The Cult Films of Christopher Lee
The Cult Films of Christopher Lee was
published in 2000 and written by Jonathan Sothcott. The book takes a
look at 29 'cult' films the legendary actor appeared in and includes
over 400 rare photographs (many of which I believe were supplied by Lee
himself). As you'd expect, the book is heavy on Hammer Horror capers
but does find time to crawl out of the crypt now and again into the
sunlight and dwell on some non-fanged (and Peter Cushing free) baubles
of cinema. Naturally though, this book is going to be of most interest
to fans of British horror rather than devotees of The Return of Captain
Invincible or whatever.
are dissected with a decent amount of depth and while I've seen most of
the films here there were some that I couldn't remember that well so I
generally found the book interesting. The best chapter here is the one
on The Wicker Man - this of course the cult 1973 'folk horror' that
gave Lee one of his most memorable roles as the urbane and sinister
Lord Summer Isle. There is a pretty good chapter too on The Man With
the Golden Gun, the 1974 Roger Moore Bond film where Lee played the
villain Scaramanga. The book actually starts with an introduction by
Roger Moore where he pays a warm tribute to Lee.
the many horror pictures to have the spotlight flashed in their
direction are The Creeping Flesh, The Devil Rides Out and Taste the
Blood of Dracula. The author likes The Creeping Flesh a lot, this one
featuring Lee and Cushing as brothers who become embroiled in a mystery
involving a strange skeleton Cushing's character finds in New Guinea.
The Devil Rides Out chapter is pretty good and the author explains how
Lee got to play the hero for once - a sympathetic Duke who must protect
people from a Satanic cult. Lee's original go as Dracula is generally
held up here as the best and in the Dracula chapters there is always a
lot of interesting background stuff about the production of the films
and Hammer's fluctuating fortunes.
Lee was a such a commanding and polished presence it only took some
contact lenses, a cape and a bit of make-up magic to turn him into a
memorable Dracula. Christopher Le did though famously grow to dislike
playing Dracula in the end as he felt he was essentially doing the same
thing over and over. He really hated too those Hammer films which were
set in the present day and transplanted Dracula to the groovy bell
bottomed London of the early seventies. The author's style is somewhat
pretentious at times but opinionated and he digs up some interesting
details and bits and pieces even if you might already be familiar with
most of these films. The Gothic trawl back through the hallowed halls
of Hammer absorbing enough in the book. There are many anecdotes and
quotes taken from those who were involved in the films.
actor who worked on Taste the Blood of Dracula recalls Geoffrey Keen
(who played the chief of staff in several Bond films) having to tangle
with Madeline Smith (of Live and Let Die and numerous Frankie Howerd
films and specials) for a love scene. 'Geoffrey Keen, who is a touch
portly in physique, and somewhat short in temper, was given a sweet
girl, dressed like a painted doll. I swear she had rickets as a child.
She was skinny to the point of emaciation, the poor girl. There was
Geoffrey, on all fours, with this girl astride him. He was shouting
crossly, "Take the weight on your feet girl!"' Bit harsh on the lovely
Madeline that story.
I enjoyed The
Wicker Man chapter although if you are an expert on this film and have
special edition DVDs or books on it already you probably won't pick up
an awful lot that will be new to you. Lee regarded this to be the best
role of his career and it was written specially for him. The
Wicker Man has Edward Woodwood as a repressed policeman named Sgt Howie
sent to a remote Scottish island to investigate a child's
disappearance. He soon realises that everyone there is completely barmy
and under the spell of spooky cult leader Christopher Lee. Howie, a
devout Christian, is shocked that the locals have turned to paganism
and treat both his authority and his beliefs with a mocking
indifference. He begins to suspect that the missing child might be
earmarked for a sacrificial fertility ritual but the case proves to be
more troubling than he'd ever suspected.
