So, let’s say Joss Whedon has a time machine (because, if anyone would actually have one, it’d probably be him) and he wanted to go back to the early-1970’s to pitch Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a horror movie to be co-produced by Hammer Films and American International Pictures (because, why the hell wouldn’t he?). He’s decided he wants to see what it would be like if his modern-day version of old Gothic Horror films actually was done as a Gothic Horror film. Who do you suppose they’d get for the cast? Here’s who I’d suppose they’d get for the cast.
Firstly, the film, which would probably be re-titled something like The Sunnydale Vampires or Blonde Girl v. Bloodsuckers (I may be wrong), would be produced by Roger Corman who would provide the requisite gore and sex appeal without yet going fully into the softcore side of things he began to employ a few years later.
It would be directed by Terence Fisher who made some of Hammer’s best and most influential vampire movies in the 1950s and 1960s. Though he would retire from filmmaking after 1973’s Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, Whedon would convince him that Buffy should be his final hurrah. He’d also lend some much-needed class to the proceedings, being an elder statesman director with a sure hand.
Now, for the cast. This was a lot more difficult than I imagined it would be, mostly for the important lead role of Buffy Summers. You need people who can be funny but also serious and also perform action with confidence. It wasn’t easy, and I’d like to thank my pal Rob Walker for helping me brainstorm. Ultimately, here is the cast list I went with. (Note: I’m going by the TV show’s first season as the general basis for the film, so Spike and Drusilla are nowhere to be found. Deal with it.)
Cybill Shepherd as Buffy Summers
You are probably very confused, but allow me to explain. Long before she starred with Bruce Willis on Moonlighting and even before she played Travis Bickle’s creeped-out paramour in Taxi Driver, Shepherd co-starred in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show as the naive Texas teen who is at the center of two friends’ new rivalry. While the character is nothing like Buffy, she becomes subtly savvier as the film progresses until she obtains both the perceived innocence and the inner bad-assery to play such an iconic heroine. Plus, she can be very funny.
Kurt Russell as Xander Harris
Snake Plissken as Xander? R.J. MacReady as Xander? Jack Burton as Xander? Yes, guy who has apparently only seen John Carpenter movies. In the early 1970s, Kurt Russell wasn’t playing ass-kickers and name-takers, he was starring in Disney family comedies like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and The Barefoot Executive. He was a nerd! He can do the comedy, he can look scared, and you can totally buy that he’d be infatuated with, but unable to get, a girl like Buffy Summers.
Susan Dey as Willow Rosenberg
Another super hard one. Who’s girl-next-doory enough to play the bookish best friend of Buffy and Xander who secretly pines for the latter while he pines for the former? At this point in her career, Dey was still starring in The Partridge Family and was the apple of many a teenage boy’s eye, however she was also the slightly awkward teenager that someone like Willow has to be. Corman would be happy because she’d be a box office draw for the young folks, but she also had the doe-eyed acting chops required. She’s not a redhead, but seriously, folks, it’s way harder than you’d think.
Olivia Hussey as Cordelia Chase
Ice queens didn’t get much icier than Olivia Hussey, even though she was often cast as the damsel, or even the Final Girl (in Black Christmas) due in no small part to her portrayal of Juliet in the late-60s. And, yes, she does have a British accent, but that didn’t stop a lot of actresses of the decade from playing American. Still, just look at her. She’s totally buyable as a vapid and shallow popular girl. This being a horror movie made in the 1970s, Cordelia would probably not make it to the final reel. Sorry.
Peter Cushing as Rupert Giles
I’ll be honest; this idea was the very reason I wanted to do this list in the first place. Come ON! How could anybody not think Cushing would make the ideal Giles? He’s British, first of all, which is a prerequisite, but he’s also got the combination of stuffy professor and deep-seated dark side just itching to come out. He can be a mentor and father figure as well as a stern disciplinarian. Plus, since he’d already made countless vampire movies up to this point, even portraying the heroic Van Helsing several times, his horror movie credentials are written firmly in the Book of Thoth.
Alain Delon as Angel
Angel is mysterious, handsome, strong, imposing, and particularly outsidery, so for this I went a bit outside the box and chose French actor Alain Delon, known for his stoic roles as a dashing rogue in Jean-Pierre Melville movies like Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge, and Un Flic. He’d be great portraying the vampire-with-a-soul’s tortured psyche and can easily walk the line between dangerous and helpful. Plus, dude has sexual tension with himself so I can only imagine how palpable it would be with Shepherd’s Buffy. He’ll bring in the international crowd.
Morgan Fairchild as Darla
Blonde, seductive, engaging, and evil – all good skills to have in your acting repertoire when playing a ruthless vampire vixen. Morgan Fairchild hadn’t yet exploded onto US television screens at the time in which this movie would have been made, but she’d surely be on Fisher’s and Corman’s list given her mixture of glamour and devilishness. Any number of hot blondes could play Darla, but I think this is a good choice.
David Soul as Luke
Remember Luke, the idiot but terrifying vampire soldier working for the Master in Buffy‘s two-part pilot? I decided to add him here played by the future Hutch because Soul had already played a vigilante cop murderer in Magnum Force and he’s big enough to be imposing and scary. Plus, who wouldn’t love to get serenaded with a little “Don’t Give Up On Us, Baby” while having their blood entirely drained from their body? I mean, probably nobody, but if anybody did, David Soul is the one to do it.
Leonard Nimoy as The Master
Yes, this is a pretty genius idea if you think about it. Clearly, Nimoy was okay with wearing pointy ears and a little bit more makeup and maybe even a cape (it’s a ’70s vampire movie after all) wouldn’t be too much more of a hassle. He would have just come off appearing in the final seasons of Mission: Impossible and probably itching to do something a little different. Playing the boss creature of the night would probably have been exactly the kind of thing he’d be into. I can see the poster now: Nimoy flanked by Fairchild and Soul standing opposite Shepherd flanked by Russell and Dey with Delon and Cushing looking on beside. I want that poster to be real. Some artist out there want to make it happen?
So, that’s my cast list. What do you think? Did I drop the ball entirely? Who would you put in instead? And, hey, if you like this, I may do more of them so send me suggestions for titles and decades for future Vintage Castings.