|The finale of Hammer's DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968).|
In my audio commentary for Kino Lorber's TALES OF TERROR, I began by telling the story of my first encounter with monster magazines and how the three faces of Price, Lorre and Rathbone in that film (painted by the great Basil Gogos) were arranged on the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #19, the first monster magazine I ever handled. Also in that short stack of issues was CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN #2, whose cover was a Robert Adragna painting of a handsome man with penetrating features seated at a desk in a densely book-lined study, illustratative of that issue's feature article "The Many Faces of Christopher Lee." So, on the same day I made the acquaintance of monster magazines and the stars of TALES OF TERROR, I made the acquaintance of Christopher Lee - a man whose multiple monster portrayals suggested him as Lon Chaney's heir to the title of the Man of a Thousand Faces. Little did I know at the time that Lee's personal acting idol had been Conrad Veidt, the star of the earliest famous horror film, Robert Weine's THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919), but in hindsight no other actor comes close to being, as he was, the Conrad Veidt of our generation. In one towering package, he was dashing, debonair, villainous, cultured, athletic (he prized a belt buckle given to him by the members of the Stuntmen's Association for stunts that he performed himself on the set of AIRPORT '77) and - being fluent in at least five languages - truly cosmopolitan. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a good deal of my early exploration of European genre films wasn't in some large part due to Christopher Lee's participation in them.
As much as I loved horror films as a kid, I felt myself moving away from them in the early 1970s. To my surprise, I was pulled back in by a preview screening of an unpromising-sounding Spanish picture called HORROR EXPRESS (1973) that co-starred Lee and his longtime partner Peter Cushing. I was prepared to be disappointed but something about the film reinvigorated by passion for the genre and I submitted my second review to CINEFANTASTIQUE, a couple of years after my first, which I had figured to be a one-shot. I haven't stopped writing about horror films since.
In the 25 years that VIDEO WATCHDOG has been extant, Christopher Lee was a good friend of the magazine and our extracurricular efforts. He provided an enthusiastic and welcome blurb for THE VIDEO WATCHDOG BOOK, promptly responded to my all of my questions with a personally-typed document of several pages when I was researching MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, and he was sent every issue we ever printed. When issues went astray, we heard about it! He even appeared in our Letterbox department, a department we first introduced with a drawing I had done of his familiar hand reaching out of a letter-lined coffin.
In closing, a brief story: On the occasion of Peter Cushing's death, my late friend Bill Kelley called Christopher Lee (a personal friend whom he called "the Old Man") to express his condolences and commiserate. Bill expressed to Chris how moved he was to see how warmly and personally Cushing's fans were taking the loss of "St. Peter", which prompted Chris - who must have reflected on his own deep shyness, his formality around people he had newly met, and his own nervously talkative nature - to sigh with deep-seated certainty, "Well, they won't feel that way about me."
I thought of this often today as I was scrolling down my Facebook news feed and seeing so many outpourings of affection that proved the Old Man wrong. He was more loved than he knew.