Wendigo has read Colin Wilson's novel so he's a leg up on me and many people who saw Lifeforce in theaters. The film deviates from its source increasingly as it goes on, but apparently a reading of The Space Vampires would still be helpful in figuring out all that happens in this haphazard, often hysterical extravaganza.
I don't know which is a bigger stretch: the existence of space vampires or a manned European space program. It's a moot point, though, since Lifeforce gives you both. It starts with the ESA ship Churchill discovering a weird spaceship and its even weirder cargo of humanoids in what look like plexiglass coffins. An American shuttle (the Columbia, alas) finds the Churchill dead in orbit, all the crew apparently dead, an escape pod missing, and the three coffins and their occupants intact. We later learn that the pod got away with the American member of the Churchill's crew, Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback), who tells conflicting stories of his escape from the death ship. Meanwhile, the bodies in the coffins wake up and start leeching away at folks, sucking up their life force and turning them into nasty little husks that wake up later seeking life force themselves. The British authorities try to get things under control, but as they track down the "space girl" London goes all to hell at a halfway point in British movie history between Quatermass and the Pit and 28 Days Later. It's up to a confused, irritable Carlsen and asskicking Col. Caine (Peter Firth) to send the space vampires back whence they came before they suck Britain dry of souls....
"Allow me to take you on a guided tour of scenic, historic London, city of colorful, friendly people who really love life!"
Wendigo won't go so far as to call Lifeforce a guilty pleasure, but he can understand if people don't like it. As a vampire film, it intrigues him because of its exceptional portrayal of vampires who don't drink blood. In tradition, he notes, vampires could feed off people in many different ways, but ever since Dracula writers and moviemakers have pigeonholed the vampire as a blood sucker. While Lifeforce and its source novel propose that the space vampires are the ancestors of the "vampires of legend," its own vampires are refreshingly free of the standard bloodlust.
"Is that a bat I see before me?" Someone has a bad dream in Lifeforce.
But while it's conceptually interesting, Lifeforce kind of misfires as both sci-fi and horror in Wendigo's opinion, working best as a roller-coaster type action-adventure film. In a way it's a typical post-Star Wars sci-fi film, in which the special effects are treated as a special attraction for you to gawk at. There are long shots of the exterior and interior of vast spaceships intercut with astronauts just looking at them. Filmmakers could not yet take FX for granted and simply integrate them into the film, and the heavyhanded emphasis on showing off both the FX and some admirably colorful and intricate set designs hurts the pace of the film. Both the beginning and end of the movie reminded me of Star Trek, the Motion Picture. Wendigo agrees on the resemblances, and that's not exactly a good thing.
By 21st century standards some of the effects work in Lifeforce has a Georges Melies look to it, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Arguably the film's best special effect is Mathilda May, the space girl. You will recall that she is hot and she's naked. She has the allure that a succubus needs to be a convincing seductress, and one of the problems with Lifeforce is that Hooper and the late Dan O'Bannon contrive to take May off the screen for much of the middle of the film.
Modes of Mathilda May. We elect to leave her less clothed scenes to your imagination.
Her hapless romantic interest, Steve Railsback, is the weakest part of the movie. He gives the sort of over-the-top performance we should like, raging and raving throughout, but there's an all-too-obvious air of desperation to his emoting, a sense that he doesn't really know what he's doing. Fortunately, Peter Firth takes much of the film's heroic weight on quite capable shoulders. In addition, Patrick Stewart screams a lot.
Rather than let them explode, you can also kill a space vampire with a sword, as Peter Firth is studying to do here. Below, however, is a cleaner, more erotic way to be rid of the pests.
The R-rated trailer was uploaded to YouTube by CrowTRobot1313. It lets you see more of Mathilda May and hear some of Henry Mancini's unusually muscular musical score.