QUICK CUTS Tribute to: CHRISTOPHER LEE
Featuring..MICHAEL ARRUDA, NICK CATO, STACEY LONGO, JENNY OROSEL, ROB SMALES & L.L. SOARES
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome everyone to another edition of QUICK CUTS. It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, and today is a special one, as we are honoring Christopher Lee, who passed away on June 7, 2015 at the age of 93.
Lee belonged to a class of actors that simply doesn’t exist anymore: the horror movie icon. Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, and Christopher Lee all made their living acting primarily in horror movies, and they endeared themselves to horror fans their entire careers. You just don’t see that anymore.
Sadly, with Lee’s passing, these horror giants have all left us.
Today on QUICK CUTS our panel of writers looks back at Lee’s career with memories of their favorite Lee movies and roles.
Rob, since this is your first time with us on a QUICK CUTS panel, we’ll start with you.
ROB SMALES: Thanks, Michael.
I’m a big fan of ghost stories, and one of my favorite memories of Christopher Lee is watching a BBC series called GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS (2000), where he plays M.R. James telling ghost stories to his students. I’ve watched one each Christmas morning for the past few years, while waiting for my son to wake up.
ARRUDA: Sounds like a great way to start Christmas morning. I haven’t seen this series. I’ll have to look for it.
Okay, for me, my favorite Christopher Lee movies are his first two, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) for obvious reasons. His performance as Baron Frankenstein’s Creature is absolutely terrifying, and of course, his performance as Dracula was so good and so frightening it became the role he would be forever identified with. He would play Dracula six more times for Hammer, and a couple of times in non-Hammer productions.
But there are other movies I liked just as much as these two, including THE WICKER MAN (1973), THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974) and DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968).
Probably my favorite Christopher Lee performance, mostly because it’s so different, is his performance as Lord Summerisle in THE WICKER MAN. I like it because he’s so subtle, yet it might be his most frightening role.
My favorite Christopher Lee moments—I can’t pick just one because there are many—include his first appearance as the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN; the scene in HORROR OF DRACULA where Dracula opens his eyes in fright inside his coffin as his vampire bride is staked by Jonathan Harker, and as the sun goes down his fearful expression morphs into a predator smile; the scene in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN where he tells James Bond the story of how he first killed a man, after the man had shot a circus elephant; and finally, in the underrated SCARS OF DRACULA (1970), not known for its humor but for its over-the-top violence, there’s a scene where Dracula’s guest compliments Dracula on his choice of wine, and Lee responds with a surprising “Thank you” with a timing worthy of a comedian, and this moment always makes me chuckle.
L.L. SOARES: This is a little redundant for me and Arruda, because we already did an Appreciation of Christopher Lee article back in June. But what the hell. I love THE WICKER MAN and all of his movies as Dracula. But I’m sure someone else will talk about those. So I’ll talk about two that might not be as popular.
I really love the movie THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968, also known as THE DEVIL’S BRIDE), based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley. It’s one of Hammer’s forays into the occult (as opposed to monster movies), and Lee is pretty cool as the hero of this one—Duc Le Richleau. And Charles Gray does a good job taking on the villain role as his nemesis, Mocata. I wish Lee had done more films playing Le Richleau. The movie is a little dated and some of the “shock” sequences are actually a little funny now. But I always really liked that one.
ARRUDA: I like this one a lot, too. It also has a powerful music score by James Bernard.
SOARES: Also, there’s a creepy little film called CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1964). It’s an Italian horror movie about a troupe of actors who go to the castle of Count Drago (Lee) during medieval times. Little do they know that Drago has a weird hobby—he likes to mummify living things! Kind of an odd non-vampire Count role. I just thought it was very atmospheric.
ARRUDA: I love CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD, and you’re right about it being atmospheric, because that’s what I remember most about it, other than Lee’s performance as Count Drago. Donald Sutherland is in this one too, in multiple roles, including an old lady witch! I haven’t seen this one in years.
SOARES: As for favorite scenes, I’ve always really loved the endings of the various Hammer DRACULA films where Van Helsing (or whoever is trying to kill Dracula) has to come up with more and more bizarre ways to finish off the Count. And then there’s always some weird way he comes back to life in the next one!
ARRUDA: Stacey, how about you?
