When I was young, I hated horror films because I was frightened of them. I was the kid at parties or sleepovers who would sit with my back to the TV because a scary flick was on; if I caught a glimmer of the film, I knew I wouldn’t sleep that night.
One Sunday afternoon when I was in high school, I was flipping through the TV channels when I noticed an old film called “Horror of Dracula.” I was a classic movie buff, but I had always shied away from horror films due to my fears. But knowing that Dracula was a classic film monster, I took a deep breath and decided to sit and watch.
And I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. This was the first time I saw Christopher Lee in the legendary role of Dracula. The British actor became not only my first Dracula, but my favorite. My affinity for vampire movies, TV shows and books was born.
I was reminded of all this today with the sad news that Lee, an icon of horror and fantasy films, has died at the age of 93. Lee starred in more than 250 films in a career that spanned decades.
Lee was one of the last screen legends left from the Golden Age of Cinema, a master of the macabre and a masterful movie villain. The veteran actor brought gravitas and credibility to any project with which he was connected.
Lee’s charisma and hypnotic glare in “The Horror of Dracula” captivated me. With little dialogue, he was terrifying yet seductive, enough to keep me watching despite some bloody scenes (considered gory for their time, but tame compared to today’s standards). My bravery grew, and I was rewarded. The good vs. evil face-off between Lee and Peter Cushing’s vampire hunter Van Helsing was a real treat. The two actors became good friends and would appear in more than 20 films together.
The 1958 film was the first of several British-made Hammer Horror films I would seek out, including Lee’s breakthrough role as the Creature in “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957) and his return as the Transylvanian vampire in “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” (1966). Lee went on to play the immortal bloodsucker in five more films for Hammer, becoming as iconic in the role – or arguably even moreso – as Bela Lugosi.
Lee didn’t need a cape or fangs to be scary. His deep voice, intense eyes and unrelenting manner said it all. He inflicted terror as the titular character in “The Mummy” (1959) and as the nefarious Lord Summerisle in “The Wicker Man” (1973), the latter which he cited as his favorite film. If you haven’t seen “The Wicker Man,” do yourself a favor and watch it. The Nicolas Cage remake doesn’t hold a candle to the tense atmosphere and sheer terror of the original.
The prolific Lee worked regularly, and in the 2000s he experienced a major career resurgence. While a new generation was introduced to Lee, I got to see more of an actor whose work I already knew and admired.
Lee played two of the biggest villains in two of the decade’s biggest fantasy epics: the evil wizard Saruman in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the dark side’s Count Dooku in the “Stars Wars” prequel films “Episode II: Attack of the Clones” and “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” Lee made his final film appearance in last year’s “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”
Lee will forever have a place in cinema. Audiences simultaneously feared and loved him.
Lee is a big reason why I love movies as much as I do. I’ll never forget the day a scared young girl pushed her fears aside to be rewarded with something better and find new worlds to get lost in.
Thanks, Sir Christopher Lee, for leaving your indelible mark on this world. You will be missed, but never forgotten.