Friday, 12 June 2015

Count to the end

The last great horror star has died, and with him the modern world's final living link to a magical cinematic past.

Sir Christopher Lee's career is measured in numbers of decades, not years... and his films literally in hundreds. With a career so vast, it's a mistake to try and review it before attempting to write about what his passing means  - the facts, dates, accolades and achievements can drown you.  Even I, who have his autobiography and own documentaries about his career, have been bombarded today by new insights into his life and work which I never knew.

I recently finished reviewing all of Lee's Hammer Dracula films on this blog, and in my heart he'll always be the lean and thirsty Count. But it made me smile today to hear the younger people I work with talking about Saruman and even Dooku  - they all know Christopher Lee, but a different aspect to me.

In actual fact, I also came to his films when his Hammer days were behind him, and to me Christopher Lee was triple-nippled Scaramanga, the sinister Nazi in 1941, Cardinal Richelieu in the Musketeers films...  I knew he was Dracula of course, I believe my mother might have unnecessarily reminded me of the fact every time he appeared on screen, but it took a long time before I saw his unforgettable interpretation for myself (thank you yet again TV2 and the Sunday Horrors).

But he brought infinitely more to British screen, before leaving for American shores in the mid seventies.  The genially implacable Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man, Mycroft Holmes in Billy Wilder's stab at the canon of Conan Doyle, and the entire back catalogue of screen monsters from Frankenstein's creature, to the Mummy to Mr Hyde (sort of).  He gave each interpretation so much more than the films often deserved , a quality he shared with his friend Peter Cushing.

International directors who'd grown up on his films gave Lee his unexpected late resurgence - Joe Dante, Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton cast him in memorable cameos, while George Lucas and Peter Jackson elevated him once again to super-villain status.

I smiled when I read an interview with Samuel L Jackson who shares a brief scene with Lee in the second Star Wars prequel.  He admits to being star struck, barely able to get his line out because of an impulse to break into a grin and exclaim "How you doin' , Mr Lee?"

There's surely nothing more tragic than a middle -aged horror fan fighting an unswallow-able lump in his throat and oddly prickly tear ducts over the passing of a 93 year old actor he's never met.  But I've spent many, many happy hours in Christopher Lee's company (although he never knew it, of course), and like the hordes of mourners all over the world today, I feel his loss acutely.

 I watched a documentary recently, where the man himself takes us on  guided tour through some of his own film memorabilia, and recounts anecdotes about each.  The last items he shares are two framed photographs: in each he is laughing in the company of a very special friend. He only gives their first names; Vincent and Peter, and talks about how much he misses them.

Sir Christopher, thank you for all the thrills and chills - and I know the three of you are enjoying  a wonderful reunion.

Chris, Vincent and Peter with John Carradine (bottom left).

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