13 horrors of Christopher Lee

Naturally I had to follow my Peter Cushing blog with a companion blog covering Christopher Lee films. And just like the Cushing blog, these are the last 13 films in my collection starring Lee that I hadn’t yet covered on my site, and only a few of his horror films are left to cover simply because they aren’t available on disc yet.

THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960)

There’s only so many times you can see yet another adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic without feeling like you’ve seen enough. At least The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll brings some new elements to it—starting with a title change and the presence of Christopher Lee, of course.

Lee’s inclusion is a main reason for a major change in the plot. He plays the lover of Dr. Jekyll’s wife, who is bored because her man is so busy in his lab all the time.

The other change? The doctor is the “ugly one”. See, when he takes the drug he creates, his dark side comes out in the form of a sexy, smooth-faced playboy.

Indeed, Jekyll is a bland, bearded, older dude (insulting) and Hyde is like his beautiful portrait of Dorian Gray come to life.

So don’t expect to see a traditional monster here. Despite being sleazy and sexual, this adaptation has Hyde mind-fucking his wife and her lover until he eventually enacts his revenge on them. It’s utterly boring, and the most exciting moment is when his wife falls off a balcony onto a crowded dance floor.

SCREAM OF FEAR (1961)

We have a winner! At least I have a winner in the realm of the dozens of Hammer films I’ve subjected myself to since inheriting my brother’s collection.

Scream Of Fear has what is by now a seemingly cliché plot, but it is such a tightly presented horror flick with so many delicious little twists at the end that it stands out from the pack of its time.

After the loss of a friend by suicide, a young woman in a wheelchair returns home to her estranged father’s estate. And they remain estranged because he’s not even home! She’s greeted by her stepmother and doesn’t quite trust her.

This is one of those “are they trying to drive her crazy?” films. The young woman begins seeing signs that her father is “around”…including a sighting of his corpse (eek!), but everyone in the home thinks she imagined it. Even the doctor, played by Christopher Lee, makes her feel like she’s going nuts.

The only person she can turn to for help is a new love interest…who we get to see in a bikini swimwear!

There are some truly eerie and increasingly gruesome moments as the film progresses, with great use made of tight camera work and shadowy lighting, plus a series of unexpected events in the final act. This is one Hammer film I am thrilled to have in my collection.

CHALLENGE THE DEVIL (1963)

This is an Italian language film, so Christopher Lee fans need to know that his voice has been dubbed by another actor. So not only are you sort of getting Lee, he is also in the film for just a very brief time.

The first twenty minutes or so are wasted with setup—basically a monk gets mixed up in an attempted murder, reconnects with his ex-girlfriend, and then tells her a story of what led him to the life he’s living now. But before that, we are bombarded by a couple of song and dance numbers at a club.

As for the rest of the story, it’s about the monk and his delinquent friends committing some violence and then busting into a castle and doing some psychedelic dance partying before Christopher Lee suddenly appears in a white wig and stares into a fireplace for a while. He also tells them he’s possessed by the devil.

After that, the group mostly sticks together (shocking) as they try to find their way out of the house.

Lee is never seen again, and this plays out like a haunted house attraction movie, with winding stairs, a maze of mirrors, a ghostly apparition, a spider sighting, and not much else. Plus, the final takeaway is pretty much a religious message. Yawn.

THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG (aka: Horror Castle) (1963)

Now this is classic horror. It all starts with thunder, lightning, a woman walking around a castle with a candle, torture devices, and gore.

Horrible sixties jazz music kills that mood fast. Why the fuck did they do that shit in sixties horror?

Anyway, that’s about all we hear of that nonsense music, so the atmosphere is perfect for the rest of the film.

Our main woman has moved into a creepy castle/museum with her husband and must contend with a weird maid, an unnerving, scarred custodian played by Christopher Lee, and worst of all, what is apparently the resurrected resident torturer known as “the punisher”.

It’s all very House on Haunted Hill as our poor leading lady is terrorized. Best of all, the film becomes more horrific as it reaches the final act, with a nasty rat torture scene and the great reveal of the punisher’s face. Eek!

There’s even a gruesome Nazi tie-in backstory.

CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1964)

Even though this is a period piece, there’s nothing more modern than a couple making out on the side of the road and getting killed by an unseen threat.

