover a huge alien spaceship, full of long-dead hideous creatures…and three naked people in glass boxes. Then the ship seems to disappear until 30 days later when a rescue ship finds it, full of lots of dead bodies and the three people, still in the glass cases, and takes them all down to Earth.


Because men are idiots, and because she’s got space-vampire mind control powers, Mathilda May is soon out of her case and off causing havoc, spreading space-vampirism wherever she goes and eventually leaping from body to body (Mathilda May is in perhaps a third of the movie). With the help of SAS Colonel Caine (Peter Firth), Carlsen (Railsback) – who made it to earth in an escape capsule – goes after her, which leads to an asylum on the North Yorkshire moors and then back to London for a hell of a denouement.

My friend Dave made a great point that a remake of this would totally work as a mini-series, with every episode being a different genre – part 1 as space adventure, part 2 as a chase thriller, part 3 as Apocalypse London. “Lifeforce” has an absolute ton of stuff packed into its almost 2 hours, and feels like three films in one, just with all the boring bits cut out. There’s a pretty interesting relationship at the centre of it between Carlsen and Space Girl too, and how she affects even the people she doesn’t drain and turn into zombie-vampire-things.


It’s crammed with great British character actors, probably something to do with Cannon wanting solid hands but not wanting to pay too much for them (it’s filmed in the UK, why not hire Brits to play all the parts?). In main roles, as well as Peter Firth, who’s gone on to be a regular in many great TV shows, there’s Frank Finlay as the doctor who figures out they’re space vampires, and Patrick Stewart as the doctor in charge of the Yorkshire asylum. Although I’ve assumed Stewart just emerged from the ether to be in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, he was a hard-working actor (member of the Royal Shakespeare Company since 1966) for many years before. He’s great in his small role.

Considering the many behind-the-scenes roadblocks, it’s a surprise “Lifeforce” came out as fun as it did. The script credited (partly to Dan O’Bannon, genre superstar) was probably not the final script used, and there were as many as 8 writers who worked on various versions of it. There were huge numbers of casting changes, including John Gielgud dropping out of the part which eventually went to Patrick Stewart; and seemingly every actor in England signing on to play the Firth role at one time or another (Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine and Terence Stamp being the most famous).


But it really is rather good. Because of the quality of the actors involved, it feels a lot better developed than it perhaps was; the special effects are pretty good too, and although the alien plan seems somewhat convoluted (perhaps due to editing) it’s interesting, and their alien-ness is well gotten across. I’m honestly surprised, expecting from my childhood viewings a bit of fun trash with the stunningly beautiful Mathilda May to hold my interest when it started drifting…but it never did. Three for the price of one, plenty of luvvies slumming it in a Hollywood-financed space vampire movie, and definitely worth revisiting.

Rating: thumbs up