“I mean, in a sense we’re all vampires.”
Tobe Hooper . 1984
“Lifeforce is a movie about Halley’s comet,” said The Washington Post critic Paul Attanasio, “and if we’re lucky, we won’t see another like it for 75 years.”
This is the last film you would expect to find on a website section called Special Movies. Unless in was in a site called Ed Wood & Friends. I understand, but you’ve got it wrong. This section is not necessarily about special – as in great sociological, political or even cinematical movies – but special casting stories, multitudinous, and rather than repeat the same story on more than 100 actors’ pages, I club them together in Special Movies (indicated on actors’ pages by a title in blue).
And in that multitudinous category, little (awful) Lifeforce beats even the mighty g-spots – Gone With The Wind and The Godfather – and a more recent casting champ, The Accused.
Or it does according to IMDb trivia, to which, as per usual, I owe an enormous debt.
This most famous – and respected – of all movie sites reports (when you add all the info together) that US director Tobe Hooper had an army of no less than 203 actors listed, suggested, seen, interviewed, auditioned, tested and/or even signed… for just 18 roles.
And as many as 104 for one rôle – asylum director Dr Armstrong – for a tawdry exercise that should have been called Lifefarce.
“Don’t worry. A naked girl is not
going to get out of this complex.”
There have been suggestions that the French actress Mathilda May is nude throughout her role is because rhe producers could not afford to clothe her. Because, yes, this is a Cannon movie, which means that the cousins in chief, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus – The Go Go Guys – had difficulties with the budget. When there was any of it left. Some important sequences were never shot. Other vital scenes were filmed, then discarded – to help make the thing shorter, not better.
Tobe Hooper started pre-production with a promised $25m to spend and felt he would be making a 70mm Hammer Film. On discovering he wasn’t, that his final cut was just an expression, not a reality, that his movie was forever being shorn and rejigged, his comments were impossible to print.
It all began in 1983 with Olivia Hussey, Klaujs Kinski – and John Gielgud, of all people – being announcd for the key roes. Frank Finlay substituted Kinski, Nancy Paul replaced Hussey (who fled thinking her role was the naked one) and the Shakesperean Patrick Stewart succeeded the Shakesperean Gielgud. Having made enough rotten films in his time, Sir John wanted more balm for the soul – ie, money – for any of three roles he was offered.
Once upon a previous life, George Peppard had been, as they say, attached, as the ’Nam vet hero, Colonel Tom Carlsen. The change meant Patrick Stewart had his first screen kiss with Steve Railsback instead of Peppard. So it goes.
On paper, it looked good.
Or good enough for a Cannon picture.
The project stemmed from the Colin Wilson book, Space Vampires. Cannon, of all combines, felt the title was too cheesey… for what ended up as one of the cheesiest movies in history.
Script came from Don Jakoby (Blue Thunder) and Dan O’Bannion, who stoked the fire that became Alien… and Jon Finch, the guy due to give a shock birth to the titular being, except he fell ill and John Hurt went into an exploding labour in hjis place, was among the actors seen for… let’s count, again, yes, five roles. He didn’t get any.
When Hooper arrived in London, he was given had the choice of nearly the UK’s entire acting populace! Casting queens Maud Spector (Lawence of Arabia and many Bonds) and Ann Stanborough had rounded up, well, almost everyone from the James Bond, Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Doctor Who franchises. … even those too ill for heavy make-up (Ronald Lacey) or averse to profanity (Victor Maddern).
In fact, the majority of the 203 names came from the Doctor Who casting register. In the 80s, Whoverse directors chose their actors – from a wish-list drawn up by the reigning producer John Nathan-Taylor. Hence the same names cropped up week after week (after week!) for consective episodes. So much so that I to began to see this BBC casting list as a dart board, becoming convinced that is how JNT chose his players, by chucking darts at the list. Thud! – there – he’ll do – oh, he’s busy… Another dart – thud! -,him then. Oh, filming in Spain? Damn! Another dart – thud! – him – perfect!
However, he used it, the Nathan-Taylor list somehow got transferred to Cannon. How Spector and Stanborough got their hands on the BBC document has never been divulged. (Nor even questioned). They asked for it? Or they, er, obtained it?
The ultra long short-lists included Billy Budd, Caligula, Callan, Dracula, Boba Fett, Sigmund Freud, Grand Master Pycelle, Grand Moff Tarkin, Henry Higgins, Iago, Inspector Javert, Dr Jekyll, Hannibal Lecter, Lenin, Liszt, Macbeth, Marc Antony, Victor Meldrew, Captain Nemo, Richard Nixon, Alfred Pennyworth, Kim Philby, Rasputin, Robin Hood, Romeo (and Juliet), The Saint, Minister Rufus Srimgeor, George Smiley, Stalin, John Steed, Johann Strauss and Tsar Nicholas.