The film focuses on a group of traveling entertainers with an escape artist gimmick.

They are invited to stay at the castle of Count Drago (uh-oh), but before they can get there a witchy woman on the road warns them to stay away.

Naturally, when they get to the castle, the count is Christopher Lee, who looks more perfectly undead than in any of his other movies and says that he’s been down in his “Luh-bore-a-tory”. Pronunciation is everything.

He has a room full of stuffed birds, so you can just imagine what Count Taxidermist has in store for them. And a young Donald Sutherland shows up as law enforcement to complicate matters.

But this film takes an odd turn…the real danger is this laughing Lurch looking goon that was traveling with the group. This dude is a psycho killer! He even tosses a little man off the castle roof! Luckily we have a woman traveling in the group to serve as the main girl.

CRYPT OF THE VAMPIRE (1964)

Now this is my kind of old black and white horror movie, and it sure makes me wish Christopher Lee had escaped the clutches of redundant, bland Hammer Films productions more often.

Crypt of the Vampire has a lot going on, and despite having “vampire” in the title, this is far from a hardcore vampire film.

Filled with classic black and white horror atmosphere, the film is about Lee’s grown daughter, who is experiencing nightmares and paranoia. Lee believes her issue is related to a family curse, so he hires a man to research the witch that cast it.

Meanwhile, the housekeeper believes the daughter is possessed, so she calls on fricking Satan to help her. Also, a young woman comes to stay in the house after an accident and befriends the daughter.

A very haunting series of scenes of vampires terrorizing the daughter reminded of the nightmarish scene from the original Salem’s Lot (you know the one).

Another highlight is when the two girls make a gruesome discover in a large bell.

As the girls are off on their excursion in ghostly white nightgowns, Lee and his expert are busy trying to prove the witch is influencing all the supernatural shit going on, and vampiric themes finally emerge.

THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (1967)

Somehow, this movie with “torture porn” basically built right into the title won’t commit to its promise after a pretty gnarly opening.

It starts back in time with Christopher Lee, a count (why was everyone a count back then?), being punished for his crimes of torturing other human beings. How is he punished? Torture, of course! He gets a spike laced mask smashed onto his face and then has all his limbs ripped off by four horses. Ah, the classics.

In the present day (still the past since this is a period piece), a baroness and her lawyer are summoned to Blood Castle so she can collect an inheritance. The journey in a stagecoach goes on and on and on…until a foggy night when they travel a road lined with dead bodies hanging from trees. Best scene in the movie.

Circumstances lead them right to the castle, they meet a ghoulish servant of the count, and we learn that the plan is to resurrect the count and keep him alive with sacrifices.

And then…brace yourself…it turns out this is an adaptation of Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”! The lawyer comes face to blade with the pendulum, the baroness is pitted against a pit of snakes, and I literally guffawed at how the lawyer escapes the pit…and it’s not with the help of rats. But will the baroness and lawyer get away, and will there be a happy ending? The absolutely awful music that destroys any horror atmosphere at the end of the movie can answer that question.

THEATRE OF DEATH (1967)

This is a fun little film in which Christopher Lee runs a theater of the macabre, crafting performance pieces that end with someone’s gruesome murder. He is mesmerizing audiences…and hypnotizing his performers to get them to do his bidding in his shows.

A detective starts to fall for one of Lee’s leading actresses, who Lee seems to be mentally tormenting, making her feel inferior and replaceable when a new girl joins the theater group.

Meanwhile, women have been murdered around town, and the detective doesn’t trust Lee. There are plenty of odd plot points that don’t add up here. For instance, the detectives specifically discuss only women being victims, yet the next thing you know, we’re witnessing a man being murdered in a tunnel (it’s implied). Also, it’s pointed out that the main detective has hand damage so he can’t use it, which makes it seem like that factoid will play a crucial part in the plot later, but it doesn’t. Even the possibility of vampirism is discussed by the detectives, who think the killer desires blood, but that doesn’t pan out either.

The biggest surprise of all is that Christopher Lee vanishes from the film halfway through, never to be seen again. It’s kind of cool to pull such a stunt, but he does add an element of intrigue to the plot earlier on and is missed once he’s gone. However, the cast manages to carry on, and by the time the main girl confronts the killer, you should have guessed who it is.

