Sir Christopher Lee , who has died at the age of 93, had a movie career that spanned nearly 70 years, beginning in the late 1940s, after his service in World War II, where he'd been among other things, an intelligence agent who hunted Nazis towards the end of the war.
Lee was a bad ass even before he carved out his unique niche as a movie star. After finding that slipping back into the civilian life he'd led before the war wasn't to his liking, Lee pursued acting after being persuaded he should by a friend. Initially Lee met resistance because of his imposing height - At 6'5" he towered over many of his peers, but eventually he found work playing supporting and background roles in swashbuckling films beginning in the late '40s.
He spent the next ten years appearing in numerous films, mostly epic action movies of the period, learning the craft of film acting. In the late 1950's Lee emerged as a star, after appearing in the Hammer movie "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1958) as the iconic monster. in 1958 he played Dracula for the first time, and forever became associated with both the undead Count, as well as horror films in general. Over the following decades, Lee appeared in several horror movies, often alongside his good friend Peter Cushing, and became an enormous star within that genre. Despite his deserved status as one of the truly legendary horror actors, Lee appeared in more than 280 films over his lengthy career, playing in everything from big budget Hollywood disaster films such as "Airport 77" to comedies like "1941".
Here are a few of his films that impressed me the most, some of which many younger fans who know him from his recent roles in "The Lord of The Rings" films and "Star Wars" prequels might have missed or never seen.
7. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
In his role as James Bond's nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, Lee plays an assassin after the famous super spy, and makes what would've been a particularly bad Bond movie worth seeing.
6. The Horror of Dracula (1958)
I won't lie, there are many cinematic Dracula's that I've loved, but Christopher Lee was always my favorite. His imposing physical presence combined with his frightening intensity brought a darkness to the role that I don't believe anyone else really ever matched. Bela Lugosi is a legend for good reasons, and Gary Oldman was great in his interpretation of the character, but Christopher Lee made the Count genuinely scary and charismatic. "The Horror of Dracula" was his first go at the iconic vampire, but Lee played him many other times throughout the '60's and 1970s. It was a role the actor was made for.
5. Poor Devil (1973)
Poor Devil was a 1973 television movie that was planned as the pilot for a possible series. Starring Sammy Davis Jr. as a demon trying to get promoted from working in Hell's furnace room, the story has Christopher Lee playing Lucifer, which the actor is perfectly suited for. It's a shame that a Satanic television comedy starring Lee as the Lord of Darkness never made it further than the pilot, but its a lot of fun and worth finding for Lee's performance alone.
4. The Three Musketeers (1973)
This early '70's action comedy based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, seems to have a cast consisting of every major film star of the period, including Oliver Reed, Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Charlton Heston, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch, and Christopher Lee. It's a lot of fun, and Lee plays the villainous Count De Rochefort to great effect. The film had two sequels. 1973 was a very active year for Lee.
3. The Horror Express (1972)
This is a strange Spanish/British production that paired Christopher Lee with Peter Cushing as friendly rival anthropologists who are on the same train traveling from China to Moscow. Lee's character is transporting the frozen body of a creepy humanoid creature he discovered in a cave, that he believes to be a missing link. The creature of course, reanimates and starts to kill off people along for the ride, and uses some supernatural powers one suspects a missing link wouldn't have. This film has some genuinely scary moments, and is also fairly ridiculous, but Lee and Cushing hold the whole thing together, and make it a very fun film to watch if the viewer is in the right mood.
2. The Devil Rides Out (1968)
This occult thriller set in the 1920s has Christopher Lee in the role of Nicholas, Duc de Richleau battling a cult of Satanists. It was based on a popular novel by Dennis Wheatley, and the screenplay was written by Richard Matheson, the man responsible for "I Am Legend" and many "Twilight Zone" episodes, such as "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet". Christopher Lee often spoke fondly of this film, considering it a favorite of his, and its easy to see why.
1. The Wicker Man (1973)
This film is now considered one of Britain's best horror films, but it was nearly forgotten for many years. The story of a devoutly Christian police officer who is sent to a small British island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, only to discover that its inhabitants reject Christianity in favor of pagan occultism, "The Wicker Man" is an amazing and unique film. Part musical, part crime thriller, and part horror film, the movie touches on many themes and Christopher Lee's performance as the island's leader, Lord Summerisle is one of his finest ever.
The horrible Nicholas Cage remake is an embarrassment, but the original shines out as a very special film, and is well worth watching more than once.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE...
Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.