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My Favorites of Lee and Cushing For Halloween

As Halloween approaches it seems everyone has a list of horrors to see and there’s usually very little that interests me when it comes to seeing the ones splashed about in newspapers or movie magazines you pick up in the lobby of the theater you’re attending. Why you ask? It’s simple. They generally cater to the masses. People who have no idea that movies existed prior to the current decade. I might be a bit harsh with that statement but go ahead and randomly ask a 20 year old at the office who Vincent Price is.

To be fair, some of these lists might have Rosemary’s Baby on it or maybe Robert Wise’s The Haunting and of course The Exorcist, but for the most part they are films of a more recent vintage. As fate would have it, my own local newspaper published a list of suggested titles yesterday and they stuck to 25 films from the year 2000 forward. I rest my case.  Which brings us to my pick for the top five Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing duets. I’m not going to get critical on these but rather base it on the ones I enjoy the most. If we were going to base it on critical praise then I would suggest the top two would be 1948’s Hamlet and 1952’s Moulin Rouge. Yes for the uninitiated, the legendary icons of horror cinema were attached to both the Olivier and the Huston films. Lee to a lesser degree than Cushing.

I’d like to pay tribute to Lance Lumley here if I may and suggest you pay him a visit at Lance Writes. It was he who invited me to participate in a horror themed list of titles. He previously featured this list about a week ago and I enjoyed coming up with it so I wanted to double up on it by also featuring it here.

Now on to my five faves though I’ll admit I hate narrowing the field to just five and before I start I am listing these in order of their release dates as opposed to a favorite on down. Though I will admit that the first one is in fact my favorite.

The Horror of Dracula   (1958)

Is there really any doubt? This one is the best that Hammer has to offer in my mind and made Lee an international star. Not only is Lee the best of all Draculas’ but Cushing is by far the screen’s greatest Van Helsing. A Coles Notes version of Stoker’s story but it’s a classic that gets better with age and tops many historian lists as the best horror film ever made period. Saw it as a kid on late night TV and rarely does a year go by I don’t give it another look. Great score from James Bernard adds to the thrills.

The Hound of the Baskervilles   (1959)

Cushing as Holmes is really an extension of the physicality and the energy he brought to the Van Helsing role. He’s perfectly suited to the Sherlock character and I’ve always mourned the fact that the studio never continued the series with Peter taking the lead joined again by Andre Morell who made an excellent Dr. Watson. Joining in the fun is Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville. Marked for death it’s up to Dear Peter to save him not only from the Hound but also who is behind the beast and controls who it kills. Like Dracula, this is another effort from the great Terence Fischer.

The Mummy   (1959)

Again it’s Terence Fisher breathing new life into the Universal Monsters of old. Who better than Peter to play the archaeologist and Chris to take on the role of Kharis. The two are pitted against each other when Peter unlocks the tomb of the Princess Ananka. The color photography is a welcome addition to the tale when we compare this film to the Chaney films of the 40’s. Lee’s powerful performance as Kharis is not to be overlooked and his size is most intimidating as is his speed that must have been a surprise to those in ’59 accustomed to the slow walk of Chaney. Don’t get me wrong, I love Lon’s film’s as well. Once again Peter delivers a wonderful performance and as usual is playing with props throughout. Hence the nickname Props Peter.

Horror Express   (1972)

What really makes this fantastical plot of Sci-Fi and Horror work is that Lee and Cushing begin as adversaries yet must team up to battle a demon from outer space on board a snowbound train. The fact that they appear on screen together for the majority of the film gives fans a chance to see them interact throughout. Not something we’re used to seeing. No one plays arrogant on screen like Lee did and Peter’s man of science is hoping to get a look at what Lee has found in the ice and is transporting aboard the train. It’s a bloody affair and Telly Savalas only adds to the fun chewing up the scenery as only he can. Best scene in the film is when Lee and Cushing are mentioned as possible hosts to the alien being. Accused of being a monster, offended Peter states defiantly, “Monsters? We’re British.”

Dracula A.D.   (1972)

For years I believe this film was trashed but time has a way of changing opinions and as the years have gone by it’s finally found an audience who appreciate it for it’s campy fun, Cushing’s return to the series as Van Helsing and Lee’s vampire looking more menacing here than in perhaps any other film that he essayed the role. Stephanie Beacham and Caroline Munro appearing has to be considered a major plus as well. Not only do we get one battle to the death between the two titans of horror but TWO. The film is bookended between their first battle in 1872 and their final one 100 years later. Cushing carries the film and Lee’s Dracula remains in a Gothic setting where the blood flows freely. Very under appreciated but thankfully time has begun to change that opinion.

The list called for just five titles so left by the wayside are a pair that I love to revisit but decisions had to be made. From Amicus, The House That Dripped Blood which is more of an ensemble piece with the two never sharing the screen together and Hammer’s The Gorgon. A film I revisit often thanks to my two sons enjoying the film as much as I do.  I also have a soft spot for House of the Long Shadows thanks to the addition of Price and Carradine. The film that would prove to be their final pairing.

I’m sure I’ve ticked off someone by omitting their favorite choice but surely Scream and Scream Again or Arabian Adventure are not the reasons why. I’ll close by saying I’ve enjoyed these gentleman on late night TV for years and miss them dearly.

2 Comments »

  1. Nice one,Mike. I must sheepishly cop to be woefully lacking in the Hammer department. Aside from “Horror of Dracula”, I just never got around to many. As luck would have it I’m house & cat-sitting for friends with a huge movie stash and lo,behold, they’ve got a six-pack including several you mention. Never too old to learn anew (and catch the heck up). I am in complete dismal agreement on the odium of seeing Best Lists compiled by people who haven’t seen anything made before the century turned. Whole country is appallingly ignorant of history & geography (too many of basic decency as well) so it should not really be a surprise when people don’t know those we grew up with and cherish. But it sure does rankle. Cheers, Mark

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