Christopher Lee has passed away….

It’s been a bad week for deaths this week, and the worst for me is the passing of Christopher Lee. For an old horror fan like myself Lee is a pivotal figure as there’s plenty of 40-somethings that grew up watching Hammer horror films normally shown on the BBC during the summer back in the 1970’s, and in there was Christopher Lee’s immense performance as Dracula. The ending to that first Hammer Dracula film is still utterly brilliant.

For decades Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were a great horror double act, but as can be seen in this video from 1994 featuring a sadly too frail Cushing, there was something great about a pair of actors who’s likes we’ll never see again.

For me my favourite film with the pair isn’t a Hammer film, but the truly insane Horror Express also starring Telly Savalas. It’s not as well made as the early Hammer films, but it’s a lovely little film that manages to cross the old British horrors of Hammer and the European exploitation film of the 1970’s. It’s also mental and it has a General Wang in it…

It’s some of the lesser known of Lee’s films that hold some real delights. Here’s the trailer for the British teen film Beat Girl (here in it’s American title of Wild For Kicks) that is just impossible to parody.

Then there’s Lee’s portrayal of Sax Rohmer’s supervillian Fu Manchu in a series of brilliant exploitation films.

Night of the Big Heat isn’t a film about painkilling ointment, but an odd British SF film that’s worth a look.

But sadly during the 1970’s and 80’s Lee ended up in more crap exploitation films than good, but one bright spot in The Return of Captain Invincible, a film much better than people give it credit for.

Thanks to people like Tim Burton, Peter Jackson and George Lucas Lee enjoyed a late career revival in the Star Wars prequels and the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films, but it’s going to be always The Wicker Man for me as the film that showed Lee at his absolute best.

So cheers for the decades of entertainment, fun and horror. The planet isn’t ever going to see your likes again….

My Top Ten Hammer Films

So I’ve done my top 20 horror films, and the horror films I hate, and as promised, here’s why I didn’t include any Hammer Films in my top 20. I wanted to do something separately as really, I could fill a top 20 up just with Hammer Films, so let’s crack on….

Number Ten: Hands of the Ripper.

A female Jack the Ripper? What’s not to like about this!

Number nine: Frankenstein Created Woman.

Ever since I saw this on the old BBC horror double bill I’ve adored it for the bizarre bit of Gothic it is, and Peter Cushing is brilliant in it.

Number Eight: Dracula A.D. 1972.

It’s the 1970’s. It’s Hammer. It’s groovy.

Number Seven:The Plague of the Zombies.

It’s the best Zombie film not made by George Romero.

Number Six: The Mummy.

Christopher Lee in bandages!

Number Five: Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter.

Why this was never the huge hit Hammer wanted and needed is a bloody mystery. It’s brilliant.

 

Number Four:The Curse of the Werewolf. 

Oliver Reed. Werewolves. Heaving bosoms! It has it all!

Number Three: Dracula.

This is simply my favourite version of the Bram Stoker story. It’s got Christopher Lee being all mean and hunky, while Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing like an action hero. It’s fantastic stuff.

Number Two: Quatermass & the Pit.

There’s something coming up in regards Quatermass as a whole that I’m planning, but I couldn’t leave this film out. It take a brilliant bit of television and makes a brilliant bit of cinema that still thrills, scares and excites me as an adult as it did when I was a kid.

Number One: The Curse of Frankenstein

This is the film that gave us Hammer Horror. It recreated the classic monsters from an Americanised setting as the Universal monsters left them in. It gave us Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as fully formed stars. It gave us Kensington Gore by the bucketload. It upped the ante for screen violence. It created modern Gothic Horror. It’s also a bloody great film.

 

So there you go, there’s the countdown of my top ten Hammer Films. but as an extra bonus here’s the trailer for Carry on Screaming!

Frying tonight!

 

Next time I wrap up my cliche ridden October/Halloween celebration with one last special blog about a house on Foxhill Drive…

 

 

 

 

My Top 20 Horror Films-10-The Wicker Man

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon and 11, Cannibal Holocaust.

I hit the top ten with the bloody brilliant 1973 film, The Wicker Man.

wicker_man_poster_01

 

 

The synopsis from IMDB is deceptively simple.

A police sergeant is sent to a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl whom the townsfolk claim never existed. Stranger still are the rites that take place there

 

Edward Woodward plays the police Sergeant Howie, while Christopher Lee plays Lord Summerisle, the leader of the pagan community of the island off mainland Scotland.Both turn in marvelous performances, with Woodward deviating from the tough guy roles he was famous for at the time to play the innocent Howie. It’s this innocence that eventually dooms Howie as he becomes victim to Summerisle’s Pagan plot to use him as a blood sacrifice to appease the gods after the island’s crops failed.

What’s great about the film is the enormous game that Lee’s character plays to ensure  Howie is not only the right person to be sacrificed (Howie is a virgin and a policemen) but that the game (and it is a game) is played out in a ritual manner to please Summerisle’s gods. It’s this slow creeping sense that Howie is doomed even though we know he’s not only innocent but is a good man trying to find a missing girl and help a small community. He doesn’t realise that the help he’s going to bring is by being a ritual sacrifice.

I didn’t get The Wicker Man when I first saw it on ITV at some point when I was a kid, of course I appreciated Britt Ekland’s arse (actually a body double but when you’re twelve you don’t care for these details of fact, it’s a naked woman’s arse!) but I found it all boring after being drawn to it because of Christopher Lee’s name and the promise of Hammer Horror. Of course I also found the songs annoying and where the fuckity was the gore?! It wasn’t until one night in the late 80’s when I was living in Leicester that I staggered back from the pub to see the film on again, and watched it with older eyes. This was the point when I realised what a bloody great film it actually is.

The Wicker Man is a spectacular film because unlike a lot of other horror films it’s bright, cheery and the creeping sense of doom falls upon the lead who is a hugely sympathetic character, while the ‘villain’, Lord Summerisle, is simply a desperate man clinging onto power  rather than some big evil monster. It’s the simple stupidity of blindly following religion that dooms Howie in both the pagans murdering him, and of course, the devotion to his Christian god that makes him a perfect victim.

I recommend seeing the film on a bright summers day. The feeling you get when you walk into the sunlight after seeing this is wonderful. There’s also the Final Cut version coming soon which promises to return some long lost footage, so we’ll get a very different film to that one I first saw in the late 70’s and nearer the version the director Robin Hardy wanted to release in the first place.

One last thing, avoid the remake. That is all.

Next time, trick or treat!