A space expedition to investigate Halley's Comet as it passes Planet Earth takes an unexpected turn when a huge, one hundred and fifty foot long starship is found in its tail. The astronauts, led by Colonel Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback), venture inside and after negotiating preserved and dessicated giant bats, they discover three perfectly preserved bodies within a chamber in the head and take them back to their space shuttle. But they have made a grave error, and the shuttle is found orbiting Earth a month later with nobody alive on board, a burnt out shell - but three bodies remain.
Ah, the great Steve Railsback films - there's a phrase you don't hear very often. This barmy science fiction shocker was written by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby, loosely based on Colin Wilson's novel "The Space Vampires", and one of the pictures director Tobe Hooper crafted on not inconsiderable budgets for Cannon Films in this case as part of their shortlived British arm. Obviously misguidedly thinking if they threw enough money at it they would have a blockbuster on their hands, all concerned took an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to horror, managing to be perversely entertaining while still not much cop.
The reaction at the time was less than generous, with those who didn't ignore it adopting a rather conservative view that this was the nadir of what cinema had come to if they expected punters to show up for something so prurient. Prurient why? Not just the extravagant violence but the chief Space Vampire was played by Mathilda May, who spent most of her screen time stark naked (which saved on her costume budget, I suppose), either incredibly brave or incredibly exploited on her part. Whichever, although the end result wasn't commercial at the time ("So tell me, why do you want to see this again?" was the question nobody wanted to be asked) it has made Lifeforce endure in the mind.
Our villainess stalks Britain sucking the life out of people and causing plague and mayhem, all the time chased by the surviving astronaut, Carlsen (he had a handy escape capsule), and SAS man Colonel Kane (Peter Firth), the latter the embodiment of British derring-do, and thus coming across as some bizarre anachronism from his first appearance. As the only significant female character, the space girl's rampant sexuality strikes terror into the predominantly male cast, making them come over all unnecessary, too much for the uptight Brits who wish to send her back form whence she came, but token American Carlsen is strangely drawn to her, feeling an interstellar bond between them and the only one who can tame her overwhelming French - er, that is, interstellar eroticism.
This is all played with such a straight face that it's difficult to take seriously, with its combination of terse, almost spoofy dialogue, borderline hysteria and John Dykstra's impressive special effects. Most of the men, save for Carlson, are stereotypical authority figures - politicians, soldiers, doctors - so it's fun to see them getting into a flap, yet oddly, with its vampire theme, there are no religious figures at all, despite an opening that puts a sci-fi spin on vampire lore (glass coffins, space bats, etc) and a climax set in a cathedral. Yes, it's ridiculous, but Lifeforce is too daft to be sleazy - check out the bit where Railsback is forced to kiss a possessed Patrick Stewart for true lunacy. It starts off as an Alien rip-off, ends up as a Quatermass and the Pit rip-off, but has a preposterousness all its own, simultaneously ahead of its time and hopelessly out of date, a neat if unintentional trick. Still, the scale and blatant expense of the thing is difficult to dismiss, especially for a British movie. Funny how people waking from a nightmare in movies always sit bolt upright, staring wide-eyed into space, isn't it? Thunderous music by Henry Mancini.