Welcome to the first post in our all new Foes of Reality Island of Misfit Films review series. It is no secret that science fiction has a rich story-telling history in film, ranging from the ripping adventures of Star Wars through the visionary futurism of Blade Runner to the mind-bending paranoia and psychedelia of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The genre is equally well known for its cult classics, oddities, and clunkers. These misfits of sci-fi were celebrated earlier in February 2013 at the Chicago-area science fiction convention Capricon 33, in a panel titled So Awful, It’s Awesome: Guilty Pleasures. The Saturday-night gathering was such a hit that there is already talk of dedicated “So Awful, They’re Awesome” film programing at Capricon 34.
If So Awful, It’s Awesome made one thing clear, it is that there are many, many, many must-see science fiction movies, good and bad, that disappear with their box office misfortunes. The Island of Misfit Films series attempts to rescue these poor unfortunates from oblivion for your viewing pleasure.
As our inaugural review in the series, Lifeforce presents something of an unusual case. Fellow Foe Steven Long and I saw this gem in theaters during its original theatrical run back in the mid 1980s. It is difficult to remember details, but our motivation for buying tickets probably hinged on an adolescent compulsion to stare in wonderment at Mathilda May’s boobs. What we ultimately gained from the movie was so much more.
Lifeforce begins with a joint British and American space mission aboard the ESA shuttle Churchill to study Haley’s Comet. The flight team is thrown for a loop when they discover a massive artificial object concealed at the very edge of the comet’s coma. Further investigation reveals a ginormous alien spacecraft filled with thousands of desiccated humanoid bat creatures and three perfectly preserved naked humans; two male (boo hiss) and one female (score!).
It turns out that what the Churchill crew discovers is nothing less than a roving band of naked space vampires. I cannot overemphasize the magnitude of bat-shit crazy epicness packed into that concept: Naked. Space. Vampires. Suck it, Twilight.
The middle part of the film is essentially a race against time to figure out what the hell is going on and stop it before something bad happens. Sadly our heroes are confounded by a subplot involving Sir Patrick Stewart, who plays the director of an asylum for the criminally insane. The distraction allows the naked space vampires time enough to unleash a pyric zombie apocalypse on London Town and bring the film to its toe-curling climax.
No, I am not making this up. And yes, it is that awesome.
Lifeforce is undeniably one of the most ridiculous films you will ever see, as well as one of the most entertaining. It is also well crafted and amazingly well budgeted for its premise; boasting top-notch visual effects by Academy Award winner John Dykstra, solid performances by Peter Firth, Patrick Stewart, and Frank Finlay, and a script that stubbornly refuses to fall apart around the actors. It was scored by legendary film composer Henry Mancini (Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther films, The Glenn Miller Story), and directed by Tobe Hooper, still riding the wave of Poltergeist’s success from 1982 and the legend of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from 1974.
This brings us to a critical question: Is Lifeforce a movie so bad that it’s good or a good movie that was a bad idea to make? Considering that the film made only 11.6 of its 25 million dollar budget back at the box office, that answer is likely in the eye of the beholder. It is worth watching to decide for yourself, especially if you don’t mind a certain amount of gratuitous nudity and cartoon violence. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. Lifeforce is scheduled for release as a collector’s edition Blu-ray on April 30th. At the price of a Netflix rental, you won’t be disappointed.