Director: Sandy Whitelaw
Mondo Macabro

Sometimes a movie will come along from the outskirts of mainstream cinema and really surprise the viewer by how professional and unique it is, excelling past the limitations of the exploitation genre. LIFESPAN is not one of these, though it tries hard to deliver a thought-provoking viewing experience. A film hard to categorize, this oddity is part mystery, part horror, and part science fiction, but nothing too interesting to get excited about. Mondo Macabro, a company that has excelled with its discs preserving cinematic wonders from South America and Asia, unfortunately has been hit or miss when it comes to European fare. Similar to the arthouse relic CRAZY LOVE, this release attempts to shine light on an unsung gem of European cinema that simply isn’t as good as many people would have you believe.

Ben Land is a young American scientist in Amsterdam for a medical convention, where he is eager to hear of the experiments surrounding immortality by Dr. Paul Linden. However, he finds Linden is distant and hesitant to discuss his findings, and a day later, the doctor is found dead, a suicide, hanging from a beam in his apartment. Ben becomes determined to learn why Linden killed himself, investigating the results of his many experiments (including a group of lab mice that have lived two times longer than their usual lifespan) and the various mysterious people connected to his scientific study. Anna, Linden’s beautiful young mistress, and the strange Swiss Man may hold the key to discovering the cause of Linden’s death and if he did indeed discover the elixir of life.

Yawn… It took me four sittings to get even 30 minutes into LIFESPAN, and regarding the general rule of a film’s first reel being an indicator of the remainder of the running time’s quality, it would hold very true to this movie. The best moments LIFESPAN has to offer are the many scenes examining the sights and locations of Amsterdam and the Netherlands, one of the loveliest countries in Europe. However, there are better travelogues to be had without a monotonous storyline attached. Like the theme of reincarnation, cinema has never really taken to the theme of immortality, but director/writer Sandy Whitelaw doesn’t seem as intent on focusing on the science fiction elements of the script as he does the strange compulsion of Ben to live the life of the deceased Linden in order to learn what he has learned. All this would be interesting if it were competently written and acted, but LIFESPAN fails on both counts, meandering all over the place without a clear end of the rainbow. Thankfully the musical score by Terry Riley, filled with synthesizers, is interesting enough to spice up many otherwise snooze-inducing scenes.

Another problem is the casting of the film. Eurocult favorites Klaus Kinski and Tina Aumont just don’t do much, though Aumont does participate in a nude bondage scene that was later printed in several Italian S&M magazines. Dutch actors like Fons Rademakers (DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS) and Frans Mulder do impressive jobs in supporting roles. Hiram Keller, a male model some may remember as an obnoxious aristocrat in SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYE, is an incredibly bland lead, so miscast in fact that the majority of his dialogue is presented in narration form, to save him from trying to show emotion or read the lines correctly. Because of the constant narration, the storyline becomes harder and harder to follow, adding more confusion to an already complex and heavy plot. Some viewers may find that this is what makes the film so special, that it's all a giant puzzle that is difficult to piece together. But for anyone expecting an entertaining science-fiction giallo, as the film has been described, will be sorely disappointed. LIFESPAN has some potential, but never exceeds beyond an intriguing idea. The delivery is flat, and it’s a bore to sit through, and that is the ultimate crime a film can be guilty of.

LIFESPAN looks very good on its first official DVD release. Other than some excessive grain during the opening scenes and during the opening credits, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is regularly sharp and clear, with good color. A few color blemishes are the only noticeable defects of this fine transfer. The English mono audio does a fine job, and has no problems whatsoever.

The extras are plentiful on the disc, and all attempt to persuade the viewer to give the film a chance. Perhaps one can go back and revisit the film after appreciating the supplements, perhaps not. Pete Tombs’ essay, well-written as always, discussing the film points out the best the film has to offer (the musical score and the use of Amsterdam as a locale), and also compares the film to LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD. This isn’t too far off, as MARIENBAD is another frustrating arthouse film appreciated by some and loathed by many. Director Whitelaw appears for a video interview and an audio commentary (moderated by Tombs), talking about the origins of the film, his history in the film business, working with Tina Aumont, Klaus Kinski, and the other cast members, and the difficulty of selling the film. A windowboxed trailer demonstrates how hard it was to find an audience for this film, and three galleries of color and black-and-white stills and rare recording session photos of Terry Riley performing his wonderful soundtrack are also included. The Mondo Macabro promo reel should give you some better ideas of what to buy instead of this disc to see just how damn good this company can get: VIRGINS FROM HELL, ALUCARDA, THE DEATHLESS DEVIL, FOR YOUR HEIGHT ONLY, LADY TERMINATOR, SATANICO PANDEMONIUM, PANIC BEATS, THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN, THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, ASWANG, THE LIVING CORPSE, BLOOD OF THE VIRGINS, MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN, SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN, DANGEROUS SEDUCTRESS, GIRL SLAVES OF MORGANA LE FAY. (Casey Scott)

Check out the Mondo Macabro website by clicking HERE.