RIP Christopher Lee

The last of the Great Five is gone. Mr. Lee was a man rescued from obscurity by Hammer. Although the movie business of the time was not designed to make a fellow of Mr. Lee’s literal statue a leading man, the roaring return of gothic horror precipitated by Hammer Studios quickly transformed Mr. Lee into an international icon.

Mr. Lee was never as personable, amiable or loveable as his beloved friend Peter Cushing. No, he was in the Lugosi mold rather than being a Karloff or Price. But the man had charisma pouring out of him. That height, that posture, that voice…good Lord, the voice.

I saw him in person maybe ten years ago, introducing a showing of Horror of Dracula. This was at the Music Box theater, a 1920s movie palace and a bit of a barn (albeit a gorgeous one). Mr. Lee’s mic wasn’t working, but he knew he didn’t need it. People could clearly hear his voice all the way in the back row, less volume than the sheer magnificent timbre elocution of it.

Hollywood belatedly remembered Mr. Lee was alive after his fantastic cameo performance in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. I remained convinced that that his renewed fortune was assured by how he said “Ichabod Crane.” Hell, his pointing in that scene is memorable.

He subsequently got a role the already immortal Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as in the Star Wars prequels. Ah, well, nobody blames him for those, nor do we begrudge him a nice fat paycheck in his autumn years.

Mr. Lee did wet work in World War II, going behind enemy lines to, among other things, shank Nazis. There a great story about Peter Jackson becoming queasy when Mr. Lee nonchalantly demonstrated exactly how one actually grabs hold of a man from behind and sinks a knife into him.  Forget his stardom, his looks, his urbanity, his undoubted success with beautiful women. Seriously, how can any of us gentle, sheltered nerds really understand a man who killed friggin’ Nazis with his hands?

My top five Christopher Lee films (out of nearly 300 IMDB acting credits):

1) Horror of Dracula

2) The Mummy

3) The Devil Rides Out

4) Horror Express

5) Horror Hotel

What are yours?

Christopher Lee was 93 at the time of his passing. His kind walk the Earth no more. We are all the poorer for it.

Captain America II: Death Too Soon

Howling II: My Sister is a Werewolf

  • Eric Hinkle

    No offense but how can you forget the original ‘The Wicker Man’?

    And I’m sorry but I have to share this — I told some of the people at my local library about Sir Christopher’s passing. They looked at me blankly.

    “The actor who played Saruman?”


    “Count Dooku?”


    “He played the greatest movie vampire ever made!”

    *Gasp from the mostly middle-class female audience.* “Oh, no, that cute Edward Cullen is dead?”

  • One movie he was in that scared me to death when I was a kid was ‘The Creeping Flesh’. Although it looks pretty silly now, the image of the huge lurking monster at the end gave me nightmares.

  • Ericb

    His eye acting in The Mummy is beyond praise.

  • Ken_Begg

    Wicker Man is great, and so is Mr. Lee in it, but I still enjoy the five films I listed it above it.

  • bgbear_rnh

    and he could play a Nazi too

    rotsa ruck

  • Sean Brennan

    Lee was rumored to have volunteered with the Finnish forces during the Winter War of 1939-1940 before joining the British Army, thus making him rare man who fought both Nazis and Soviets during World War II. As for me, his performances as Saruman in both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are favorites, as are The Wicker Man and The Man with the Golden Gun, which he almost makes into a solid Bond film

  • CaptNemo

    His like will not walk or TALK in the cinema world again.

    I first saw him as James Bond villain Sacaramonga in “The Man With the Golden Gun.” What struck me was his deadpan looks when he killed someone. No emotion there.

    Later, I saw his Dracula performances and he definitely owned that part. You definitely believed there was a super natural presence about him. It must have been an easy part for him. All he had to due is tamp down his movements and let his charisma ooze from every pore.

    Adios, Mr Lee. One more star returns to the heavens.

  • I lean Horror Express over Mummy, but basically that’s my list. Plus the man could sing. He’s got a song from The Return of Captain Invincible, Name Your Poison I listen to regular. Just out of sight.

  • Joliet Jake Blues

    Well, the man lived a full life. I’ll have to crack open The Ultimate Hammer Collection tonight and watch me some Lee.

  • Acethepug

    At least he will be reunited with his good friend Cushing. Sleep well, sir, you will be missed.

  • Ken_Begg

    I numbered them, but i didn’t really mean to represent an order. I will say that Mr. Lee’s acting under a ton of bandages is astoundingly good.

  • Flangepart

    Cushing and Lee were the kind of actors would could always count on to be Pros.
    Even if the film itself looked questionable, you’d see their names in the cast and think, ‘Well, at least they won’t suck.”

  • Gamera977

    Wow, I still haven’t seen about half of those, now that’s something to look forward to!

  • The Rev.

    I’d probably bump out Horror Hotel to get TWM in there, although that isn’t a knock against it because it’s a fine movie. I just think TWM is damn near perfect as an example of a slow burn horror movie.
    I’m going to miss him, and his work.
    And as if I wasn’t sad enough, Eric then posts that anecdote. The punchline makes me want to double down on my meds and go back to bed.