Plus two Julius Caesars, Conan Doyles, Lears and Ophelias (one being Hywel Bennett!)… three Churchills (the Lifeforce space vessel invaded by the vampires is called Churchill), three Hamlets and Christs… all three stars from TV’s Professionals… four Sherlock Holmes (and a Mycroft)… four Hitlers, five Doctor Whos… six Bond nasties (Steven Berkoff, Christopher Lee, Michael Gothard, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasence, Jonathan Pryce)… seven English kings (Edward VII, Edward VII, George III, George V, Henry VI, Richard Lionheart, two Richard IIIs)… and eleven nearly-James Bonds: Tom Adams, George Baker, Julian Glover, Michael Jayston, Richard Johnson, Patrick Mower, Ian Ogilvy, David Robb, Oliver Tobias, Richard Todd, Anthony Valentine.
Not to mention… brothers Edward and James Fox and Donald and Glyn Houston, brothers-in-law Richard Attenborough and Gerald Sim, Diana Dors’ husband Alan Lake, Twiggy’s husband Leigh Lawson and two of Fellini stars: Freddie Jones and Martin Potter,
Some of the suggestions were plain stupid. Charles Gray as an astronaut! Hammer character man Victor Maddern up for the same rôle as Sir John Gielgud… ditto for Jon Pertwee and Richard Attenborough, and that had not happened since The Baby and the Battleship… as long ago as 1956.
The majority of the thespians were checked up for two, three, even four roles each. Christopher Cazenove, Anthony Higgins Michael Kitchen were up for seven… and got nothing! Imagine being an actor up for seven roles in a movie and not getting any of them! They must have been as pissed off as the others who were peeved to learn they had been in consideration for a single part only. No names but… Harry Andrews, Dirk Bogarde, Horst Buchholz, Hardy Kruger, Michael Jayston, Lionel Jeffries, Richard Johnson, Herbert Lom, James Mason, John Nettles, Terence Stamp, Richard Todd, etc.
Spector and Stanborough were hired becausen the tacky science fiction tosh needed some class… However, in turn, Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine (who else for character called Colonel Caine?), Anthony Hopkins, James Mason, Terence Stamp passed on Cannon’s chutzpah. Unfortunately, Peter Firth didn’t run away from this Carry On Vampires. Hopkins knew everyone would be distracted by the Space Girl’s constant nudity. After all, Hopkins and Firth had co-starred in Equus on Broadway… with Firth naked for much of the time.
the Space Girl!
Throughout the laborious casting selections – and negotiations – Hooper knew it didn’t matter a damn who played what guy as all eyes would be on Mathilda May – resplendently naked for the entire film. (Well, for her screen time of seven minutes). A rare accomplishment, swiftly copied the following year by another Parisienne, Patricia Barzyk – Miss France 1980 – in Jean-Pierre Mocky’s La machine à découdre.
Displaying their usual ignorance in all things except counting (and/or losing money), the Cannon suits had the weird thought that waxing Mathilda would help make her less nude. This was ultimately rejected as it would, of course, have had the exact opposite result (a proved by Rosario Dawson in Danny Boyle’s Trance, 2012).
And so… these, then, are the actors who escaped the most absurd slice of sf (less science fiction than science fart) since Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space in 1959.
