Fangs For The Memory: Christopher Lee

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David Martin remembers the late Christopher Lee and his contribution to the horror genre…

I often think back to when I first started loving horror films and most of it can be blamed on Mr Lee. His performance as Count Dracula was brilliant, powerful and established the versatile actor as a horror icon. We do love our labels in this genre don’t we? Scream Queen, Legend and the like are terms that are so often attributed to acting folk who just simply are not deserving of the title. No one but no one could deny that Christopher Lee deserved every plaudit and title he was given in a career that spanned decades. For me, Lee’s performance as the Count was perfect in that he conveyed on screen the deep reservoirs of evil that filled the characters veins. When you think that, for the most part, Lee’s performances as the Count were silent (due to Lee’s refusal to utter the terrible dialogue written for his character) it takes on an even greater significance. Hammer horror has a wonderful Gothic feel about it and it is something that modern films sadly lack. To watch Dracula do battle with his arch nemesis, Van Helsing, was to watch two of horror’s titans share screen time. Cushing and Lee starred in many more films together and their on screen chemistry was and is a joy to see.
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Lee had always said that he viewed his performance in The Wicker Man as one of his finest and it is sentiment I totally agree with. Watching Lord Sumerisle ensnare Sergeant Howie in his pagan net of intrigue must be viewed as one of horror’s defining cinematic moments. The Wicker Man is the film that we, here at Haddonfield, choose to watch in memory of Christopher Lee and rightly so. But Lee was equally at home playing the good guy and we open tonight’s tribute with a viewing of The Devil Rides Out. Lee’s portrayal of Duc De Richleau is perfectly pitched and works so effectively with Charles Gray’s fiendishly evil Mocata. To pigeon hole Christopher Lee as an effective actor who only played villains would not be a fair summing of such an illustrious career. Even when you look at Lee’s performance in Gremlins 2, as Doctor Catheter, it is a wonderfully knowing turn that sends up his villainous Count D roles without ever moving too far into pastiche. It just works and it works because Christopher Lee was an incredible actor.
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I feel his loss so personally because it was his work that started my fall into hell, it would be no exaggeration to say that Lee touched my soul with his performances. It always amazes me that there are individuals out there who don’t get why fans feel the death of an actor they love so keenly. Why would they not? Christopher Lee gave everything he had in every single performance, you will not find a phoned in or half-hearted performance from him. When an actor gives of himself so completely and so regularly one forms a relationship with him. In a time when actors can so often deliver lacklustre performances that damage their own reputations and disappoint fans this is something that will be missed. Lee was part of a working generation of actors, he loved to act and it may be true that some of his films were not as iconic as others he resolutely turned up and did his job. 
To quote the great man himself:

“Every actor has to make terrible films from time to time, but the trick is never to be terrible in them”

Christopher Lee will be remembered as a British actor who was one of a kind, his voice carried the sort of gravitas and power that could silence a room. His diversity in being able to focus his considerable talent in what ever role he took on will be remembered for generations to come long after I have stopped writing. Choose a film, any of his films to remember him by and you will see the brilliance, the level of talent and understand why I am mourning his loss. Christopher Lee, sadly, passed away on June 7th aged 93 but his legacy and contribution to the film industry will never leave us. Rest in peace Christopher and thanks for the memory.

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Sir Christopher Lee May 7th 1922- June 7th 2015

Follow David Martin on Twitter as @Ventspleen2014

Images from Wikipedia and IMDB

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