Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Art of Fear


Hello, darlings.

It's me, your classy, pretty-faced, non-slutty-looking Elvira of the blogosphere here. (Thanks to for my new moniker! ;D). October has finally descended upon us and I have a wonderful, spooky, horror-themed month of posts planned for all my fellow Seekers of Truth. Everything will be leading up to a majorly fun and informative Halloween post on the 31st. Film fans? This one's for you.

To kick things off, we're going to be taking a look at three of the most memorable, influential men in the horror genre. They also happen to be my three favourite actors: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price.

Lee and Price shared May 27th birthdays, and Cushing's was close by, on May 26th. Coincidence ?

Which is my favourite? Sorry, but I can't choose between these masters of horror. Asking me to pick my favourite is like asking me to choose between Da Vinci and Caravaggio! Each is my favourite in a different way and for different reasons. Lee is the quintessential Dracula. Peter Cushing's Van Helsing was clever and fearless. And Vincent Pricewellhe could spin a straw script into gold.

Today we'll celebrate the lives and works of this menacing trio. There are two films that showcase the three talents together (albeit never in the same scene at the same time): "Scream and Scream Again" (1970) and "House of the Long Shadows" (1983). The former was billed as "Triple distilled horror . . . as powerful as a vat of boiling acid," while the latter promised that there was "Room for every nightmare . . . A nightmare in every room."

It takes a certain style and flair to act convincingly in horror. An actor must possess an innate ability to both soothe and thrill, comfort and scare. To innocently draw you in and then unmercifully hold you there against your will. Ah, but that's the trick, isn't it? To make you think you're being held against your will, when in actuality, you can't imagine any other place on earth you'd rather be.

Today's tale of the men of horror, the macabre tales they tell, and the monsters we love to fear.


1913 - 1994

I've harmed nobody, just robbed a few graves!

~ Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957)

When I hear the word horror, I immediately think of Hammer Films. And the first name that comes to mind when I think of Hammer, is their most prolific leading man of the macabre, Peter Cushing.

He was Baron Victor Frankenstein in Hammer's Frankenstein saga, taking up the role on six separate occasions. He has staked, decapitated, burnt, and battled a gaggle of galloping ghouls, spooks and monsters throughout his career. But without a doubt, Peter Cushing will forever be best remembered as Count Dracula's ultimate foe, the brave and beloved Van Helsing.

Since the death of Jonathan Harker, Count Dracula, the propagator of this unspeakable evil, has disappeared. He must be found and destroyed!

~ Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), "Horror of Dracula" (1958)

Cushing dusted off his deluxe vampire killing kit many times and for a number of different production companies (Hammer and Amicus most notably), battling the forces of undead evil in both Victorian and modern-day England, and even China. But most fans will agree that Peter Cushing's Van Helsing was born to tangle with Christopher Lee's Dracula. And we were fortunate enough to see this perfect pairing in three of the seven Hammer films which starred Christopher Lee as the Count -- "Horror of Dracula" (1958), "Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" (1973). (A post dedicated to Lee's Hammer Dracula films coming up next week!)

Cushing and Lee, were good friends off screen, and it certainly showed in their on-screen chemistry. Even when they were locked in a life-or-death struggle as mortal enemies, the two meshed beautifully. And fortunately, their dynamic duo prowess wasn't limited to the Dracula/Van Helsing realm. There are a number of Cushing/Lee collaborations for us to enjoy.

The following are the 22 films the prestigious couple appeared in together, although not always as a pair: "Hamlet" (1948), "Moulin Rouge" (1952), "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957), "Horror of Dracula" (1958), "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1959), "The Mummy" (1959), "The Gorgon" (1964), "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" (1965), "The Skull" (1965), "She" (1965), "Night of the Big Heat" (1967), "Scream and Scream Again" (1970), "One More Time" (1970), "The House that Dripped Blood" (1971), "I, Monster" (1971), "Dracula A.D. 1972" (1972), "The Creeping Flesh" (1973), "Horror Express" (1972), "Nothing But the Night" (1973), "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" (1973), "Arabian Adventure" (1979), "House of the Long Shadows" (1983).

