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Friday, June 12, 2015

Bay of the Living Dead: Kirk Hammett and Veronica Carlson Remember Christopher Lee

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 4:00 PM

click to enlarge Sir Christopher Lee as Dracula - HAMMER FILMS
  • Hammer Films
  • Sir Christopher Lee as Dracula
Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a twice a month column about the horror genre.

Sir Christopher Lee has died at age 93. With his passing, an era has ended.

Lee was the last of the great, old school horror stars. Like his contemporaries Peter Cushing (1913-1994) and Vincent Price (1911-1993), and their predecessors Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney, Lee built a solid reputation as a craftsmen due to his work in old-fashioned Gothic horror films.

Beginning with Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula in 1931 until Lee's passing on June 7, the film industry both at home and abroad was blessed with the talents of these iconic and supremely talented boogeymen. Lee was the last of his breed.

"He was a wonderful man to work with," recalled actress Veronica Carlson, who co-starred with Lee in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968). "I know it sounds trite, but he was so generous. I invited my parents to the set and he was so kind and gracious."

click to enlarge Sir Christopher Lee with Veronica Carlson in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) - HAMMER FILMS
  • Hammer Films
  • Sir Christopher Lee with Veronica Carlson in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968)
Carlson recalled the star's lack of ego. "He stood behind the camera and acted for me during my close-up," she said. She also remembered Lee's impressive off-screen presence. "He had a vocal range that was amazing," she said. "He was an operatic singer — his voice would echo across the room. He regaled so many people with his great stories."

Lee was a minor player in the British film industry when he was selected to play "the Creature" opposite Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein in Hammer Films' The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). The film was a worldwide sensation. Audiences loved seeing a good-old-fashioned horror tale infused with colorful fairy tale styled images and a healthy dose of sexuality. The following year Cushing and Lee were reunited for Hammer's Horror of Dracula.

Audiences were stunned by the second films blood-soaked, sexually blatant bite scenes. 

"Dracula should be handsome," observed Veronica Carlson. "He should be a gorgeous guy, and Lee was."

For the next 15 years, Lee starred in one Gothic horror film after another, often paired with Cushing. They became worldwide box office stars — an incomparable and iconic duo. Lee played a wide variety of roles both in and out of the horror genre.

During the 1970s, Lee enjoyed a few years as a Hollywood star. He found a whole new audience as the assassin Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1973), and displayed an even greater range in the swashbuckler The Three Musketeers (1973). He even played a gay leather biker in the Marin County set suburbia satire Serial (1980). In everything he did, regardless of role or genre, Lee proved himself to be a master craftsmen who could deliver the goods. 

click to enlarge Lee, with Peter Cushing in Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) - AMICUS FILMS
  • Amicus Films
  • Lee, with Peter Cushing in Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)
Clearly he did something right: Lee amassed 278 credits as an actor, according to IMDB

"Christopher Lee was a horror icon," said Bay Area resident Kirk Hammett. Hammett, a legendary fan of all things classic horror, is beloved by millions as the guitarist for the band Metallica. "Even in his more recent roles in Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings I found him to be a very convincing and menacing presence." 

Hammett looked back upon Lee's most famous role. "He was the first onscreen vampire to show blood dripping, and for the eyes of this seven year old the sight of this was just too much," Hammett recalled, saying that he ducked under the covers and had nightmares for months to come.

"I will miss Christopher Lee, a true legend for myself, and I know for thousands of others," said Hammett. 

"He belongs here!" proclaimed a heartbroken Veronica Carlson.

"May the Count Rest in Peace," Hammett added.

Our friend Doug Ronning hosts another wonderful Monster Movie Salon. This month's is called Sapphic Vamps, Dangerous Dandies and Transexual Transylvanians, which proves what we all knew: LGBT people are indeed everywhere,
even in the Crypt of the Living Dead.

Saturday, June 13, 1-4 p.m., at 2269 Market St., $40.


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