|Sir Christopher Lee|
As a youngster I always loved scary films, I would watch Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff all day and perfected pretty good imitations of their voices.
The names I remember are not just those of the great stars, but the supporting actors too who added a sense of menace and usually met a grisly and gruesome end - some had faces that just suited horror films. Peter Lorre, George Zucco, Henry Daniel, Lionel Atwill as well as spooky ladies like Maria Ouspenskaya.
|Vincent Price as Dr Phibes|
Vincent Price would also surface in the UK to make such wonderful films as Theatre of Blood and The Abominable Dr Phibes.
But let me take you back to the glory days of black and white horror, the wonderful films that were made by Universal including definitive adaptations of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and The Mummy.
During the 1930’s and 1940’s we see the production of films that are still watched to this day and still clearly influence new films treading this familiar path - but for me they never made a better film of Frankenstein than the one James Whale made in 1931.
Perhaps you have seen the film Gods and Monsters, starring Sir Ian McKellan, which looks at the life of Whale after his star had faded, but it reminded a new generation of film goers to have another look at the classic film. Beautifully shot it is a haunting tale which contains both pathos and shock - too much shock for the time as certain scenes were banned for many years.
Boris Karloff acts his heart out under all that make up and it all can be clearly seen in his eyes - the pain, the torment of the creature and yet the yearning to be something more that an assemblage of human pieces.
There had been earlier attempts to film these classic horror stories and we must also recall the various versions of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde that have popped up from time to time - but as a boy, this was a starting point for a love affair with horror which stays with me to this day.
When the mantle (or cape) was passed to Christopher Lee, we saw Dracula in a new light and in Technicolor - Kensington gore running down the necks and décolletage of a series of buxom ladies such as Barbara Shelley, Madeline Smith and Linda Hayden.
|Lee as Dracula|
Of course Lee needed a new cape because Lugosi had been buried in his after he died in 1956, a shadow of his former self and a man who was perhaps re-born for us all after Martin Landau portrayed the old actor in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994) although his family would be quick to tell you that the portrayal was far from accurate - well it is the movies.
Burton also employed Lee in several of his films and admitted that actors like Lee were a staple of his youth, actors who knew how to control the horror and not allow the horror to overtake the performance.
As an aside, to see the two sides of one actors work I would suggest you watch Vincent Price in The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and then The Whales of August (1987) two brilliant and totally different characters painted by a talented actor.
Modern horror films seem to rely an awful lot on how bloody and brutal they can make the deaths, whereas with the films I recall it was the suspense and the shock that really made you jump - and in writing this blog I feel myself wanting to watch The House That Dripped Blood or Tales From the Crypt...but I might wait until Friday night!
Sleep well my children, and do not fear the darkness - but perhaps what the darkness conceals...
|Lee, Price & Cushing|