Dr Armstrong . “How do you know she’s still inside Armstrong? What’s to prevent her from moving to someone else?” Filming on Cannon’s second most expensive movie began before Armstrong was found in Patrick Stewart – three years before Star Trek beckoned him. In all some 104 suggestions (you heard correctly) were shuffled…. John Abineri, Tom Adams, Anthony Ainley, Terence Alexander, Patrick Allen, Harry Andrews, Bernard Archard, Richard Attenborough, George Baker, Tom Baker, Keith Barron, Anthony Bate, Ralph Bates, Geoffrey Bayldon, Hywel Bennett, Steven Berkoff, Colin Blakely, Jim Broadbent, Michael Bryant, Michael Byrne, John Carson, Christopher Cazenove, Tom Chadbon, Michael Cochrane, George Cole, Kenneth Colley, Nicholas Courtney, Michael Craig, Graham Crowden, Peter Cushing, Paul Darrow, Peter Davison, Roy Dotrice, Denholm Elliott, Jon Finch, Frank Finlay, Barry Foster, Derek Fowlds, Edward Fox, James Fox, Ronald Fraser, Paul Freeman, John Gielgud, Peter Gilmore, Brian Glover, Julian Glover, Michael Gough, Charles Gray, Robert Hardy, Nigel Hawthorne, Ian Hendry, Bernard Hepton, Anthony Higgins, Michael Hordern, Donald Houston (brother Glyn was seen for The Fatherly Guard), Trevor Howard, Gordon Jackson, Derek Jacobi, Frederick Jaeger, Martin Jarvis, Michael Jayston, Peter Jeffrey, Lionel Jeffries, Richard Johnson, Freddie Jones, Andrew Keir, Jeremy Kemp, Michael Kitchen, Dinsdale Landen, Christopher Lee, Ray Lonnen, William Lucas, Ian McCulloch, John McEnery, TP McKenna, Leo McKern, Patrick Macnee, Victor Maddern, Patrick Mower, John Normington, Jon Pertwee, Tim Pigott-Smith, Donald Pleasence, Robert Powell, Jonathan Pryce, Clifford Rose, Leonard Rossiter (hey, he’d been somewhere tons better: Kubrick’s 2001), Peter Sallis, George Sewell, Robert Stephens, Nigel Stock, Richard Todd, Patrick Troughton, Anthony Valentine, Peter Vaughan, Simon Ward, David Warner, Timothy West, Frank Windsor, John Woodvine, Edward Woodward, Peter Wyngarde.
Plus Graham Chapman. Well, he was a doctor but can’t you just hear him intoning his celebrated line: “I’m warning this film NOT to get SILLY again! Right!” No one would have listened at Cannon. Or understood.
Dr Leonard Bukovsky . “She… was the most overwhelmingly feminine presence I have ever encountered. I was drawn to her… ” Michel Gothard won and was not happy (he had been delighted with Colonel Caine) from 75 others: John Abineri, Tom Adams, Anthony Ainley, Patrick Allen, Bernard Archard, Richard Attenborough, Keith Barron, Anthony Bate, Ralph Bates, Hywel Bennett, John Bennett, Steven Berkoff, Colin Blakely, Brian Blessed, Michael Byrne, John Carson, John Chadbon, Maurice Colbourne, Kenneth Colley, Michael Craig, Paul Darrow, Anton Diffring, Roy Dotrice, Denholm Elliott, Jon Finch, Frank Finlay, Barry Foster, Derek Fowlds, Paul Freeman, Peter Gilmore, Julian Glover, Charles Gray, John Hallam, Rutger Hauer, Nigel Hawthorne, Ian Hendry, Bernard Hepton, Anthony Higgins, Donald Houston, Derek Jacobi, Martin Jaeger, Martin Jarvis, Richard Johnson, Freddie Jones, Wolf Kahler, Andrew Keir, Jeremy Kemp, Klaus Kinski, Michael Kitchen, Ronald Lacey, Alan Lake, James Laurenson, Christopher Lee, Ray Lonnen, William Lucas, Ian McCulloch, John McEnery, Lee Montague, Patrick Mower, Tim Pigott-Smith, Robert Powell, Jonathan Pryce, Clifford Rose, Leonard Rossiter, George Sewell, Michael Sheard, Vladek Sheybal, Robert Stephens, Patrick Stewart, Nigel Stock, Sven-Bertil Taube, Oliver Tobias, Anthony Valentine, Peter Vaughan, Simon Ward.
Sir Percy Heseltine . In the next round of 72 actors, Aubrey Morris won the knight, while under the impresssion that he was being interviewed about being an alien… (Nothing surprises me about this movie). Also in the loop were John Abineri, Anthony Ainley, Terence Alexander, Harry Andrews, Bernard Archard, Richard Attenborough, George Baker, Anthony Bate, Geoffrey Bayldon, Michael Bryant, Michael Byrne, Jim Broadbent, Jeremy Bulloch, John Carson, George Cole, Nicholas Courtney, Michael Craig, Graham Crowden, Peter Cushing, Allan Cuthbertson… getting familiar, these names, huh ? (All from the Whoverse) Roy Dotrice, Denholm Elliott, Frank Finlay, Derek Fowlds, Ronald Fraser, John Gielgud, Michael Gough, Charles Gray, Robert Hardy, Nigel Hawthorne, Ian Hendry, Bernard Hepton, Anthony Higgins, Michael Hordern, Donald Houston, Trevor Howard, Harold Innocent, Frederick Jaeger, Martin Jarvis, Peter Jeffrey, Lionel Jeffries, Richard Johnson, Freddie Jones, Andrew Keir, Roy Kinnear, Michael Kitchen, Ronald Lacey, Dinsdale Landen, William Lucas, Leo McKern, Patrick Mower, John Normington, Richard Pearson, Jon Pertwee, Tim Pigott-Smith, Donald Pleasence, Martin Potter, Clifford Rose, Leonard Rossiter, Peter Sallis, John Savident, Robert Stephens, Patrick Stewart, Nigel Stock, Richard Todd, Patrick Troughton, Timothy West, Richard Wilson, Frank Windsor, John Woodvine and Peter Wyngarde.
