I kind of like 1985's Lifeforce. Sure, it's all kinds of stupid, what with NASA space shuttles going to Halley's Comet, a British Prime Minister hardly anyone bothers to notice turns into a zombie, and massive leaps in logic to make the plot move along. But as a homage to Dracula and for its earnest weirdness I have to love it a little.
Dan O'Bannon, who worked on the screenplay for Alien, also worked on the screenplay for Lifeforce and the beginning of the film feels like a slightly embarrassing, low rent version of Alien. An Earth spacecraft resembling the contemporary NASA space shuttle comes across an apparently derelict alien craft near Halley's Comet and discovers alien bodies, strange, organic architecture, and a dormant menace.
One of the first bright spots in this movie is that the dormant menace in this case is a beautiful naked woman who stays naked for most of the picture.
Oh, and two naked guys we never get a good look at. Bit of a double standard there. But on the other hand, this can be seen as the movie's homage to Dracula. You see, the key twist here isn't that Dracula comes from space but that Dracula's a woman. And instead of a gang of beautiful brides she has a couple beautiful husbands.
On the third hand, this dichotomy didn't stop us from getting plenty of fan service in Dracula's brides before. Perhaps O'Bannon and director Tobe Hooper saw it as necessary to have the woman naked in order to equal the overbearing sexuality of Dracula. "She . . . was the most overwhelmingly feminine presence I ever felt," says one man when asked how a small naked woman overpowered him. It's hard to resist smirking slightly. And yet, the idea behind Dracula was that his unfiltered, Eastern male sexuality overpowered sophisticated Victorian women.
Instead of Eastern Europe, the frightening unknown territory in 1985 was space. It would still be to-day if the public imagination was still there but I don't think it is. But that's another kettle of fish.
It's either the batlike aliens or the naked woman, I'm not sure which, that first signals that this will be more of a Fantasy movie than Alien, which was more Sci-Fi. Instead of problems and solutions involving corridors, air locks, computers, androids, and alien physiology, we have miraculous survivals, undead servents, hypnosis, and human souls ensnared by kisses. This may be why the film failed to connect with audiences--people expecting the rather credible feeling Alien instead got ghosts and goblins.
Other references to Dracula include a trip to an asylum and a prominently featured Dr. Seward surrogate played here by a pre-Star Trek Patrick Stewart. He does a good job in a small role though I'm really going to have to give most of my admiration here to the beautiful Mathilda May as the Space Girl. Yes, just because she's naked most of the movie. She doesn't have much of a chance to deliver a performance otherwise. She walks around smugly and kisses people.
The people she kisses turn into life-sucking zombies, who in turn create more zombies until there's an epidemic in London. And one is reminded of David Cronenberg's superior 1977 film Rabid which also featured a vampire woman who converted people into zombies. That vampire woman was played by porn star Marilyn Chambers but she gets a lot more character than the one played by Mathilda May. Chambers' vampire was portrayed as being herself a victim of the dehumanising sexualisation going about.
But, as I said, I kind of like Lifeforce. It has a sort of open hearted campiness to it.