Top critical review
You're one of us. You always have been (mild spoilers)
on April 6, 2015
Have you ever seen a movie that starts out well, but later completely falls apart? It's a disappointing experience, and the better the beginning is, the more disappointing the inevitable crumble becomes.
And "Lifeforce" is possibly the most extreme example of that -- it begins as a haunting, artistic sci-fi movie with a beautiful score and stunning special effects. But once the action is transferred to Earth, the movie begins a slow, subtle descent into outright silliness that grows more intense with every passing scene. Hamtastic acting, massive plot holes and even the once-lovely special effects grow more bizarre as it winds to its jaw-droppingly bad conclusion.
A space shuttle with a joint US/UK crew has been sent to investigate Halley's Comet, under the command of Colonel Thomas Wolfe Carlsen (Steve Railsback). But they promptly stumble across a vast alien spaceship hidden in that comet, which is filled with dead batlike creatures and three humanoids in suspended animation. When the shuttle returns to Earth, everyone on board is dead except for the three suspended humanoids... who turn out to be life force vampires.
The female (who is naked and the director never lets you forget it) promptly sucks the life-force out of some poor guy, who temporarily resurrects himself by sucking the life from someone else. If these newly-made vampires don't feed regularly, they shrivel up and explode. The Space Girl (seriously, that is what they call her) also apparently can float around and possess people... usually more sexy women, but occasionally Patrick Stewart.
The only one with a vague idea of what is going on is Carlsen, who was found in an escape pod in Texas, and who seems to have a psychic link to Space Girl. So of course, he is humanity's best hope for thwarting the space vampires before all of London is turned into a playground of alien-infected zombies. Did I mention there were zombies?
"Lifeforce" is almost a hypnotic experience, because most movies don't descend so steadily or completely into wretchedness. The opening scenes of the movie are some of the most spellbinding sci-fi exploration that has ever been put in a film, with exquisite matte paintings and hauntingly rich atmosphere. These scenes are probably the best work director Toby Hooper -- who directed "Poltergeist" just a few years before -- has ever done.
And yet... as soon as the action moves down to Earth, EVERYTHING deteriorates. It's like the movie was written and directed in one-off shifts by people who never actually conversed with one another. There are plot holes the size of the alien spacecraft (that's over a hundred and fifty miles, if you don't know) and massive continuity errors that stagger the entire storyline.
For instance, consider the infected humans. Initially, they are turned into dried-out mummies that return to normal (mentally and physically) by sucking the life force out of hapless humans. Unless fed, they will return to their mummified state and EXPLODE. That is... until the final act of the movie, when suddenly they become masses of telepathic rage zombies with oozing sores, who can be killed by a gunshot to any part of their anatomy. Why does this happen? Never explained.
Hooper tries desperately to tie together this sagging, hole-riddled mess with lots of nudity (but only from the FEMALE alien, never the males!), and the sight of Carlsen racing around the British countryside in an effort to interrogate the Space Girl (ugh, that name). But by the movie's grand finale, it's deteriorated into a mass of sleazy, weird, unexplained cheez involving columns of blue energy, zombies, a big sword, and the weirdest sex scene you'll ever see.
That slow descent into silliness also applies to Railsbeck, who starts off pretty subtle and normal, but slowly descends into ham worthy of Christmas dinner ("WHERE ARE YOOOOOOU? WHERE'S YOUR BOODDDDYY?"). It doesn't help that his character makes no sense, since he is often stated to be one of the space vampires himself... but this is never explained or shown at all. It's just a cop-out explanation for why he has a plot-convenient psychic link with the Space Girl.
Speaking of the Space Girl, aka French actress Mathilda May, her acting is negligible at best, but she clearly was cast for her more tangible talents. Two of them. And since those are very nice, I suppose she works well. Patrick Stewart is wasted as a character who mostly lip-syncs and screams, but Peter Firth gives a very good performance as the cynical, no-nonsense SAS guy who has to drag the screaming, melting-down Carlsen around.
"Lifeforce" isn't merely a bad movie -- it's a disappointing one, starting out with beauty and mystery and ending up a silly mass of boobs, zombies and hammy acting. If there's ever a movie that desperately needed a rewrite and remake, it's this one.