Astronaut Roger Derebridge . Up for Nicholas Ball’s UK astronaut Roger Derebridge were 50 possibles. Sing along with me… Tom Adams, John Alderton, Alun Armstrong, Keith Barron, Ralph Bates, Hywel Bennett, Jeremy Bulloch, Andrew Burt, Michael Byrne, Christopher Cazenove, Michael Cochrane, Maurice Colbourne, Lewis Collins, Brian Cox, Kenneth Cranham, Paul Darrow, Peter Davison, Keith Drinkel, Jon Finch, Peter Firth, Charles Gray, Robert Glenister, John Hallam, Del Henney, Nicky Henson, Anthony Higgins, Martin Jarvis, Leigh Lawson, Ray Lonnen, Ian McCulloch, John McEnery, Patrick Mower, John Nettles, Bill Nighy, Ian Ogilvy, Edward Peel, Martin Potter, Robert Powell, Jonathan Pryce, David Robb, Simon Rouse, Patrick Ryecart, Martin Shaw, Paul Shelley, Oliver Tobias, Anthony Valentine, Simon Ward, James Warwick, Simon Williams, Stuart Wilson. Ball spent six weeks playing his rôle and most of it was cut.
Dr Hans Fallada . “I’m fascinated by death itself. What happens as we die, when we die. What happens after we die.” That’s obvious. You make films for Cannon. That was even the fate of poor Frank Finlay. In 1966, he was Oscar-nominated for his Iago opposite Laurence Oliver’s Othello; 18 years late he was a loquacious German (without the accent) in some Cannon ear-wax…
This search began with checking out German actors (hello, Anton Diffring!) or those who could play Germans. Result: 50 possibilities… starting with Horst Buchholz, Hardy Krüger, Maximilian Schell (the genuine articles) and Herbert Lom, James Mason (ah, Rommel), even Max von Sydow (hey, an accent is an accent). Plus (you’ve got the him sheets?) John Abineri, Anthony Ainley, Harry Andrews, Bernard Archard, Richard Attenborough, Geoffrey Bayldon, John Bennett, Dirk Bogarde, John Carson, Michael Craig, Graham Crowden, Peter Cushing, Nigel Davenport, Maurice Denham, Roy Dotrice, Denholm Elliott, John Gielgud, Nigel Hawthorne, Ian Hendry, Bernard Hepton, Michael Hordern, Trevor Howard, Frederick Jaeger, Lionel Jeffries, Richard Johnson, Freddie Jones, Andrew Keir, Christopher Lee, William Lucas, TP McKenna, Leo McKern, Patrick Macnee, Jon Pertwee, Clifford Rose, Leonard Rossiter, Vladek Sheybal, Robert Stephens, Nigel Stock, Patrick Throughton, Peter Vaughan, John Woodvine, Peter Wyngarde. Finally, the Germans were dropped because of their accents – and Finlay told not to use one – as such tones would clash with Matilda May’s French accent. (She talked?!).
Colonel Colin Caine . “I’m a natural voyeur.” Cannon was determined to get Anthony Hopkins as Caine. Or even Michael, himself. They bth passed, not to say fled. The Go-Go Boys thought they had secured Terence Stamp. They had not. Michael Gothard tested, won and was then pushed into Bukovsky when Tobe Hooper met Peter Firth. In total, 35 guys were seen for Caine. You know them quite well, by now… Tom Adams, John Alderton, Colin Baker, Nicholas Ball (he won the UK astronaut Derebridge), Keith Barron, Hywel Bennett, Christopher Cazenove, Tom Chadbon, Nicholas Clay, Michael Cochrane, Maurice Colbourne, Lewis Collins, Paul Darow, Barry Foster, Jon Finch, John Hallam, Del Henney, Anthony Higgins, Alan Lake, Ian McCulloch, John Nettles, Ian Ogilvy, Tim Pigott-Smith, Robert Powell, Martin Potter, Martin Shaw, Oliver Tobias, Simon Ward, Peter Vaughan, James Warwick.
