Today (11th June 2015) we lost a legend. A title that is banded around too much, yet here it fits perfectly. Sir Christopher Lee was a giant in cinema, with a career that began back in 1948, with his distinctive deep voice and towering presence, he made over 250 films and television appearance. Yet it was his time at Hammer that defined him and made him an international star. Along side Peter Cushing, the two men made the studio a favourite among film fans and horror freaks. It was his performance as vampire Count Dracula that really put Lee on the map, playing the role for Hammer seven times (more if you include the ones made for other studios).
Lee made fans of a new generation with his appearances in the Star Wars prequels and The Lord Of The Rings/Hobbit series. A distinguished actor who brought an air of class and professionalism to everything he did, he will always be one of the screen’s greatest villains.
Here is my top ten of his best roles, which, as always, are open to discussion. His Hammer career, for me, will always be his finest hours.
10. Death Line (1973)
A cameo appearance for Lee as Stratton-Villiers, MI5, brought in to help with the investigation of a series of murders in the London underground. Now a cult favourite, this cannibal horror, also known as Raw Meat, had Donald Pleasance and Norman Rossington in the leads.
9. Corpse Bride (2005)
Lee had the perfect voice for animation and it took Tim Burton to get him to use it. In this quirky dark tale of a man who marries a corpse, Lee provides the voice for Pastor Galswell, the local vicar, in another film full of star names like Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Lee starred in three other Burton films: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Dark Shadows and Sleepy Hollow.
8. The Devil Rides Out (1968)
A complete change of pace for Lee, as in a rarity, he’s the good guy! Playing an expert in black magic, he takes on a devil worshipping cult in this Hammer version of Denis Wheatley’s novel. The chilling finale is one of the company’s finest hours.
7. The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1959)
Hammer took on Arthur Conan Doyle and won with this classic adaptation of the famous Sherlock Holmes adventure. Peter Cushing took the lead with Lee as the mysterious Sir Henry Baskerville, bringing a touch of class to the famous mystery.
6. The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
The middle film of Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy is the one that gave Lee the biggest slice of the action. As evil wizard Saruman, he was the perfect foil to Ian McKellan’s Gandalf. Lee’s part in the final film was drastically cut but restored in the director’s cut on DVD.
5. The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957)
The first full colour horror and the first film for Lee with Hammer, not playing the Count this time but the Creature opposite Peter Cushing’s Baron. Lee was fearful about being typecast but was perfectly suited and brought some levels of compassion to the role.
4. The Three Musketeers (1973)/The Four Musketeers (1974)
Even with such an all-star cast that Richard Lester put together, Lee still stood out as the villainous Rochfort, answerable to Charlton Heston’s Cardinal Richelieu. With his distinguished eye-patch and quiet menace, he played the role three times for Lester.
3. The Wicker Man (1973)
Cult classic horror in which Lee played Lord Summerisle, the lord of the manor in which policeman Edward Woodward comes in search of a missing schoolgirl. Only a supporting part, Lee still managed to make his mark. Quoted as being one of Lee’s favourite films.
2. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
Roger Moore’s second outing as James Bond sees him pitted against Scaramanga, a cold and hard-hearted hit man with a golden gun. Lee was originally the first choice to play Dr No but ended up as the villain in this quirky entry to the series. It was inevitable that Lee would end up a Bond villain.
1. Dracula (1958)
The film that made Lee a star and so became the defining version of the Count. Peter Cushing may have got the top billing as Van Helsing, yet it was Lee who took the plaudits. An iconic character that he played seven times for Hammer.