Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Lifespan (1974)
Review by Dan Taylor | Mondo Macabro

When people ask me why I'm fascinated with Klaus Kinski I usually reply that he's the best actor I've ever seen who was as comfortable in the grindhouse as he was in the arthouse. LIFESPAN may be the only occasion where he's able to do that all in the space of one 85 minute film.

Produced, co-written and directed by Alexander "Sandy" Whitelaw, LIFESPAN has many influences flirting around its edges. There's a noirish voiceover by the male lead that's intrusive at first, yet hypnotic and oddly soothing by the end. The dark, dreary Amsterdam location and moonlit scenes of grave robbing make the film feel like any number of the cold, dank horror films from days gone past, from Universal in the 30s to Hammer in the 60s. And then there's a tinge of wild, European eroticism thanks to the presence of curvy Tina Aumont and some light bondage play.

Dr. Brad Land (the wooden Hiram Keller who isn't helped by some atrocious, flat sounding dubbing) has traveled from the United States to Amsterdam in order to attend a conference on aging and study with his European colleague Dr. Peter Linden (Eric Schneider). Linden, appears strange and distant at the conference, but you probably would too if "The Swiss Man" (Klaus Kinski) was shadowing your every move.

Complications with his housing arrangements force Land to move in with Linden, which isn't much of an issue since Linden hangs himself from the apartment's beams before they can ever work together. Moving in to his apartment and taking over Linden's research, Land discovers that all had not been well with his friend. A divorce, money problems, freelance work for a Swiss pharmaceutical firm, and a relationship with the young Anna (Tina Aumont) had taken their toll on his life and work. As one character remarks, Linden "was never the same after he met her." Naturally, Land takes up with his mentor's lover and begins playing bondage and head games with the busty brunette.

Land discovers that despite the personal and professional pressures baring down on him, Linden had made a breakthrough in his quest for immortality. His research mice appear to be twice as old as their average lifespan and they're far more active than they should be. Could it be that Linden had found a way to reset the body's internal clock? What was the significance of his trips to the old age home that had been decimated by influenza? More importantly, what was Anna really up to and what role did Nicolas Ulrich (Kinski's "Swiss Man") play in their lives as well as Linden's death?

Whitelaw and co-writer Judith Rasko (WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN?, ENDLESS LOVE, EAT A BOWL OF TEA, HAVANA) weave an eerie and existential horror/sci-fi tale worthy of David Lynch that's open to interpretations, but deals largely with a theme voiced by Kinski late in the film: "Getting old is horrible..."

The old age home where Linden and Land perform tests and experiments is little more than a holding pen and the old people are simply human guinea pigs, much like the caged mice walking around in their own filth, waiting to be killed for the sake of science. Even Ulrich's wealth can't keep him happy as Kinski sputters, "I don't want to be an old wealthy man."

Viewers expecting a straightforward sci-fi/horror thriller (as the film was sold upon its release) will either be hugely disappointed or oddly delighted as LIFESPAN takes several unexpected turns, especially during its final act. Luckily, that final act is also heavy on the Kinski Action, and Klaus delivers the goods, easily earning his paycheck. His devilish manner and sly charm are on full display, and scenes in an antique shop and in bed with Anna – where he licks her body while wearing a Faust mask! – are worthy of repeat viewings.

The Mondo Macabro DVD features a widescreen presentation with optional director's commentary, an interview with Whitelaw (in which he admits that writer Alva Ruben was made up to share the credit with contributors like Sam Shepard!), the film's original trailer, notes by Pete Tombs, and more. In other words, another great Mondo Macabro presentation of an obscure genre gem.


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