THERE ARE TWO very striking things about “Lifeforce.”
1. This movie is awesomely bad; the kind of bad that used to find a home in late-night TV pulp movie marathons, but now reaps ironic praise by armies of acolytes hiding online. The kind of bad that you don’t want to stop watching, because what comes next is usually even more ridiculous – and awesome – than what you just saw.
2. There’s a lot of nudity in this movie. A lot. Even some full frontal. But, oddly, the nudity is almost sterilized, free of sensuality – even in some over-the-top “erotic” scenes.
As you can imagine, this film about “space vampires” who are discovered by astronauts in the tail of Halley’s Comet plays like a B-movie fan’s wet dream. But that’s what makes “Lifeforce” so interesting, it isn’t a B-movie – at least it wasn’t supposed to be.
With its blend of sci-fi and horror, this 1985 film directed by Tobe Hooper (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Poltergeist”) was pegged as a potential tent pole movie by the now defunct Cannon Pictures. With its first release on Blu-ray, we can see why. While the acting, plot and pacing isn’t very good, “Lifeforce” was built by a set design crew that made art. The interiors of space ships are organic-inspired modern displays of creative wonder. An alien space ship is somehow original and familiar with a motif that, according to the extras, was inspired by an artichoke. Even the barrage of special effect lights shimmer and gleam in an impressively in high-def. At the time, they were state-of-the-art.
It wasn’t enough to lure viewers. The movie, which had a $25 million budget (according to online sources) only earned $11.6 million at the box office. In other words, it was a huge bust.
For fans of “Lifeforce,” the most compelling part of this Blu-ray release is the slate of extras that actually delve into the reasons why the movie didn’t do as well as people thought it would – from key scenes not being shot because the budget was running over to competition at the box office (“Cocoon”). Still, interviews with the cast, crew and directors, show a set of compatriots who speak about “Lifeforce” like it was a piece of forgotten art.
It isn’t – not even the elongated director’s cut. Even that is bad, but in a good way. A large part of that comes via Matilda May, the actress who plays the “queen” space vampire with an aversion to clothes (No joke: this movie, alone, could make May the non-porno actress with the most on-screen nude time). In an interview with the present day May, the French-born actress talks about how she, a teenage dancer who had never acted, landed the part that relied on her to be completely nude for most of her time on screen. Yet, so much of the nakedness comes off as almost surgical and non-sensual as the one-time ballerina moves her body with an eerie stride that, at times, looks as alien as the character she’s playing.
Still, people can’t stop talking about May’s nudity. Co-star Steve Railsback tells how everyone treated the young woman with “respect” on set. In another extra feature, Hooper talks about how many of the other auditioning actresses refused to fully disrobe for the part, even conspiring against him at one casting session.
Pair that perspective with some extras that detail the special effects that went into this movie and “Lifeforce” is just as striking in Blu-ray as it was during its release nearly 30 years ago. Even if it is bad.