Lifeforce was another movie I convinced my high school friends to see, and thanks to me we walked out of the theater pretty disappointed, although also thanks to me we'd seen some boobs. In the years since then, there was one occasion when a voice in my head said "Hey, what about Lifeforce?" and so I watched it again and rediscovered the answer to that question, which is "No."
But last month I couldn't remember why, perhaps because the badness burnt out some memory relay in my brain, maybe exacerbated by the impacts of the other voices in my head kicking the voice in my head that suggested Lifeforce in the head. So I watched real close this time to see if I could spot the problem, and it turns out, simply, that the writer of Alien and the dirctor of Poltergeist got together to make one of the most galling pieces of cinematic clusterfuckery to ever de-grace a screen.
It starts out promisingly enough, as a space shuttle doing a drive-by of Halley's Comet discovers a huge vessel hidden in the comet's corona. Inside the vast, strange interior are several dessicated humanoid bat creatures and three seemingly preserved humans from the planet Naked. I have bitched (and will some more) about foolish decisions involving the quarantine of alien biomass, but I actually sympathized with this crew. Do they grab some souvenirs for the folks back home or tell them to wait another 76 years? They go for the full -- ahem -- package and haul the three sleeping human-lookin' critters aboard.
The shuttle returns to Earth orbit with its crew burned beyond recognition but the three mystery hotties (two male, one female) still unharmed within their crystal containers. Since everything's been going great so far, the trio are brought to the surface and the hijinks begin.
Booby McSpaceHo turns folks into dry husks which two hours later wake up and do it again, and so on. She escapes nakedly into the night and the whole situation -- dead shuttle crew, humanity's first alien contact, space plague -- is handled by a couple of guys operating out of some crummy office your dad worked in once. When it turns out the original shuttle captain escaped in the life pod and landed safely in Texas, he's immediately transported to the same office to hang out with the other guys.
Captain Tom Carlsen is played by Steve Railsback, which was treated as some kind of selling point in the Netflix blurb, but I'd never heard of him. He played Charles Manson in the 1976 TV movie Helter Skelter, and he looks like this:
With his reemergence the movie officially goes sideways. His first night sleeping in his cozy British Space Agency bed, he dreams of getting busy with the alien chick in a church; it's all gauzy gown and blue lights and it's very tastefully shot, like on Cinemax. When he wakes he announces that his psychic connection with her has enabled him to engage more scenes of British soft core porn. Apparently she's sent her mind out to possess other people miles away, maintaining her space vampire energy levels by sexing up blokes that pick her up hitchhiking (we see a long scene of this, thanks).
So Captain Manson sets out with some British dudes on this ridiculous plot tangent, which unexpectedly dead-ends when he kisses Patrick Stewart on the lips in what would later be referred to as a Ghost moment.
About thirty minutes after they never should have left, our heroes finally return to a London in the grips of a full-on space vampire plague. They're only there long enough to see the Prime Minister suck his secretary's face off, then they hop on their helicopter and go for Olympic-level audience frustration by getting stuck in military quarantine outside the city.
So finally the long, tangential subplot is finished and our heroes can get into the action, hooking up with the remaining office guy to see what they (and we) have been missing. It turns out it's a lot of really confusing "chaos in the streets" action, with people running and screaming, zombie-vampire types lurching around in various stages of decay, fires in the distance and blue streaks of light zooming overhead. By this point the precise scope and nature of the aliens' powers has been completely murkified by the story; there's a make-it-up-as-we-go feel and the street chaos reflects that slipshoddery, kind of like "we got the cameras to work but we're not sure what we're doing here. Uh, action?"
In the midst of this Captain Tom Carlsen is using his unique psychic link to finally, finally track down the female alien at the center of all the chaos -- and it turns out she's directly under a huge beam of light that can be seen for miles.
Maybe other people could have more fun with Lifeforce than I had. It seems to have a full compliment of So Bad It's Good features, like silly production value choices and a dedication to nudity. But for me it was all flat ginger ale and stale saltines, and I don't think I'll be watching it again. While I don't recommend it, it might be worth a group-viewing experiment, and it's definitely a must-see for anyone interested in that extremely narrow subgenre called "Movies in which Charles Manson kisses Captain Jean-Luc Picard on the mouth."