In a picture of so many extraordinary allusions, the most valuable is surely the most abstruse -- Antonioni's notion in Identification of a Woman of female mystery and human relationships manifested as an image out of sci-fi hokum. Tobe Hooper picks it up with a weightlessly mobile, rapidly dissolving camera, locating his lissome alien (Mathilda May) fully nude inside the belly of a spaceship; petrified gargoyles are also found, though all eyes are on the slumbering succubus, whose presence gradually decimates the crew of the space shuttle bringing her to London. The Space Girl awakens on the autopsy table, her smile beckons a nearby medic and her kiss drains his soul, leaving a smoldering carcass. The victims come back to life to suck their own share of humanity's lifeforce, martial law is declared and Britain is overrun by vampire-zombies: Jumpy American astronaut Railsback, the only person to have survived an encounter with "the most overwhelmingly feminine presence ever," drops by to help save the world. Alien is an obligatory reference and screenwriter Dan O'Bannon gets it out of the way right off the bat with a tour of the innards of the intergalactic vessel; Haskin's War of the Worlds is spotted in the shot of Halley's Comet lighting the sky orange while Big Ben chimes in the foreground. Mostly, however, Hooper pays rich homage to his hosts, drawing on the British tradition of sci-fi and drollness (the perfect female shape is sculpted out of blood, tea is served as the country burns down). Much of its wryness is in the casting -- wispy Peter Firth representing military authority, Frank Finlay as the relativist scientist ("Well... in a sense, we are all vampires"), plus Patrick Stewart and Michael Gothard, all of them pitching in the surrealism as Railsback and May enact their blue-tinged Liebestod. Far from the nonsensical, failed-blockbuster of its maudit reputation, the movie is a ravishing renewal of the genre hollowed out by Star Wars; it was up to Mel Brooks to complete its redemption two years later. With Nicholas Ball, Aubrey Morris and Nancy Paul.
--- Fernando F. Croce