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Saturday, February 15, 2014

THE REEL REALS: Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee-- and his performances in the cult classic Hammer Films of  the late '50s onward-- is responsible for rebirthing, reintroducing, and redefining the horror genre. When the Universal horror monsters were put to rest by changing times and trends, terror began to mutate, at first comically in the B-horror/sci-fi films of the '50s, but later it reemerged with more of an edge. It became more... real, most particularly because people around the world could watch mankind at its most disturbingly violent as images of the Korean and Vietnam wars and the assassinations of JFK and MLK, Jr. appeared on their television sets. The world needed somewhere to direct their newfound fear both of each other and themselves. Lee became the focal point of this necessary displacement, and he continues to serve our blackest natures honorably-- the Dark Prince from the other side of our collective psyche.

After serving in WWII and studying the classical languages of Greek and Latin, Christopher decided to chase his artistic passions by becoming an actor.  After performing in film and television for a decade, he would find his cinematic soulmate and co-star Peter Cushing when he signed at Hammer Films. After their collaboration in The Curse of Frankenstein, they would partner in over twenty films, and a more visceral, violent, and sexual brand of mythological barbarity would thus be witnessed and embraced by increasingly fascinated filmgoers. Though his portrayal as Frankenstein's monster would initiate Lee's position in the annals of horror history, he is most often remembered for his countless appearances as Count Dracula. Much more savage, brutal, and animalistic than his popular predecessor, Bela Lugosi, Lee delivered a frightening interpretation of the infamous bloodsucker-- one desperate, lustful, and utterly, unabashedly demoniacal. 

Unless one is living on a desert island, he or she is bound to have seen a Christopher Lee film, because at the age of 91 this guy is still going strong. Most recently, his appearances in box office phenomenons like The Lord of the Rings series as well as the prequel Star Wars episodes 1-3 have solidified his reputation with modern audiences. Forever counted upon to render a devilish side of sinister to whatever role he embraces, the gravity of his talent and his integrity as an actor make his performances all the more horrifying. He never merely puts on the costume but fully fleshes out and psychologically transforms into the three dimensional villain of our worst nightmares. Even when presented as a good guy, the audiences waits for the Hyde inside him to reveal himself. As fearful as that side may be, it is exactly what we buy the tickets for. Whether battling, Dr. Frankenstein, Van Helsing, or a disembodied hand, Lee's presence makes the ensuing action much more interesting, and his resulting films are continually sought by legions of his addicted fans. He is, I suppose, the "crack" of cult cinema.

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