Color, 1974, 85m. / Directed by Sandy Whitelaw / Starring Hiram Keller, Klaus Kinski, Tina Aumont, Adrian Brine, Eric Schneider / Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

A peculiar rumination on mortality and moral responsibility package (rather misleadingly) as a sci-fi/horror thriller, Lifespan follows a wide-eyed American doctor, Ben Land (Keller), on a journey to Amsterdam where he hopes for an audience with the renowned Dr. Linden (Schneider), an expert in the subject of aging who is reputed to be on the edge of breaking through to discovering a hi-tech fountain of youth. Unfortunately his plans take a surreal detour when the doctor turns up hanged, his work now a baffling series of clues with no clear direction. To get closer to the truth, Land becomes intimate with the doctor’s former lover, Anna (Aumont), whose involvement with his work apparently entailed posing for kinky bondage pictures. Naturally Land and Anna decide to indulge in a little rope-play themselves, but their affair grows far more sinister when Anna appears to know a bit too much about the mysterious “Swiss man,” Nicholas Ulrich (Kinski), who holds Land’s ultimate destiny in his hands.

The brainchild of writer/director Alexander “Sandy” Whitelaw, this European production should have been marketed as an upscale art film but instead was sabotaged by a drive-in-style campaign in most countries, leaving viewers baffled when they weren’t distracted by Aumont’s naked flesh. Even more damaging was the promotion of Kinski as the top star (after all, he had just scored his first internationally acclaimed lead role in Aguirre, the Wrath of God); however, he’s really only in a few scenes, as this was the height of his “show up for a day or two and grab the check” period (see Footsteps or Death Smiles at Murder for other comparable examples). That leaves most of the film on Keller’s shoulders, and while the late Georgia-born star of Satyricon could still coast by well enough on his pin-up good looks, he’s hampered here by an inexplicable dubbed voice that flattens all of his dialogue into a bland mush. Luckily any casting issues are compensated by the strange seduction of the overall film, which is really unlike any other; the screenplay (co-written by Who’ll Stop the Rain’s Judith Rascoe) is both enigmatic and fascinating, with a quasi-supernatural flourish in the final act that really swerves the story in a 90-degree turn, and the score by minimalist composer Terry Riley is a hypnotic gem all unto itself.

Though commonly available on home video throughout the ‘80s, Lifespan never really had a transfer anywhere close to decent until Mondo Macabro’s striking DVD edition. The transfer can’t really be faulted and also features the full-strength Aumont/Keller bondage scene, which was dropped from most English-language prints. The dubbed audio still isn’t anything special, but at least the great score sounds clear. Whitelaw goes some way to explaining the feature twice, first in a good audio commentary track (which covers the film’s multi-national origins and financing as well as dealing with the very different actors) and a fragmented but worthwhile video interview, "Nature in the Key of C," which is intercut with definitions of various life-related terms as he talks about his feelings about the film and his overall artistic career. Also included are the atmospheric theatrical trailer and that delirious Mondo Macabro promo reel.

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