Christopher Lee is one of my all time favourite actors, and being an ardent horror fan, I deem him to be right up there with Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. Lee, of course, played many parts, and not just horror ones, throughout his long, illustrious career. The following are my all time favourites:
1. Dracula – Well, what can I say about THIS role? Christopher Lee was the best Dracula ever, beyond a shadow of a doubt. When he made his debut as Bram Stoker’s immortal vampire back in 1958 for Hammer films, a true screen horror legend was born. Although Lee often said of his Dracula role that it was becoming increasingly tiresome and ridiculous with each new sequel, and that instead he wanted to portray the count exactly how he was presented in Stoker’s novel, he certainly could not deny that in the minds of all us Hammer fans, nobody could play the part of Dracula as awesomely and frighteningly as he could.
2. Lord Summerisle – The Wicker Man’s main antagonist opposite Edward Woodward’s policeman protagonist, Neil Howie. Lee is just brilliant in this role, as the island’s ruler and head of the sinister pagan cult, who lures the unsuspecting PC Howie to the island on the pretext of a missing girl. I especially enjoy the dialogue between the two as Summerisle relates to Howie the history of the island and its traditions. I also love the part where the policeman barges in on Summerisle and, in disgust, throws down a dead rabbit which he has found in the dead girl’s grave. As Howie eventually ends up being burned alive by Summerisle and his cohorts in a huge wicker man (truly one of the most terrifying and unforgettable climaxes in horror movie history). This is another remarkable performance from Lee, and definitely one of his best.
3. Fu Manchu – Lee played Sax Rohmer’s oriental villain with a style that was just fantastic. Here was a screen baddie that was just evil incarnate, and of course nobody can play a screen baddie quite like Christopher Lee can. I used to love Fu Manchu’s haunting, echoing voice at the end of the movie when he would intone: “The World Shall Hear From Me Again.” And, by golly, it did, as returned as Manchu in a few more sequels.
4. Rasputin – Again, playing the notorious mad monk and mystic, Lee was just awesome. He speaks in a harsh, guttural voice as he embarks on an orgy of wine, women, dismemberment, hypnotism and murder. Lee’s big brown eyes look even more mesmerising and intense in this role, framed by Rasputin’s long hair and beard. In an interview, Lee said that he tried to emphasise the intense power Rasputin had over both men and women, and the sheer mystery of him. Well, he certainly did that! Rasputin The Mad Monk was filmed back-to-back with Dracula, Prince of Darkness in 1965.
5. John Reid in The House That Dripped Blood (1971) – I have watched this Amicus portmanteau horror movie many, many times over the years, and each time I never fail to enjoy it just as much as I did when I first watched it – especially, of course, the story Sweets To The Sweet, in which Christopher Lee appears. Lee plays the rather cold, stern father of an apparently sweet little girl (Chloe Franks), with whom he moves into the horror house, along with his daughter’s solicitous governess (Nyree Dawn Porter). But beneath the hard exterior, Reid also betrays a certain degree of anxiety and nervousness from time to time, suggesting that there may be something more to his dominance over his daughter than meets the eye. And there certainly is. The heated exchanges between Reid and the governess over the child’s welfare and paternal suppression are extremely entertaining to watch, and the climax of the story – involving Reid’s vengeful daughter (who turns out to be the daughter of a witch, hence Reid’s display of nerves throughout the movie) and a wax voodoo doll is truly horrifying.