Lifeforce ★★★★½

Distinguished British actors dedicated to taking this nonsense seriously spread a veneer of respectability over Cannon’s deliriously silly sci-fi movie based on Colin Wilson’s novel THE SPACE VAMPIRES. It’s unlikely any film has as many pure WTF moments than LIFEFORCE, which has a lot of story, even though I don’t understand it.

A team of British and American astronauts, commanded by Colonel Carlsen (Steve Railsback, previously in THE STUNT MAN and TURKEY SHOOT), enter an alien spacecraft and retrieve a gorgeous naked woman and two naked men in a state of suspended animation. The human-looking aliens are returned to a space research facility in London, where the woman (French actress Mathilda May in a game performance played almost entirely in the nude) breaks free, French-kisses the life out of a guard, and strolls calmly out of the building and into the fog, making out with strangers and stealing their lifeforces to gain strength.

While Carlsen and SAS colonel Caine (EQUUS’ Peter Firth) are following a trail of desiccated corpses in pursuit of May (it’s easier for a sexy nude woman to hide in Hyde Park than you think), the screenplay by Dan O’Bannon (ALIEN) and Don Jakoby (BLUE THUNDER) leaps from science fiction to medical thriller, AIDS allegory, and finally full-tilt zombie movie with London in a state of martial law and a gun-wielding Firth careening through crowds of life-sucking undead haunting the streets. O’Bannon and Jakoby’s dialogue is hilariously arch at times, but performed at a perfect pitch by pros like Frank Finlay (an Oscar nominee for OTHELLO), Michael Gothard (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), and a pre-Picard Patrick Stewart, whose makeout scene with Railsback draws screams. Props to director Tobe Hooper (THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE) for keeping LIFEFORCE from going off the rails—a difficult feat for a film as over the top as this one.

John Dykstra (STAR WARS) supervised the visual effects and Nick Maley (INSEMINOID) the makeup on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’ $25 million production, and Henry Mancini (THE PINK PANTHER) enlisted the London Symphony Orchestra to perform his rousing score. Railsback, always a jittery force, fits perfectly into Hooper’s everything-goes atmosphere. LIFEFORCE is one of the most bizarre science fiction movies of the 1980s, and it’s little surprise it didn’t catch fire at the box office (not that Tri-Star cutting seventeen minutes out of it helped). It actually opened the same weekend as another “aliens from outer space” movie, the much more genteel COCOON, which was a massive hit.

Hooper also made INVADERS FROM MARS and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 as part of a three-picture deal for Cannon, and they flopped too. John Larroquette (NIGHT COURT), who did the same favor for Hooper on the first CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, reads the opening narration uncredited.