It’s also kind of weird when the main detective refers to a Black victim as a “colored woman”. Totally brought me back to the days of my single-digit years when all the really old people in my life used to refer to Black people that way.

THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968)

I’m rather surprised this mess of a cult movie was written by horror master Richard Matheson. It’s 95 minutes of characters running around from one house to another being abducted and escaping a cult over and over.

While investigating the occult leanings of a friend’s son, Christopher Lee accidentally summons a demon…that looks exactly like your ordinary everyday Black man. What the hell?

Lee and friend escape the demon by running to another friend’s house, and in doing so, drag that whole family into the occult madness, for an entire cult is on their tail.

After much running around in circles for most of the movie and being subjected to having their bodies temporarily possessed by a demon every once in a while, the main characters step into a pentagram for protection and watch as a giant spider and a skeleton knight on horseback come to taunt them just outside the circle. I did not find this horror movie chilling at all.

THE CRIMSON CULT (1968)

What I like about this film is that it knows it has Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff waiting in the wings, so it totally sets the tone in a creepy house with thunder, lightning, secret passages, a cemetery, a weird butler lurking in the shadows, and a celebration of witches and witchcraft.

A man comes to the house—basically a bed and breakfast owned by Christopher Lee—in search of his missing brother.

Lee’s niece takes a shine to the guest and tries to help him with his investigation. And Boris Karloff is an occult fanatic being rolled around in a wheelchair to oversee a joyous party marking witch history.

The main man starts having ominous nightmares about an evil witch queen that adored torturing people, and her entourage includes a whip-wielding mistress in pasties and a hunky slave boy in a black Speedo. Awesome.

It’s perhaps a little lowbrow compared to Hammer Films productions of the era…which would explain why I like it better than most of them. It’s just pure, silly, classic horror fun.

THE BLOODY JUDGE (1970)

Christopher Lee wasn’t above taking on “horror” that was simply misogynistic exploitation of the witch trials, which is all this plotless movie is.

Lee is a judge who finds beautiful women guilty of witchcraft left and right.

They are then taken to a dungeon barely dressed and subjected to various forms of physical abuse, most of which won’t exactly impress torture porn fans in this day and age.

The thin plot involves one young woman desperate to clear her accused sister’s name…but not desperate enough to sleep with Lee in exchange. Soooo…she’s tortured a lot.

Meanwhile, Lee is desperate to preserve his political ambitions by taking down any challengers to his authority.

There are various war battles, but you really just watch this one if you want to see writhing women in pain at the hands of a dude who looks like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein.

Also watch if you want to witness the voluptuous leading lady give a bloody female victim a sensual tongue bath.

THE WICKER MAN (1973)

Permanently scarred from watching the remake with Nicholas Cage, I never felt the need to watch the original…until discovering I’m obligated due to the rules set in my own mind not only to watch it but to own it because Christopher Lee is in it.

On the bright side, Nicholas Cage is not in it. On the down side, I see why Midsommar gets compared to this film. It is boooooooring.

The plot is intriguing, it really is. A Christian detective gets an anonymous note about a missing girl on an island. He flies to the island and quickly realizes everyone on it is entrenched in Pagan rituals…and acting as if the missing girl doesn’t exist, including her mother!

Christopher Lee is the leader of the island, and the detective is at odds with him for rejecting God.

We are subjected to horrible singing and dancing around a maypole, a frog being used in the mouth of a child to cure a sore throat, a scary clown doll, people in creepy masks, and most terrifying of all, a naked woman singing a folk song. Nightmare material.

And then there’s the final sacrificial pagan ritual in a big wicker man contraption that would be so damn easy to get out of once it started burning, which makes the shocking finale of this movie a huge disappointment.

THE KEEPER (1976)

This is an odd little film that comes across as silly and campy at times—I think on purpose.

Christopher Lee runs an insane asylum for rich people, where he makes everyone call him “The Keeper”. He also finds a way to get rich off the fortunes of his patients.

A detective and his partner look into deaths surrounding the asylum, going under cover inside the place. But Lee, who is on to them, uses his very special treatments method—hypnotherapy—to find out more and to put a stop to their interference.

How silly is this film? I mean, aside from the hypnotherapy “special effects” shown above? The detective gets tips from a young shoe shine boy, and at one point Lee hypnotizes a detective and makes him choo choo like a train…

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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