Cushing and Lee are synonymous with horror. The two just complemented each other so well. Peter Cushing's illustrious, albeit gory, career with Hammer and horror began with the 1957 film "The Curse of Frankenstein". It was Hammer's first colour horror film, and it kicked off this gruesome twosome's partnership in the land of blood, boobs and burial shrouds.

This film has been credited with resurrecting the horror genre (not unlike Doctor Frankenstein bringing his monster back to life!) which had remained mostly dormant and forgotten since the Hollywood horror heyday of the late 30s and early 40s.

A retelling of the classic Frankenstein story, the film follows Baron Victor Frankenstein (played brilliantly by Cushing) in his quest to play God. After successfully bringing a dog back to life, Victor is determined to create a human being from scratch. He painstakingly chooses body parts, including the brain of an aging professor, and assembles his monster (played by Christopher Lee).

Unfortunately, after a fight ensues between Frankenstein and his former mentor and assistant Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), the highly intelligent brain is badly damaged.

The monster indeed lives, but thanks to the damaged brain, the monster is uncontrollable and wreaks havoc across the countryside, maiming and murdering. The monster is eventually destroyed (and will not be played by Lee again), but in classic Hammer fashion, a number of sequels would follow. And unlike the earlier Universal Frankenstein franchise, it is the Doctor's character who is recurring and the monsters who change.

And Cushing, whose portrayal of the passionately obsessive doctor was pitch-perfect, would reprise the role of the Baron in the remaining five films. (1970 s "The Horror of Frankenstein" in which Cushing was absent, was actually a remake of "The Curse of Frankenstein", not a part of the ongoing series).

Peter Cushing was, in my opinion, one of the greatest actors who ever lived. Some of his major motion picture credits include Grand Moff Tarkin in "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" (1977), and a much more benevolent Doctor in 1965 s "Doctor Who and the Daleks", then again the following year in the sequel "Doctor Who: Daleks -- Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.". But much like my other two men featured in this post, horror was his forte.

Here is a selected filmography of some of my favourite Peter Cushing films and the roles he played in them. My top three are marked with an *: 1957 - The Curse of Frankenstein - Victor Frankenstein *1958 - Horror of Dracula - Dr. Van Helsing 1958 - The Revenge of Frankenstein - Doctor Victor Stein 1959 - The Mummy - John Banning *1959 - The Hound of the Baskervilles - Sherlock Holmes 1960 - The Brides of Dracula - Dr. J. Van Helsing 1964 - The Evil of Frankenstein - Baron Frankenstein 1964 - The Gorgon - Dr. Namaroff 1965 - Dr. Terror's House of Horrors - Dr. Terror/Dr. W. R. Schreck 1970 - Scream and Scream Again - Dr. Browning 1970 - The Vampire Lovers - General von Spielsdorf 1971 - The House That Dripped Blood - Philip Grayson 1971 - Twins of Evil - Gustav Weil 1972 - Dracula A.D. 1972 - Professor Van Helsing 1972 - Dr. Phibes Rises Again - Captain 1972 - Horror Express - Dr. Wells 1972 - Asylum - Mr. Smith *1973 - And Now the Screaming Starts! - Dr. Pope 1973 - The Satanic Rites of Dracula - Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing 1974 - The Beast Must Die - Dr. Christopher Lundgren 1974 - The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires - Professor Laurence Van Helsing 1983 - House of the Long Shadows - Sebastian GrisbaneBut the man who, in radiant technicolour, brought to life Van Helsing, Frankenstein and Sherlock Holmes, just couldn't stay away. Returning to the realm of horror one last time, Cushing's final project would also prove to be a collaboration with his best friend and career-long partner in crime, Christopher Lee.

