Wednesday, June 17, 2015

R.I.P. Christopher Lee.

Iconic horror film actor Christopher Lee passed away on June 07, 2015, at the age of 93. 

In the case of Mr. Lee, the designation of “iconic” could not be truer!  Can you think of or speak the name of Christopher Lee and not think of horror?  …I thought not!    

Lee made his greatest impression on film audiences with many starring or key roles in movies made by the famous British studio Hammer Films.  As I’ve often said in the Horror and Sci-fi Film Appreciation Society that I attend: “Hammer is a class act!”, producing almost deceptively lush product on relatively small budgets – lifted, to be sure, by the presence of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as its main or “go-to” lead actors.   

As best I can piece together, Warner Bros. likely brought Hammer Films to these shores with The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, where Peter Cushing played the Doctor and Christopher Lee shambled about as the Monster.  It had a fresh and different look from Universal’s eternally classic early 1930s-era horror films – and may have been just the wide-screen-in-color shot-in-the-arm the faded Horror genre needed to make a serious comeback in the United States. 

Hammer and Warner Bros. soon followed this up with Horror of Dracula in 1958, with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, and an amazing turn as Count Dracula by Christopher Lee!  Reluctant as I am to lift anyone over the great Bela Lugosi, Lee was fantastic making the role his own and putting himself on the horror genre map forever! 

Lee and Cushing were all over the Hammer horror landscape, in films released domestically by Warner Bros., Columbia, and even Universal who may have seen some serious competition from Hammer, but later joined forces with the British horror masters, releasing some memorable films including "Brides of Dracula", "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Evil of Frankenstein", alas none of which starred Lee.

He even followed his old Hammer mate Peter Cushing into the Star Wars franchise.  

A link to Christopher Lee’s credits at IMDB is found HERE.  

For Hammer, Lee might have done turns as ruthless pirate captains – and even as Rasputin – but he will always be one of the screen’s best vampires – and (again) a true horror icon. 

Rest In Peace, Christopher Lee, and thank you for some amazing cinematic experiences!


scarecrow33 said...

I just re-watched the last installment of "The Hobbit" in which Lee reprised his role of Sauruman from "Lord of the Rings" and the previous "Hobbit" films. As an actor he could work wonders with any role. It's very impressive that he kept on working all of these years...those Hammer films were a LO-O-ONG time ago now. I'm glad he hung on long enough to finish the "Hobbit" movies...another actor taking his place would just not work.

His presence in a film always seemed to me to add a degree of "authenticity". If Christopher Lee was among the cast, it made it seem like a legitimate that would be worth watching. He could make a bad actor or actress look good, and he could make a good actor or actress look even better, just through his presence and his sheer force of personality that always lit up the screen.

One of the all-time greats from the Golden (or is it Silver?) Age. These days we are losing actors who are irreplaceable, whose like will never again grace the silver screen.

Joe Torcivia said...


I never got into the “Lord of the Rings” type of fantasy, but I cannot imagine that Christopher Lee did not excel at it. As he did everything he was in… including TV artifacts as diverse as SPACE 1999 and HOW THE WEST WAS WON! …Enjoyed him in BOTH of those, as you might expect.

And, if those superb Hammer films were “…a LO-O-ONG time ago” as you say, consider that, if IMDB is presumably correct, his media acting career stretched from 1946 to 2014!

I’d call Lee’s heyday of Hammer a “Silver Age”, roughly corresponding with that of comic books! Indeed, with Hammer, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing gave horror films the same resurgence – and at the same general time – that the revived Flash and Green Lantern brought a similar surge to comic books!

rodineisilveira said...

Au revoir, Dracula, Scaramanga, Count Dookan and Saruman.

Joe Torcivia said...

…And, Rasputin! Let’s not forget the screen’s best Rasputin!

TC said...

And Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, and even Kharis, the Mummy.

Adrian Conan Doyle, son of Sir Arthur, called Lee's portrayal of Holmes "one of the two finest I have ever seen." (The other was Basil Rathbone's.)

Lee served in the Royal Air Force as an intelligence officer in WWII, and, in later years, one of his hobbies was collecting insignia patches from special forces/special operations units.

Sybil Danning, who appeared in several movies with him, said in an interview that he was "very much the perfect English gentleman." She also said that he was "a walking encyclopedia," and could converse with anyone on any subject.

And he was in one of my favorite "Avengers" episodes, "Never Never Say Die," as a robot and as the scientist who created it.

Joe Torcivia said...


And, at least two different pirates… Captain LaRoche (“The Pirates of Blood River”) and Captain Robles (“The Devil Ship Pirates”).

Funny thing, I saw BOTH those films in the days before he died, because I got a Hammer DVD collection that had them both along with “The Stranglers of Bombay” and “The Terror of the Tongs”, of which only the latter remains unwatched. (Oh, for more free time!)

The pirate image in the post is from “The Pirates of Blood River”.

As much as I (clearly) love Christopher Lee, my own best Sherlock Holmes will always be Basil Rathbone – but maybe that’s only because I saw him first.

One show I have not seen since its original run is THE (non-Marvel) AVENGERS, and would certainly enjoy seeing Lee’s episode of that.

Hey, a total aside to you, TC, because you will absolutely know what I mean (though everyone is invited to comment)… in the VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA episode “Secret of the Deep”, was Peter Mark Richman trying to “tap into a little Christopher Lee” for his guest starring role? I always had that feeling, because it was certainly played (and looked) differently than his previous VOYAGE role in “The Monster’s Web”, or most other things I’ve seen Richman play over the years.

…What do you all think?

TC said...

"Hendrix" reminded me of Bela Lugosi or maybe even Peter Lorre as much as Christopher Lee. But maybe I've seen too many sci-fi and spy-fi movies, and the villains are all starting to look alike. :)

rodineisilveira said...

Don't forget the movie She (1965), which besides of having him in the cast, also includes the presence of the Bond girl Ursula Andress (on the role of the princess Ayesha).

Joe Torcivia said...


Can’t say I saw Peter Lorre in Peter Mark Richman’s portrayal of “Hendrix” in VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA’s “Secret of the Deep”, but I’ll give you Bela Lugosi. Certainly, in the accent he affected for that role. However, I think that Richman, facially, may have more resembled Christopher Lee.

Either way, Lugosi or Lee, and after the Seaviewers had already encountered a werewolf, a mummy, and monsters of all sizes and shapes, I was certain that Richman’s Hendrix was going to be a vampire – especially the way he was all dressed in black! Alas, he was not, and much creatively and rather audaciously used stock footage ruled the episode.

In a way, as it was so near the end, “Secret of the Deep” actually served as a nice VOYAGE retrospective!