The noted British actor Sir Christopher Lee passed away on Sunday 7th June 2015 at the age of 93.
As those who know me are only too well aware, I have been a huge fan of British horror movies for the vast majority of my life since seeing Hammer’s Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell in my local fleapit at the age of about 14 or so (having bluffed my way into what, then, was an X Certificate) and having this cemented further by the horror double bills that the BBC showed during the summer.
And, as a fan of British horror, Christopher Lee has always loomed large.
As a youngster, Dracula Prince of Darkness scared the bejaysus out of me, despite the fact that Christopher Lee didn’t utter a single word throughout the movie (I later discovered that he detested the dialogue so much that he point blank refused to deliver it) and, later, The Wicker Man sent more than a few delicious chills through me.
Although he was an enormously versatile actor, I suspect that for those of my generation it is his outstanding contribution to horror cinema that he will be best remembered. He made many movies for the legendary Hammer Studios and it was 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein that he made his first impact, playing the Creature opposite Peter Cushing’s icy Baron Victor Frankenstein (it was also the beginning of a deep and long lasting friendship with Cushing, one which saw them appear some 20 times together on screen). Dracula, the following year, reunited him with Cushing (and The Curse of Frankenstein’s director Terence Fisher) and gave Lee his most iconic role (one which dogged him throughout his career despite his best attempts to shake it) and he went on to play the vampire Count in the aforementioned Dracula, Prince of Darkness as well as The Scars of Dracula, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Dracula AD 1972, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and The Satanic Rites of Dracula.
Scarce wonder he found it had to escape from the Count’s shadow, but even in the relatively little pond of British horror, Christopher Lee managed to play a wide variety of roles for both Hammer and their arch-rival Amicus: the list is a long one but includes Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, The House That Dripped Blood, The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Rasputin the Mad Monk, The Gorgon, I, Monster, the superb satanic horror The Devil Rides Out, To The Devil A Daughter as well as the infamous Fu Manchu films in which the all-too Caucasian Lee played Sax Rhomer’s ‘yellow peril’ villain.
The multi-lingual, Lee also appeared in a number of European shockers, the most notable (and enjoyable) of which to my mind was the bonkers Horror Express in which he once again teamed up with Peter Cushing.
When the British horror bubble burst in the early 1970s, Lee versatility allowed him to move on to other things: the curious Euro-western Hannie Calder with Raquel Welsh and Ernest Borgnine, the title villain Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun, the eye-patched Rochefort in The Three Musketeers (and its sequels), Mr Midnight in the odd musical fantasy The Return of Captain Invincible, a German U-Boat commander comically paired with Toshiro Mifune in 1941 and many, many others.
His later career saw him appear as Saruman in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films as well as Count Dooku (ahem!) in George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, and, superbly, as Mr Flay in the BBC adaptation of Gormenghast.
An actor of rare poise and presence, Sir Christopher Lee was a true cinema icon, one who will be deeply missed.