Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tribute: Sir Christopher Lee (1922 - 2015)

The press is now reporting the passing of a silver screen icon. 

Sir Christopher Lee has died.

Regal, imposing, charming, noble, even menacing...all these words describe this great, beloved talent.

In his extraordinary, long-lasting career as an actor Mr. Lee played virtually every notable monster or villain imaginable. 

He starred as Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu in four movies, circa 1966-1969. 

And, most memorably, he was Hammer's Dracula in a variety of films from 1958 to 1973, including Horror of Dracula (1958), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Scars of Dracula (1970), Dracula AD 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).

Sir Christopher Lee was also Kharis in The Mummy (1959), and a James Bond villain, Scaramanga, in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).  

One of Lee's most memorable roles also arrived in the seventies: Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1972).

Christopher Lee's Dracula is, perhaps, my favorite of them all. 

There is something incredibly feral and animalistic about his wide-eyed, dripping-fang interpretation of Bram Stoker's character.

If Bela Lugosi made the Count a charming and romantic foreigner, Lee's interpretation transformed him into something different; something simultaneously less-than and more-than human. He was a physically-intimidating, Dracula, a legitimately fearful, nightmarish presence.

Such was the power of Lee's performances as Dracula that the those who grew up with him in that role continued to cast him in important roles, decades later, when they became filmmakers.

Fore example, Lee is remembered by the younger generation for his many performances as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, as well as Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels. 

But such was Sir Christopher Lee's unshakable talent that he was also willing to send up his menacing performances -- quite adroitly -- to vet comedy material.  He was a great mad scientist, and dead-pan straight man, for example in Gremlins 2 (1990). 

Lee's career also included many television roles.  

He made an early guest appearance in the third season of the paranormal horror anthology, One Step Beyond (1959-1961) in the episode "The Sorcerer."  

He also memorably played a friendly alien in "Earthbound," an early episode of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Space: 1999 (1975 -1977).

For me, Christopher Lee was -- and always shall remain -- a cherished royal figure in genre cinema, the grandfather of a whole generation of horror and science fiction art.  

Lee is most famous for playing a character "undead," but in his more than fifty years of memorable genre performances Christopher Lee has achieved true immortality.  We will continue watching him, for years to come, and introducing his work to our children.

Rest in Peace.

1 comment:

  1. John nice thoughts. He will be missed. His Zantor role on Space:1999 "Earthbound" was one of the reasons season one was the pinnacle of the series.