Being Mesmerized by Christopher Lee

I’m not exactly sure how old I was when I came into the living room to see what my older brothers were watching on TV one Saturday afternoon. I do remember it being a cold, grey day and that there were no leaves on the trees. So, it must have been some time in November or March. It was many years before I discovered the the name of the movie was Horror of Dracula. But one thing I was certain of: the movie was about Dracula. And to this day, I remember two scenes in particular from this first viewing.

Horror-of-Dracula-dracula-vanHelsing-girlThe first scene was when van Helsing (played by Peter Cushing) and Holmwood (Michael Gough – who would later play Alfred to Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton’s wonderfully Gothic Batman movies) go to the cemetery to “release” Lucy from the curse of vampirism. They rescue a little girl from the clutches of Lucy. Before the two men enter the crypt to attend to Lucy, van Helsing gives the little girl his cross and his coat, and tells her to wait for them.

I’m not sure why, but the technicolor, the music, the fog, the bare trees, and the crypt and cemetery thrilled me. Indeed, the whole look of the movie became for me what Gothic, scary movies, and even Halloween were supposed to look like. It’s a tribute to Hammer that they were able to create such a powerful style. Now, merely saying “Hammer Horror” conjures up a host of specific images.

horror-of-dracula-4The second scene that struck me was, of course, the ending. Van Helsing using the candle sticks as a crucifix, Dracula being destroyed by the sunlight, and the wind blowing away the ash leaving only Dracula’s ring. I remember getting out my box of Legos and creating a make-shift crucifix. After all, my young mind reasoned, a make-shift crucifix worked for van Helsing.

However, when Halloween came around  it was not van Helsing that I dressed up as – It was Dracula. And really, it isn’t a surprise. Christopher Lee’s Dracula was refined, strong, and self-possessed. And his “victims” did not seem all that frightened by him and they seemed alright after being visited by the count. Indeed, immortality and youthful beauty hardly seem a horrible fate.

I’ve watched Horror of Dracula many times since and it is one of those movies that I can watch over and over. And for me, Lee is the quintessential Dracula. His facial expression – especially his eyes – enhanced by the atmospheric lighting captured the perfect mix of menace and allure.

Lee-DraculaSo, if you have a chance, watch Horror of Dracula again (or any of Christopher Lee’s Hammer Horror movies). It’s a wonderful Gothic horror movie that still holds up. And it is perhaps the best way to honor the career of one of the greats.

 

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