Horrormeister: Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

Sir Christopher Lee died last Sunday aged 93. 

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“When you toy with the dark side of the soul, imagination comes into the forefront. You can enjoy it more and communicate that joy to the audience. And I really do love what I do” – Christopher Lee.

The actor best known for creating the definitive Count Dracula in cinema passed away on Sunday. He was 93. A monolithic figure – at 6 ft 5 in – with a deep yet majestic voice and a killer scowl, Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was made to play villains of the highest order.

After the end of the Second World War, a diplomatic career seemed to be in order, but it wasn’t to be; instead, he turned to acting. In a career spanning 70 years, he put in a formidable 250 roles. 

So it is rather perplexing to learn that he made an uninspiring debut in the Gothic romance: Corridor of Mirrors (1947) followed by a decade of minor roles…

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“Christopher is an extraordinarily clever man, who possesses enormous talents… A dear, charming man with a great sense of humour…” – Peter Cushing.

It turned out to be Hammer Studios which gave him his big break. In The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) he played the mute, shambling creation of Dr. Victor Frankenstein who was played malevolently by Peter Cushing. It would be the third time that the two thesps would share the screen.

Across 35 years, Lee and Cushing appeared in 22 phenomenal movies together, mostly horror, although both icons preferred their unbeatable portfolio to be described as macabre. Not surprisingly, they forged a strong and enduring friendship.

While Lee had been unhappy with the limited possibilities to express his talents as Frankenstein’s Monster, he needn’t have worried for too long. Their next movie together the following year turned out to be one of the top British horror classics of all time: Dracula (1958).

They also worked on Amicus (another British horror movie studio) productions together, of which Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) (see above) was particularly good. 

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“I have always admired his talents. He has done some magnificent work in the gothic genre. His Dracula has never been surpassed – and I doubt if it ever will be. He is a great raconteur… He is also a very fine singer… He is what he is, and that is what makes him Christopher Lee” – Michael Carreras. 

 

In 20 years with Hammer Studios, Lee created a fiendish gallery of infamous characters, ranging from the Mummy, Rasputin and Fu Manchu. 

One of the most engrossing – not to mention exciting – films in Lee’s substantial macabre repertoire was The Devil Rides Out (1968), in which he played the Duc de Richleau, who must call on his esoteric knowledge of the occult to prevent the son of an old friend from joining a satanic cult. This British horror classic stands as one of his finest performances as he portrayed – in a welcome change – one of the good guys.

He was the only actor to have played both Sherlock Holmes and his wiser brother Mycroft (in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1971), as well as Sir Henry Baskerville in Hammer’s version of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

In later years, he would cite Lord Summerisle, the chieftain of a Pagan community on an isolated Hebridean island in the classic: The Wicker Man (1973) as his personal favourite performance.

His turn as the triple-nippled assassin-for-hire: Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) was inspired casting – despite the fact that he was related to 007 creator Ian Fleming (who had considered Lee to originally play Bond!) – as he brought a sophisticated touch to a franchise that had begun to lose its way somewhat. 

We could be here all night trying to select one, or a few, clips best representing what Lee could do. No doubt you have uploaded your own exceptional Hammer scenes, but here, instead, this subtle yet menacing scene – one of my personal faves – perfectly demonstrates one of the best villains. Ever. 

 

“It’s terribly sad when you lose an old friend, and Christopher Lee was one of my oldest. We first met in 1948” – Sir Roger Moore. 

In recent years, Lee’s career went through a stunning renaissance. First, he was cast as the duplicitous wizard of Isengard: Saruman in The Lord of The Rings. The only member of the cast to have met JRR Tolkien, he was tipped by the author to play Gandalf! Originally to have appeared in all instalments of the trilogy, he was astonished to discover that all his scenes had been cut from the concluding epic: The Return of the King.

Bizarrely, he was cast as Count Dooku, a Sith Lord in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones, reprising the role for Episode III only to meet an early demise.

In October 2009, Lee was knighted “for his services to drama and charity.” “I don’t know if any other actor of my age has received one…” he said, standing outside Buckingham Palace. “Perhaps they thought it best to give it to me before it’s too late.”

 

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Christopher Frank Carandini Lee

27 May 1922 – 7 June 2015.

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5 thoughts on “Horrormeister: Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

    • Thanks for your Comment, Bruce.
      Such a fascinating actor and personality. Honestly, I cld have written a book, not just a blog! His life was in some ways more extraordinary than his incredible filmography.
      Lived to 93, and achieved that much?!
      Cheers!

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