Kelly . Chris Sullivan survived Tobe Hooper’s 30 other meetings with… you know who! Tom Adams, Alun Armstrong, Michael Byrne, Nicholas Ball (chosen for astronaut Derebridge), Keith Barron, Jim Broadbent, Jeremy Bulloch, Michael Byrne, Christopher Cazenove, Tom Chadbon, Michael Cochrane, Maurice Colbourne, Kenneth Colley, Paul Darow, Jon Finch, Peter Gilmore, John Hallam (he won Lamson), Del Henney, Anthony Higgins, Michael Kitchen, Alan Lake, John McEnery, Patrick Mower, John Nettles, Tony Osoba, Edward Peel, Tim Pigott-Smith, Martin Potter, Patrick Stewart (he became Dr Armstrong) and James Warwick.
Lamson . Some 24 by now usual suspects… Tom Adams, Alun Armstrong, Nicholas Ball, Keith Barron, Jim Broadbent, Michael Byrne, Tom Chadbon, Peter Childs, Maurice Colbourne, Kenneth Colley, Barry Foster, Peter Gilmore, Brian Glover, Don Henderson, Del Henney, Michael Kitchen, Alan Lake, John Nettles, John McEnery, Tony Osoba, Edward Peel, George Sewell, John Woodwine and the winning John Hallam. Not his lucky day.
The Fatherly Guard . The numbers were beginning to drop – or droop. Patrick Connor was given guard duty instead of 24 other contenders: Joss Ackland, Geoffrey Bayldon, Tony Caunter, Peter Childs, James Ellis, Harry Fowler, Peter Gilmore, Brian Glover, Don Henderson, Percy Herbert, Glyn Houston, William Lucas, Alfred Lynch, Victor Maddern, Michael Ripper, Michael Robbins, George Sewell, John Mark Stafford, Barry Stanton, Harry Towb, Peter Vaughan, Frank Windsor.
The Pathologist . When it came to the fella dealing with bodies with the lifeforce sucked out of them (by Mathilda May, etc), there were but nine ideas. (Casting directors get tired, too). John Abineri, Bernard Archard, James Bree, John Carson, Nicholas Courtney, Dinsdale Landen, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, Gerald Sim and the winning Jerome Willis. Five years later, Londoner Abineri went up in the world. The Godfather: Part III.
The Brash Guard . Again, just nine more… Robin Askwith, Michael Attwell (aka the News of the World and Sun cartoonist Zoke), Jim Broadbent, Peter Childs, Brian Croucher, Ray Lonnen, Brian McDermott, Victor Maddern – and the winning Sidney Keen. In a previous battle of the Brians, Croucher had beaten McDermott to Borg in Doctor Who #90: The Robots of Death, TV, 1976, opposite Doc4 Tom Baker.
Space Vampires . Five… for Mathilda’s fellow titular vampires: Sean Crawford and Bill Malin, were selected over Tim Dry, rocker Billy Idol and rocker’s brother, Christopher Jagger. Like Nicholas Ball, Malin (dubbed by John Benson) reported scenes were trimmed and/or cut out as the budget was trimmed, cut or plain vanished.
Space Girl . “The web of destiny carries your blood and soul back to the genesis of my lifeform.” Aha, that’s what she does! Janet Fielding, Marina Sirtis (who joined Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Doctor Who’s exiting travelling rug, Elizabeth Sladen, went home with their pride, modesty and clothes intact. Supposedly, 1,000 women (yadda, yadda, yadda!) were seen for Mathilda May’s space babe. No one has offered me that list. If you have it… please get in touch!
Rawlings . Just three ideas… Jamie Roberts, Christopher Villiers and Peter Capaldi – the fourth Doctor Who (after Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Patrick Troughton) to be included in various lists. Although, of course, Capaldi didn’t go TARDIS until 2014-2017. Roberts got this gig – and was dubbed by American-in-London actor (usually on BBC Radio 4) Kerry Shale.
Prime Minister . Just three candidates for the UK PM. Peter Porteous pulled off a surprise win in the election, bettering John Carson and Dinsdale Landen.
Ellen Donaldson . And three more choices… A second loss for Doctor Who favourite Elizabeth Sladen when Nancy Paul became Ellen. Olivia Hussey had previously quit, thinking her rôle was the naked one. ‘Twasn’t! Too late to explain. Juliet had flown.
Communications Officer . And then there was one… Geoffrey Frederick had no (known) rivals for the Churchill’s com officer. But he was dubbed by, apparently, Kerry Shale.
Even luckier were John Forbes-Robertson, Russell Sommers and John Woodnut – their Minister, Navigation officer and Meatllurgist were excised. After they were paid.
And after all that… web critic Stephanie Scaife denounced the film as “completely batshit insane.”
Perhaps the entire enterprise is even better summed up – again, thanks a ton, IMdB – by the simple fact that… Michael Winner declined an offer to direct!