Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Essential Films of Christopher Lee


Sir Christopher Lee
May 27, 1922 - June 7, 2015

Legendary actor Christopher Lee died of complications of respiratory problems and heart failure on June 7, 2015 at the age of 93.  In addition to being a Hammer Horror icon, Lee was a classically trained actor, an author, a World War II veteran, a Nazi hunter and a heavy metal singer. He was Count Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster. He was Sherlock Holmes. He worked with everyone from Billy Wilder to Martin Scorsese to George Lucas to Tim Burton. He had iconic roles in three major franchises: Star Wars, The Lord of The Rings (including The Hobbit) and the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.  Christopher Lee leaves behind an amazing legacy and he will be missed. These are his Essential Films.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY and THE HOBBIT TRILOGY
Peter Jackson
2001-2003, 2012-2014

After his career hit a bit of a slump in the 1990s, Christopher Lee returned to mainstream prominence as the traitorous Saruman in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The white wizard Saruman was a perfect role for Lee, even though, as a longtime Tolkein fan, he had always envisioned himself as portraying the heroic Gandalf. But his career as playing the villain in fantasy/horror films made this casting a perfect fit.  Lee reprised the role for cameos in Jackson's recent The Hobbit trilogy as well. (NOTE:  Christopher Lee appears in the theatrical releases of The Fellowship of The Ring and The Two Towers, but only in the extended cut of The Return of the King).

THE WICKER MAN
Robin Hardy
1973

Lee plays the enigmatically charming Lord Summerisle, the leader of a small, secluded island community that bears his name.  When Sergeant Howie pays a visit to the island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, he is shocked and disgusted by the islands pagan customs, which offend his strict Christian beliefs. Howie's investigations lead to a bigger conspiracy that culminates in a terrifying conclusion to this classic 70s horror film.

HUGO
Martin Scorsese
2011

Sir Christopher Lee appears in a small, but memorable role in this film about the adventures of a young clockmaker's apprentice, Hugo Cabaret. In the film, Lee's Monsieur Labisse is one of the few adults in Hugo's world that are kind to him, giving him a book about the adventures of Robin Hood.

HORROR OF DRACULA and DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS
Terrence Fisher
1958, 1966
DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE
Freddie Francis
1968

Hammer Horror's adaptation of the classic Bram Stoker novel.  Perhaps Lee's most iconic role. Many actors have played the role from Bela Lugosi to Gary Oldman, but Lee's was the first to truly capture the gothic romance of the novel. To add to the excellence: Lee plays opposite Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. One of the greatest pairings in horror cinema.  In Prince of Darkness, a direct sequel to Horror of Dracula, Christopher Lee returns to the role, this time to torment Father Sandor, a priest who mistakenly believes that vampires had been wiped out. The Count is resurrected and proves him wrong.  The last good Dracula/Lee film sees Dracula rise (again) while Monsignor Ernest Muller tries to destroy him and his evil forces in Risen from the Grave.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
Terrence Fisher
1957

Hammer Horror takes a stab at Mary Shelley's classic tale of a driven scientist who builds a creature and intends to bring him to life. Another Cushing/Lee pairing with Cushing playing the determined-at-all-costs Dr. Frankenstein and Christopher Lee putting on the monster make up to play the famous creature.

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Terrence Fisher
1959

Hammer Films takes a break from horror and adapts the classic Victorian super detective Sherlock Holmes' most famous story.  Peter Cushing plays the title role opposite Christopher Lee's Sir Henry Baskerville in one of the best screen adaptations of Holmes to date.
THE MUMMY
Terence Fisher
1959

This time Hammer Horror continues its classic monsters trend and adapts The Mummy with Christopher Lee playing Kharis, the re-animated mummified corpse of an ancient high priest. Peter Cushing teams up for another ride with Lee, this time as the archaeologist that must stop the Mummy.
CORPSE BRIDE
Tim Burton
2005

Christopher Lee lent his considerable voice talents to this animated film from the mind of Tim Burton
about a young man that accidentally marries a cursed corpse bride.  Christopher Lee plays a bad-tempered priest with a villainous past that may be directly involved with the titular character's demise.

Guy Hamilton
1974

In this installment of the famous 007 franchise, Christopher Lee is Francisco Scaramanga, one of the most memorable Bond villains of all time. Scaramanga, of course, has plans on world domination, but he is also one of the deadliest assassins on the planet, doing his dirty work with the titular Golden Gun.