The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Volume 2 just hit Blu-ray and virtually filled in the remaining gaps in my collection. With the purchase of one other film that I also didn’t have before, there’s now only one Christopher Lee horror movie that isn’t yet on a legit DVD or Blu-ray. However I checked that one out online so I can wrap up my Christopher Lee horror film viewing experience at last with this post.
UNCLE WAS A VAMPIRE (1959)
Hot on the heels of his role as Dracula for Hammer studios, Christopher Lee perfectly plays the straight man vampire in this charming little Italian vampire comedy.
Renato Rascel is the real star here, and the pairing of him and Lee made me think of none other than the shenanigans of Abbott and Costello.
Rascel is a baron forced to sell off his family castle, which is turned into a hotel. However, he stays on as a bellboy and soon learns a distant uncle is coming to stay with him.
That uncle proves to be Christopher Lee, delivered in a coffin and absolutely dying of thirst.
The interactions between the pair are quite funny, and once Rascel realizes his uncle is a vampire, his reactions and plans to take care of his familial problem give him the chance to shine. In fact, Lee is written out of the film for a majority of the running time, and despite it being a bummer that the pair doesn’t share more back and forth comedy shtick, Rascel absolutely holds his own.
If you loved The Munsters, The Addams Family, and the movies in which Abbott & Costello met famous movie monsters, you’ll definitely appreciate this one.
THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1960)
A tale as old as horror time and one that has resurfaced again and again, The Hands of Orlac (the only film not on disc yet) stars Mel Ferrer as a master pianist who needs his hands transplanted after a plane crash. Conveniently this happens at the same time that a strangler is about to be executed.
Needless to say, once the pianist is back on his feet (hands?) and his girlfriend’s cat is found strangled to death, he begins to suspect he has become a monster unable to control his new murderous hands.
Disappointingly, he doesn’t go on a killing spree. Instead, Christopher Lee plays an evil magician who hatches a blackmail plan involving Ferrer’s hand issue.
It’s a rather slow film that lacks any suspense, but Lee is fun, and there is (finally) one now common kill scene right at the end. But not even a death scene can serve as a Band-Aid for the disappointing truth behind the mystery of the killer hands. What a letdown.
THE WHIP AND THE BODY (1963)
Mario Bava proves with this film that he truly was a ground-breaker back in the day, pushing the envelope by reimagining horror as distasteful, sexual, misogynistic exploitation!
Herschell Gordon Lewis still gets plenty of credit for making nasty gore the star of horror in the 60s, but that’s not what this film is about. This is a fricking sadomasochistic incubus romance that totally objectifies women and paints them as sexual whores that love to be abused. And it does it all under the guise of a gothic ghost story, with plenty of visually arresting settings and without any nudity.
The family in a coastal castle is in total turmoil, all due to evil Christopher Lee. One of the servants worships a bloody dagger she keeps in a protective glass case…because it’s the knife her daughter committed suicide with after an affair with Lee ended in him dumping her. That’s because he was engaged to the woman who has now become his brother’s wife. This all led to Lee being banished by his father.
It’s clear upon Lee’s return that he has a psychological hold on his whole family. He intimidates them with his words and they quickly agree to let him stay.
Along with the beautiful scenery and romantic score, we are suddenly treated to an encounter on the beach between Lee and his ex while she is out horseback riding. They kiss and then…he uses her horsewhip to viciously beat her, degrading her by telling her she hasn’t changed and still loves violence. All the while, she cries out and whimpers lustfully. Wow.
The film then takes a turn you don’t expect. Lee hears ghostly voices in his bedroom at night, appears to be attacked by the window curtain, and ends up dead!
He’s gone but he’s not forgotten. For the remainder of the film, his ex sees visions of him, hears the sounds of a whip in every tree branch, and is visited by him at night for more beatings. Again…wow.
Is Lee really dead? Is he a ghost? Or is his ex just losing her mind? It all plays out as an elegant gothic horror complete with creepy corridors, dark rooms lit only by lightning outside, muddy footprints, a crypt, a corpse…it’s absolutely delicious. And so is the guy who plays Lee’s brother.
DARK PLACES (1974)
This odd little movie of deception and thievery infuses some haunted house elements and ends with a bang in a series of murders (the best part).
A man inherits an old mansion from another man who happens to have looked just liked him…which makes the unclear time jumps super confusing.
Christopher Lee and Joan Collins play a brother and sister team that wants to find money hidden inside the mansion. So not only does Joan start a romantic relationship with the new owner, but the pair decides they are going to scare him out of the house by convincing him it’s haunted.
Little do they know that the dude was recently released from an asylum and has some serious mental issues.
As he begins to hear laughter and voices in the house, he seems to also experience flashbacks to the life of the man he inherited the mansion from…a life that led to a murderous tragedy. And that tragedy has dire effects on the new owner’s fragile mental stability, which isn’t good news for Lee or Collins.
It really isn’t a compelling movie until the final act, and Lee and Collins are woefully underutilized, appearing only at the beginning and end.
DRACULA AND SON (1976)
Christopher Lee got the last laugh after playing Dracula for decades. Not only did he do a comedy version of the character right at the beginning of his run with Uncle is a Vampire, he did it once again at the end of his run with Dracula and Son.
I preferred the humor and pacing of Uncle is a Vampire over this film in its original French version, which is slow and spotty in its humor. However, Lee gets the funnier moments here—about the only moments that shine—and it’s a treat to see a smile on his vampire face every once in a while.
A lot is packed into this plot. First, the vampire impregnates a woman. After she has the baby, she turns into a vampire and accidentally fries herself in the sun. Now the vamp is a single dad. We watch as his little terror grows up, and then father and son are run out of town by the angry villagers.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, the vampire ends up in London and his son ends up in Paris.
The vampire decides to take advantage of his dark allure and becomes a horror movie star. Teehee. Lee is most definitely used to good effect in this sense.
His son’s story, on the other hand, is rather lame. It’s mostly about him trying to survive as a vampire in the real world as he looks for work and…food.
The film finally takes a bit of a more interesting turn when father and son reunite. But their joy is short-lived. Before long, they fall for the same woman…who looks just like the son’s deceased mother.
You would think that plotline would make for some great comedy. It just doesn’t. It’s astonishing to me that a) this movie is even considered a comedy in its original 100-minute French version, and b) that people hate the U.S. cut. See, here’s what happened. For its U.S. release, the film was edited down to 80 minutes (yay!) and redubbed with an entirely different script that makes it a true horror spoof in the style of the Leslie Nielsen comedies of the 1980s with cheap gags, pop culture references, dirty sex jokes, and a narrator. There’s even some queer humor.
Watching it right after watching the original cut, I think it is a bloody brilliant revamp. So glad both versions are included in the Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Volume 2 Blu-ray release.