STACEY LONGO: I had some of the best English teachers in high school. One of them, Ms. Fotino, tried very hard to get her freshman English class to appreciate Shakespeare. Her efforts were in vain, until she brought in a VHS copy of JULIUS CAESAR—you know, the 1970 version with John Gielgud, Charlton Heston, and Jason Robards. Remember it?
(Everyone on the panel shakes their heads.)
SOARES: You’re the English teacher, Arruda. How come you don’t remember it?
ARRUDA (laughs): I haven’t taught English in years! I remember the 1968 A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM with Diana Rigg, David Warner, and Ian Holm as Puck, though!
SOARES: Big deal!
LONGO: Anyway, you guys probably don’t remember it because even with that lineup, it was still Shakespeare (yawn).
ARRUDA: I love Shakespeare!
SOARES: Too bad, cuz he hates you! (haw haw)
LONGO: But what I do remember is the oh-so-brief appearance of Christopher Lee as Artemidorus, who tries to warn Caesar of the assassination plot against him.
Most notably because after the movie ends, Ms. Fotino stood in front of the class and asked, “So what was the moral of the story?” Some of us guessed things like “Pride goeth before a fall” or “the ides of March suck,” but Ms. F shook her head. “The point,” she said gravely, “is that when Christopher Lee is trying to tell you something, you’d better damn well listen.”
ARRUDA (laughs): You had a smart English teacher!
LONGO: From that moment on, whenever Lee showed up on the big screen, I listened. And it was worth it every time.
ARRUDA: Wow. That’s another Lee film I haven’t seen. I’d better write these down.
JENNY OROSEL: I bet I have another one you haven’t seen. Ever see THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN INVINCIBLE (1983)?
ARRUDA: Nope. (Takes out a notebook and starts writing.)
LONGO: No Smart Phone? How Stone Age!
ARRUDA: What can I say? I still write things down.
OROSEL: Christopher Lee is one of my favorite actors, and more than once I’ve watched a movie just because his name was on the credits. That makes it difficult to pick just one for my favorite. However, the one I have the most fun watching is THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN INVINCIBLE.
Yes, Alan Arkin has the title role as the washed up, Nazi-hunting superhero. But Lee makes a glorious villain as Mr. Midnight. No, it’s not the best or most expertly-made movie. But it’s a fun send-up of the superhero movies of the era. And it’s a musical! Anything that involves Lee singing gets extra points with me, and in CAPTAIN INVINCIBLE, he gets a great song espousing the glory of alcohol.
Even in the context of such a corny movie, Lee attacked his role with as much dedication as he gave to his high-profile roles. No, it’s not the best movie, but he makes me smile any time I watch it.
NICK CATO: THE WICKER MAN (1973) is not only my favorite Christopher Lee film but arguably the most eerie, intelligent horror film of all time.
ARRUDA: That one I have seen, and I agree with you, Nick. It’s an awesome movie.
CATO: While I love all six of Lee’s films as Dracula, his role as Lord Summerisle in THE WICKER MAN is my favorite, and in the recently re-released “Final Cut” of the film, his character comes off twice as sinister. It’s a brilliant, fluidly perfect performance he was born to do.
SOARES: I need to see that “Final Cut.”
CATO: Another one I really like is HORROR HOTEL (1960).
ARRUDA: Great movie!
CATO: Although watching it as an adult you can pretty much figure everything out from the get go, as a kid, discovering Lee was the head of a satanic coven in HORROR HOTEL gave me some serious creeps. So much for him just being the strict college professor!
My favorite Lee memory took place one Sunday night in the mid-1970s. My dad had turned me into a James Bond fan and would let my brother and I stay up late to watch 007 films when they aired on ABC’s Sunday Night Movie. When Lee first appears as Bond’s nemesis Scaramanga in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), I remember jumping off the couch and yelling, “Oh man, it’s Dracula!” to which my family rolled their eyes.
ARRUDA: That says it all. Lee may have scared the stuffing out of us throughout his career, but his performances and his movies always provided us with good times. He will be greatly missed.
Thanks for joining us, everybody! We’ll see you again next time on our next QUICK CUTS.
CHRISTOPHER LEE – May 27, 1922 – June 7, 2015
© Copyright 2015 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Stacey Longo, Jenny Orosel and Rob Smales