Wicker Man is beautifully paced and reveals its secrets in a clever and
often strange way with a genuinely authentic sense of location and
atmosphere. It's well directed by Robin Hardy and the script by Anthony
Shaffer is clever and ambitious. This might be Lee's finest hour in
terms of acting. His Lord Summer Isle is incredibly suave and
patronising to Woodward's Howie, amused at the policeman's inability to
grasp what is really happening. The folk music and pagan rituals that
serve as a backdrop are at once both charming and foreboding - the line
veering towards the downright creepy when characters resort to their
costumes for the big festival at the end. The Wicker Man is a haunting
and absorbing film that repays repeat viewings. There is nothing else
quite like it. Wicker Man trivia - Diane Cilento (ex-Mrs Sean Connery)
was persuaded out of semi-retirement for the part of the island's
school teacher, Miss Rose.
Lee saw The Wicker Man as a way to break out of his Dracula
typecasting. The most extraordinary thing about this film is that it
made almost no impact whatsoever at the time. The unhappy studio
couldn't make head nor tail of it and chopped the film to pieces. The
distributor initially refused to release The Wicker Man, even in
Britain. All very perplexing given how good the film is. Legend has it
that the original negative of the full length version was used as
landfill in the M3 motorway in England! The theatrical version of The
Wicker Man was cut down to 88 minutes. Christopher Lee called it a
'shadow' of the film they'd made. Lee was especially annoyed that the
scene where Lord Summerisle talks about apples was excised.
Wicker Man was (much later, when it had more cult status) restored in
DVD editions in later decades. The full complete uncut version of the
film has yet to emerge from wherever dusty vault it might be hiding.
The film's musical arranger, Gary Carpenter said - "I have a vivid
memory of having to score a phenomenally complex dream sequence for
Howie, which was like post-scoring an animation, it was so intricate.
The fades and dissolves and extensive use of library footage for this
sequence seriously dented the budget. Despite Robin Hardy's enthusiasm
for it and its inclusion in what I assumed at the time to be 'The
Director's Cut', I have never seen reference made to it again and it is
in no existing version of the film." Christopher Lee was furious that
the film wasn't marketed very well and urged journalists to watch it.
films in the book include The Mummy, City of the Dead and Richard
Lester's swashbuckling seventies comedy The Four Musketeers. What could
have been the ultimate Christopher Lee cult film didn't happen though
because Lee turned down the role of Dr Loomis in John Carpenter's
classic Halloween. The actor apparently later told Carpenter it was one
of his biggest regrets. He was of course replaced by the enjoyably
eccentric and always reliable Donald Pleasance (who, you have to admit,
was great fun as Loomis).
film I was most familiar with already here is The Man with the Golden
Gun but the section devoted to this in the book is entertaining enough.
Lee was a cousin to Ian Fleming and used to play golf with him so it
was perhaps inevitable that he would end up in a Bond film sooner or
later. Lee was joined in The Man with the Golden Gun by one of his
Wicker Man co-stars Britt Ekland. I think it's probably fair to say
that Britt Ekland enjoyed doing James Bond more than The Wicker Man.
"It was not an enjoyable experience at all," said Ekland of The Wicker
Man. "We shot it in south-west Scotland on a massive cliff with the sea
pounding away below. Filming started in mid or late October and went on
for about six weeks. It was very windy and cold but the film was
supposed to be set in summer so we were not allowed any overcoats."
Ekland was also said to be furious when she found out that her singing
scene in The Wicker Man had been dubbed by jazz singer Annie Ross.
learn in this book, amongst other things, that Lee turned down the part
of Dr No in the original 1962 Bond film despite great interest in him
doing it. Although Lee's superb performance in The Man with the Golden
Gun ranks him quite highly in the pantheon of Bond villain actors the
film itself didn't do terribly well and was seen at the time as
evidence that the Bond series might have passed its sell by date. The
topical plot about the seventies energy crisis dated The Man with the
Golden Gun fairly quickly but the presence of Lee and some surreal
flourishes have helped to gain it a good few fans over the years.
Lee made more films than any one person could ever watch and while many
have been forgotten a huge number of them were great fun and still
enjoyed today. He was in everything from Amicus films to Gremlins 2 to
Lord of the Rings and it's fun to dip in and out of some of the
highlights of his long and always interesting career. The Cult Films of
Christopher Lee is a decent read on the whole with a nice range of
stills and only loses a star because of the air of familiarity that
unavoidably hangs over it at times.
Buy No Time to Die - The Unofficial Companion.