  • Beckoning Chasm

    I can’t think of a movie where I didn’t enjoy his work, even if the film was, shall we say, prequelish. Of his later work, I liked him a lot in “Corpse Bride.”

  • Eric Hinkle

    I thought it was depressing too. Though I’ve heard worse from people who fancy themselves horror or SF/fantasy fans.

  • Eric Hinkle

    And Price, and Karloff, and Rathbone. Just imagine the movie they could all make together.

  • Eric Hinkle

    Just to be clear I wasn’t calling them bad, but I still think Wicker Man deserves to be remembered among Lee’s great film roles. Then again I”d say the same about ‘The Gorgon’, which may not be a very common opinion.

    I especially love ‘Devil Rides Out’. It makes me wish someone had made an entire series of movies out of the Dennis Wheatley ‘Devil’ books with Lee as the hero.

  • zombiewhacker

    He also sang in The Wicker Man. Just saying.

  • zombiewhacker

    And just think of their choice in directors!

  • zombiewhacker

    When Chuck Norris was strangling Lee to death at the end of An Eye For An Eye, Lee must have been thinking to himself, “If these cameras weren’t rolling and this fight was for real, I’d be kicking your @ss!”

  • Rock Baker

    Top five? That’s going to take some thought. Right off, of course, I’d have to also include HORROR EXPRESS and HORROR OF DRACULA. I was also fond of his final Hammer Dracula entry, THE SATANIC RIGHTS OF DRACULA, and at the risk of over-mentioning a terribly obvious one, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (in which he is nicely ruthless but fully human). It’s really hard to narrow down a fifth, since he was great in everything. He was one of those actors. THE GORGON is interesting as it features a reversal of the usual Good Cushing/Bad Lee dynamic.

    If Hammer would’ve made a couple more Quatermass films in the early 60’s, I’d have loved to’ve seen him play that role!

  • zombiewhacker

    RIP Christopher Lee. Thank goodness he ended his career on a high note, instead of spending his last days laboring in cinematic dreck like so many horror stars before him. Yes, it’s nice when a film great gets rediscovered by new generations of fans. It’s even nicer when he’s still around to enjoy it.

  • It’s been years since I’ve seen Wicker Man. Didn’t care for it at that time, but back then my standards were a wee bit different than they are now. Probably should see about a rewatching.

  • Eric Hinkle

    “And here’s your director, Mister Lee — Ed Wood.”

    And then I awakened from my nightmare.

  • Eric Hinkle

    Agreed on THE GORGON.. It’s one of my favorite Hammer horror films. Not least for using the Gorgon and getting it right, nor calling her ‘a’ Medusa.

  • Eric Hinkle

    Yeah, he got the dreck out of the way earlier when he did stuff like HOWLING 2. Gads! But still, he was worth watching even when he did sheer drivel like that.

  • Ken_Begg

    Wheatley himself was reportedly so pleased that he granted Mr. Lee the option to the series for free. Sadly, the film obviously didn’t make enough for more films to be made. Much like Captain Kronos.

  • Ken_Begg

    I always felt the same way about Roy Orbison. He really fell off the maps for years, maybe decades. He died too young, but his then recent resurgence with the Traveling Wilburys and the Mystery Girl album was most welcome.

  • Eric Hinkle

    I’m glad to hear that Orbison made even a small comeback; never really listened to him much myself, but my parents liked his music.

  • hypocratus

    Turner Classic is airing a special Christopher Lee marathon in remembrance on Monday June 22. Here is the line-up:
    6:15 AM The Mummy (1959)

    8:00 AM The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

    9:30 AM Horror of Dracula (1958)

    11:00 AM Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)

    12:45 PM Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1969)

    2:30 PM Horror Express (1972)

    4:00 PM The Three Musketeers (1972)

    6:00 PM The Four Musketeers (1975)

  • Rock Baker

    I guess I should also include his bit in GREMLINS 2, THE NEW BATCH. Fun stuff, and that’s where I found my thoughts drifting.

  • Eric Hinkle

    It just struck me — Mister Lee knew Ian Fleming and Dennis Wheatley, two guys involved with real-life occultists like Crowley AND with international espionage.

    Lee was part of the SOE in WW2, which meant he was a soldier and a secret agent himself. I’m wondering if anyone ever considered a story with Lee doing fieldwork back then as a cover for him taking down Nazi Satanists a’ la the Hellboy series. Given the love for oddball crossovers these days, you think it’d be a natural idea.

  • Eric Hinkle

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ll be posting it around for some other Lee/horror fans I know. I hope that’s okay.

  • zombiewhacker

    The 60s Dracula films don’t really stand up to the rest of the pack, but otherwise that’s a pretty decent slate. Dr, Terror’s House of Horrors and Hound of the Baskervilles might have been better bets, if you’re going old school.