THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Let's take a trip down memory lane. The year was 1985. I was a senior in high school. The movie Lifeforce had opened that summer. It featured a young actress named Mathilda May. She was very attractive, some would even say “perfect.” She was also completely nude through huge chunks of the film. Needless to say, all the male movie buffs in school were abuzz over Lifeforce. Even today, mention the title to someone who remembers it and they'll immediately picture Ms. May in the altogether. The movie itself was something of a flop, earning just $11 million in the U.S. It did, however, produce an iconic sci-fi/horror image. I actually thought Lifeforce was pretty good, an impression that was reinforced upon watching the never-before-available director's cut that is part of the Scream Factory's new Blu-Ray release.
Directed by Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist), Lifeforce tells the story of space shuttle commander Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback). During a mission, he and his colleagues find a strange alien craft hidden inside Halley's comet. They put on spacesuits and make their way in, only to discover a weird bat-like creature and three nude humans (two males and, of course, Mathilda May) encased in some sort of glass sleep chambers. Something happens on the shuttle on the way back to Earth, leaving everyone but Carlsen, who gets away in an escape pod, dead. Once on the ground, the female alien awakens and literally begins sucking the life out of anyone she comes across. Carlsen and a Special Air Services colonel (played by Peter Firth) track her down, first to a mental hospital (where the chief administrator is played by Patrick Stewart) and later to the streets of London. They discover that she's a “space vampire” who, instead of blood, feeds on human energy.
The really cool, unusual thing about Lifeforce is that it takes a fairly straightforward horror concept and infuses it with abundant psychosexual themes. Throughout the ordeal, Carlsen feels a mental link to the alien. He is hypnotically and erotically drawn to her. The alien also uses her female form to entice men so that she may drain them. Lifeforce, like Species a few years later, suggests that sexuality can equal power, and that, in the wrong hands, such power can have serious consequences. The alien assumes a form that she knows will give her influence over otherwise strong opponents. Horniness, it seems, is a huge Achilles heel.
The director's cut of Lifeforce expands on character and plot. Admittedly, even in longer form, the movie still has moments that are just plain silly, although that stems from ambition, not incompetence. The plot is occasionally muddled, as well. Still, I've always admired the way Lifeforce tries to deliver something more than just thrills. There are certainly plenty of those - most notably a supremely creepy scene inside a helicopter wherein a bloody apparition of the alien appears - but the movie clearly wants to use the idea of fatal sexuality as a means of unnerving the audience at a more primal level. Anything that comes off silly does so only because Hooper was taking huge chances with the material. How often do you find a sci-fi/horror hybrid that dares to walk the high wire? Not often enough, I think. For that reason alone, Lifeforce deserves to be rediscovered.
Lifeforce will be released in a Blu-Ray combo pack on June 18, courtesy of Scream Factory. The director's cut, which adds fifteen minutes, is definitely worth watching, but if you prefer the theatrical version, it's here too. You might even want to watch both, just for comparison's sake.
The bonus features are nothing short of outstanding. There are two informative audio commentaries. The first is from Tobe Hooper, the second from special make-up effects designer Nick Maley. You will also find three interview segments with key Lifeforce players. “Space Vampires in London” offers Hooper discussing production challenges, including looking for an actress who was okay with the nudity. Speaking of, “Dangerous Beauty” is an interview with Mathilda May, in which she recollects taking her clothes off for the camera, as well as how she landed the role. May is quite candid, yet also clearly comfortable with the nudity. As a dancer, she approached her role thinking about movement, which was certainly a benefit to the eeriness of her character. “Carlsen's Curse,” meanwhile, brings us Steve Railsback, who is quite humorous in talking about how non-erotic the love scenes were.
A vintage making-of feature, a TV spot, the theatrical trailer, and a still gallery can be found on the disc too.
Scream Factory has once again assembled an A+ Blu-Ray release. I recommend it highly. For more information on this and other titles, please visit the Scream Factory website.
Lifeforce is rated R for language, violence, sexuality and (of course) nudity. The director's cut running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes. The theatrical cut runs 1 hour and 41 minutes.
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