In May of 1994, the pair recorded "Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror", a two-part documentary which looked at the history of Hammer and their many gloriously gory films. Lee and Cushing narrate off-camera, their two distinct voices melding in melodious harmony. The documentary includes interviews with many of Hammer's most memorable stars including Veronica Carlson and Ingrid Pitt, as well as with directors, producers, and other people involved with the well-built monster that was Hammer Films.

But as usual, the duo stole the show, making the documentary a must-see for any fan of the pair. It aired on British TV on August 6, 1994. Peter Cushing died on August 11, just a few days after his final credit ran: "Narrated by Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee."

A gentle manner and a kind soul. This was Peter Cushing. The man who disliked horror films himself, took great pride in making them "because they give pleasure to people." His criteria for accepting roles wasn't based on what he wanted to do, but on what he thought other people would enjoy seeing him do.

His characters were often the voice of reason in a terror-filled situation. But don't let his calm, cool and collected demeanour fool you. Van Helsing packs one HELL of a right stab. Straight through the heart.

He really was the gentlest and most generous of men. It could be said of him that he died because he was too good for this world.

~ Christopher Lee on Peter Cushing


b. 1922

The Angel of Death was summoned. He cannot return empty-handed.

~ Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee), "The Devil Rides Out" (1968)

Christopher Lee is probably best known for his recurring role as Count Dracula. He donned the famous black cape an impressive seven times for the British company Hammer Films alone over a 15 year period. The first film, "Horror of Dracula"(definitely the best of the bunch), was released in 1958. It was another eight years before Lee would bare his fangs again in "Dracula, Prince of Darkness" (1966), a film in which his character has NO lines.

A Dracula film where Dracula says nothing? I know. Ridiculous. Especially when Dracula is being played by an actor as gracefully eloquent as Lee. The reason for this? From Lee's autobiography, "The Lord of Misrule": "I never said a word. I hissed, I spat, I snarled, but no word escaped my ruby lips. I was determined none should. I had read the script, I realized that it was impossible for anybody to write convincing lines for me. Rather than say the lines written down, I said nothing. Occasionally I remarked that Stoker had written some good lines for Dracula, and in subsequent pictures I made a point of borrowing a few from the book to interject when I thought the moment propitious. It was interesting in the aftermath, always, to find that the fans had recognized them." Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster claims the script was written with no lines for Dracula, but I'm inclined to believe the Count himself on this one.

I saw him as a very decisive, charming, heroic, erotic figure -- irresistible to women, unstoppable by men -- a sinister but aristocratic nobleman. He also had a tragic quality to him -- the curse of being immortal by being undead.

~ Christopher Lee on the character of Count Dracula

While the undead, blood-sucking Count may be my weakness when it comes to anything horror related, my favourite of Lee's films is 1968 s "The Devil's Bride" (released as "The Devil Rides Out" in the UK). In a rare role-reversal, we get to see Lee as the hero of the story rather than the villain. Nicholas, the Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee), along with his friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene), battle Mocata (Charles Gray) and his Satanic cult, the Angel of Death, and the Goat of Mendes, in an effort to save their young friend Simon from the clutches of evil. This film is both spooky and scary, delivering suspense, drama and a satisfying resolution. This is Hammer horror at its very best.

