Friday, June 19, 2015

RIP Sir Christopher Lee 1922-2015

Christopher Lee, perhaps the most famous portrayal of Count Dracula.

Somewhere beyond the pearly gates, the ultimate Hammer horror film is finally under production . . . co-directed by Terrence Fisher and Roy Ward Baker, filmed by Freddie Francis and a cast including Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, Ralph Bates, Ingrid Pitt, Kate O’Mara, Madeleine Collinson, Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Vincent Price, and the star they’d all been waiting for…Sir Christopher Lee.

When Sir Christopher Lee passed away at the age of 93 on June 7, 2015 the film world lost one of its true legends, though this loss stings the horror world the most.

My earliest Christopher Lee memory goes back to elementary school and, although it’s a bit foggy, it still stands out.  While I’m not sure exactly what grade I was in – though it was probably 2nd grade – I vividly remember coming home with my parents from some event at school in the evening.  It was around Halloween so, naturally, television stations were showing old horror films and, as luck had it, we came across Dracula:  Prince of Darkness!  At my age, since it wasn’t Freddy Krueger, I wasn’t exactly impressed, although both of my parents talked up Hammer Films and Christopher Lee himself.   I have faint memories of watching the film, though probably not in its entirety, as my young mind had an extremely short attention span in those days!  While it didn’t exactly make me a Hammer fan overnight, the seeds were still sown and, truth be told, it ended up being the very first Hammer film I would purchase years later on DVD (on a double bill with Satanic Rites of Dracula, no less!).

Being a kid in the late 80s/early 90s, my first real introduction to Christopher Lee would have to have been his appearance in Gremlins 2!  At the time, I thought he was just an uptight old geezer being mean to Billy and Gizmo!  Years later, of course, all the in-jokes and winks to his previous iconic  role as Dracula finally caught hold of me!

I’m embarrassed to say that, initially, I dismissed Hammer as nothing more than a retread of the Universal Monster films; of course that assessment couldn’t be further from the truth, as I now almost exclusively prefer Hammer over Universal!  As I became an adult, I got deeper into Hammer and their star actors and directors, many of whom I’d seen and loved in other projects like Peter Cushing in Star Wars and Tales From The Crypt or even Lee himself in The House That Dripped Blood. 

Christopher Lee is a certified legend.  There, I said it . . . and everyone should know it!  The man has close to 300 credits in his nearly 70yr career!  That fact in and of itself is an incredible feat that I’m not sure will be matched by any modern actor in or outside of the horror genre!  He could play them all . . . Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, Rasputin The Mad Monk, a Bond villain, a evil wizard, an evil Sith Lord, a good guy, a bad guy, even an annoying pain in the ass (see his hilarious bit role in Raw Meat where he delights in pushing the buttons of Donald Pleasence).

They certainly don’t make them like this anymore.  We lost a great one, folks!

For a rare chance to catch a bunch of Lee’s most famous horror titles on television, make sure you tune in on Monday 6/22/15, as TCM will be dedicating a half day of programming to our fallen hero!  Starting at 6:15am, TCM will be airing The Mummy, Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, Dracula:  Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, and Horror Express!