Christopher Lee has died. Everyone, please, a standing ovation for perhaps the greatest, most delightfully nefarious character actor of all time.
Lee had a long and impressive resume, racking up memorable appearances in Lord of the Rings, James Bond, Star Wars, The Wicker Man, and The Last Unicorn. Also, he was funnier than you might’ve realized. According to the AP he actually turned down Leslie Nielsen’s part in Airplane, and he hosted SNL in 1978. (The New York Times says: “He declined to play Dracula in a sketch, but he did appear as Mr. Death, a cultured gentleman in a black hooded robe carrying a scythe. In the part, he comes to apologize to a little girl... for taking her dog, Tippy.”)
But it was his enormously popular, widely beloved work at the pulp-stravaganza Hammer Films that first made him a legend, and specifically his Dracula. Because his Dracula was evil, but hot as hell. You’ll see a lot of stills floating around today, but none of them will properly capture the electric gravity of Lee’s performance as the erotic aristocratic menace. For that, we need video. Take it away, YouTube:
Just look at all those babes panting in their synthetic nighties. Buzz off, van Helsing and literally every other male character. We want Dracula!
Lee first played Dracula in 1958, and according to the AP’s obituary of Lee, he had a lasting impact on the way we think about the character:
He launched his horror career in 1957, starring as the monster in Hammer’s “The Curse of Frankenstein.” In 1958, Lee made his first appearance as the famous vampire in “Dracula,” opposite Cushing’s Van Helsing.
Film critic Matthew Sweet said Lee brought a sensuality to the role that fit with the newly permissive times. While Bela Lugosi, the definitive 1930s Dracula, “postures and glides, Lee is rough and muscular,” Sweet wrote in 2007.
“Lee’s performance convinced a generation of scholars that Dracula was a book about sex, and not about vampires,” Sweet said.
And that despite the campiness. We should all strive for such a legacy.
Look, I don’t have any receipts to show you. But I’m pretty sure that the next time somebody confidently points out that Nosferatu was terrifying and hideous so why hunky sparklepony vampires, huh, you can tell him: “Sir Christopher Lee is your cinematic missing link, so show a little goddamn respect.”
Photos via AP Images, Getty.
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