Christopher Lee has racked up an impressive 200+ films so far in his still ongoing career. Here are a few horror highlights. "The Devil's Bride" topped my list already, so I've marked my other top three picks with an *: 1957 - The Curse of Frankenstein - The Monster *1958 - Horror of Dracula - Count Dracula *1959 - The Hound of the Baskervilles - Sir Henry Baskerville 1959 - The Mummy - Kharis, the Mummy 1962 - Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace - Sherlock Holmes 1964 - The Gorgon - Professor Karl Meister 1965 - Dr. Terror's House of Horrors - Franklyn Marsh 1966 - Dracula, Prince of Darkness - Count Dracula *1968 - The Devil Rides Out/The Devil's Bride - Duc de Richleau 1968 - Dracula Has Risen from the Grave - Count Dracula 1970 - Scream and Scream Again - Fremont 1970 - Taste the Blood of Dracula - Count Dracula 1971 - Scars of Dracula - Count Dracula *1971 - The House That Dripped Blood - John Reid 1972 - Dracula A.D. 1972 - Count Dracula 1973 - The Creeping Flesh - James Hildern 1973 - The Satanic Rites of Dracula - Count Dracula 1973 - Horror Express - Sir Alexander Saxton 1982 - The Last Unicorn - King Haggard Voice 1983 - House of the Long Shadows - CorriganChristopher Lee made no effort to hide his displeasure with the way Hammer was somewhat degrading Count Dracula. Poorly written lines, a distinct lack of parallels to the original story; the cheesy re-imaginings were getting worse and worse. We are very fortunate to have Lee's seven Hammer Dracula films, because he certainly didn't want to do them.

But Lee would go on to play Dracula on a few other occasions. Most specifically in "El Conde Dracula" (1970), and in the documentary "In Search of Dracula" (1975).

"El Conde Dracula" was a Spanish, Italian and German production, and was a film Lee finally approved thanks to its true-to-Stoker script. "it is an old man in a black frockcoat, with white hair and a white moustache, getting progressively younger during the film as he gets stronger and stronger because of the blood. It is the only timethat Stoker's character has been presented authentically."

Interesting to note that Director Jes s Franco had wanted Vincent Price for the role of Van Helsing but due to contract commitments, Price was unable to take part in the film. Such a shame. Nothing can compare to the classic Cushing/Lee Van Helsing/Dracula pairing, but I would have loved to see a Price/Lee take on this most famous of rivalries.

In addition to narrating, Lee portrays both Count Dracula and real-life Dracula, Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) in "", a documentary based on the book of the same name written by Professor Raymond T. McNally and Dracula-descendent Radu Florescu, published in 1972. The documentary talks about Stoker's novel, and takes a look at vampires in popular culture, touching not only on Hammer's Dracula franchise, but on "Nosferatu" (1922) and Universal's "Dracula" (1931) also.

There is a full lecture on The Impaler himself, with Lee looking eerily like Vlad in moustache, fur hat and robes. The documentary devotes a lot of time to Transylvanian folklore, as well as exploring real life vampires - serial killers and those who claim to have vampiric tendencies. It's not a spectacular product, but well worth watching for Lee's dramatizations and gloriously deep and smooth narration.

Lee has also done a lot of non-horror acting and voice-over work throughout his career. In 1974, he was Bond villain Francisco Scaramanga in "The Man With the Golden Gun". He worked with director Tim Burton on several films, including "Sleepy Hollow", "The Corpse Bride", "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", and even had a small part in last year's "Dark Shadows". Lee played wizard Saruman in both "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" films. And his sublime voice-portrayal of unhappy, unicorn captor King Haggard in the animated film "The Last Unicorn" will forever hold a special place in my heart.

But for me, Christopher Lee's contribution to the realm of mystery, horror, terror and fear is his pi ce de r sistance. Whether skulking around his spooky castle as the Count, or lumbering about as Dr. Frankenstein's monster or Kharis the mummy, he was truly in his element.

Tall, dark and gruesome, Christopher Lee is an imposing figure no matter the character he's playing. But to me he'll always be the dangerous, alluring, blood-thirsty Count with a penchant for buxom babes.

I've got a crooked neck from playing in all those films with him. He's about ten feet tall. A superb golfer, speaks about 550 languages, excellent fencer . . . I tell you, the boy's got talent! He'll get on.

~ Peter Cushing on Christopher Lee


1911 - 1993

It's a pity you didn't know when you started your game of murder that I was playing too.

~ Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), "House on Haunted Hill" (1959)

On April 10, 1953, Vincent Price's first true horror movie, "House of Wax", opened in New York City. Coming 15 years after his Hollywood debut, it would be the first of many fantastically frightening films that ultimately defined his career.

A magnificent actor, Price could play any role. The villain, the hero, clever, insane, pitiful, powerful -- you name it, Price could act it. His delicious voice was commanding yet subdued. It was compelling, but laced with mystery and a little madness, it had a ring of danger to it. He always left you curious and wanting more.

I must quote directly from Denis Meikle, author of the book, "Vincent Price: The Art of Fear", who characterized Price's onscreen presence so eloquently, "His persona and mannered style of delivery demanded more from a script than the average Hollywood hack could provide. Whether he was characterizing the fictional creations of Jules Verne (Master of the World) or Guy de Maupassant (Diary of a Mad Man), or paraphrasing the collected plays of the Bard (Theatre of Blood), Price brought a dimension of excellence to the horror film that, for a time during the 1960s and 70s, lifted it free of the exploitation category and transformed it into a dark art."

Why Price's ability wasn't recognized by mainstream Hollywood is beyond me. He was handsome, had a mesmerizing voice, and acting ability second to none. A prime example of Price's leading man potential can be seen early in his career, in the 1946 film, "Dragonwyck". Price portrays arrogant, somewhat disturbed aristocrat Nicholas Van Ryn. He delivers a subtle yet breathtaking performance.

Vincent Price should have been a top-billed Hollywood heartthrob-star alongside the likes of Rock Hudson, Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart.

But alas, a horror star he was, and a horror star he shall remain. But my Lord, WHAT a horror star! And how many of his most beloved horror films would we not have to enjoy today if he had been busy sweeping women off their feet instead of drowning them in acid?

Speaking of which, my favourite of Price's films also happens to be my favourite film of all time -- "House on Haunted Hill" from 1959.

Price stars as the eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren, who at the prodding of his wife Annabel - the beautiful Carol Ohmart - hosts a little overnighter, party, shall we say?

Frederick Loren: "Don't let the ghosts and the ghouls disturb you, love."

Annabelle Loren: "Darling, the only ghoul in the house is you.

~ House on Haunted Hill (1959)

We sit in unadulterated suspense as an elaborate cat-and-mouse game unfolds before our eyes. I won't give the whole thing away in case any of my readers have never seen it - and you should see it -- but let's just say, this movie is everything a horror story should be. And please, don't even bring up the 1999 butchering - sorry, I mean remake - of this masterpiece. What a horrible, horrible film.

Vincent Price was a very prolific actor who logged some 100+ films in his career. Here's a short selection of my favourite Price films. I've marked my top three picks with an *: 1946 - Dragonwyck - Nicholas Van Ryn *1946 - Shock - Dr. Richard Cross 1953 - House of Wax - Professor Henry Jarrod *1959 - House on Haunted Hill - Fredrick Loren Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations: 1960 - House of Usher - Roderick Usher 1961 - Pit and the Pendulum - Nicholas/Sebastian Medina 1962 - The Raven - Dr. Erasmus Craven 1963 - The Haunted Palace - Charles Dexter Ward/Joseph Curwen 1964 - The Masque of the Red Death - Prince Prospero 1964 - The Tomb of Ligeia - Verden Fell 1964 - The Last Man on Earth - Robert Morgan 1968 - Conqueror Worm/Witchfinder General - Matthew Hopkins 1970 - Scream and Scream Again - Dr. Browning 1971 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes - Dr. Anton Phibes 1972 - Dr. Phibes Rises Again - Dr. Anton Phibes *1973 - Theatre of Blood - Edward Lionheart 1983 - House of the Long Shadows - Lionel GrisbaneBut Price's reach in the land of horror certainly wasn't limited to the big screen.

"The King of Pop", Michael Jackson, was confident that his "Thriller" album (album release: November 1982, single release: November 1983) would become the biggest seller in pop music history - which it did - selling in excess of 50 million copies worldwide. And he wanted Vincent Price to do the voice-over rap in his iconic zombie-filled song and creepy, close to 14-minute video, "". "Darkness falls across the land The midnight hour is close at hand Creatures crawl in search of blood To terrorize your neighbourhood And whosoever shall be found Without the soul for getting down Must stand and face the hounds of hell And rot inside a corpse's shell The foulest stench is in the air The funk of forty thousand years And grisly ghouls from every tomb Are closing in to seal your doom And though you fight to stay alive Your body starts to shiver For no mere mortal can resist The evil of the thriller"

*cue Price's spine-tingling maniacal laughter*

~ Vincent Price, Thriller

Price was paid his usual fee for providing Thriller with his voice, but with no offer for profit-participation. This would prove to be a huge financial regret for him. Upon learning of the singer's very large out-of-court settlement to the family of a boy whom he allegedly had sexual relations with, Price quipped to daughter Victoria, "I was f*cked by Michael Jackson - and I didn't even get paid for it."

In 1957, Vincent Price was in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Perfect Crime", season 3, episode 3, as detective Charles Courtney.

Price also made two appearances on another anthology series, Rod Serling's darker delve into the bizarre, "" in 1971. First as the Professor in the second season segment "The Class of '99" and then in the third and final season as John Carnby in "Return of the Sorcerer".

Vincent Price also left his indelible mark on the world of children's horror entertainment. In 1985, he starred as the delightfully debonair magician/warlock, Vincent Van Ghoul, in the 13-episode series, "The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo."

More than a decade earlier though, Price took part in something truly wonderful. Created in 1971 by Canadian comic actor Billy Van (who was also the series' main star), was the Canadian children's show, "The Hilarious House of Frightenstein". This was definitely a favourite of mine growing up. Price was the show's spooky narrator, Vincent, who from atop his castle balcony, introduced each character, often in clever rhyming verse. (Watch for a future blog post dedicated to this series!)

The series was definitely made for children. It was funny but educational, with a cast of big, lovable monsters doing all kinds of weird and silly things. But what a delight it was to watch, even for adults!

Vincent Price was a genre all his own. His place as the King of Horror was secured a long time ago as far as I'm concerned. No matter how bad the script, Price could make it sing. Price was simply made for horror. His voice, his presence, his talent.

Thrills, chills, even a few silly spills, the serious and not so serious alike, Vincent Price, ladies and gentleman: The man who will live forever, both in our heartsand in our nightmares.

~ Publicity still of Vincent Price and Debra Paget in "Tales of Terror" (1962)

A dear, charming man with a great sense of humor. Strictly a professional, who cares far more about his work than he allows the public to know. I am extremely fond of him and bask in his gentle kindness and warmth.

~ Peter Cushing on Vincent Price

Things change with time, but not always for the better. Horror is one of those things. Nothing compares to the type of glam-gore-horror that studios like Hammer and Amicus were producing in the late 50s through the 70s. Men like Cushing, Lee and Price? Even Dr. Frankenstein himself couldn't make them like that anymore.

Everyone likes to be scared. At least just a little bit. There's nothing quite like experiencing that slight chill in the air, that feeling that you're not alone, that someone or something is watching you, right before the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You know there's nothing there. Just the darkness. But what if there's something in the darkness? Something you can't see? Something frightening, something scary, something evil? NO. There's nothing there. Shake it off. Pull the blanket around yourself tighter. And try not to look behind you. No, I said don't look!

What is Terror ? Is it to awaken and hear the passing of time? Or is it the failing beat of your own heart? -- Or the footsteps of someone who, just a moment before, was in your room ? But let us not dwell on TerrorThe knowledge of Terror is vouchsafed only to the precious few

~ Prince Prospero (Vincent Price), "The Masque of the Red Death" (1963)

Until next time, unpleasant dreams . . .
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