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RIP Christopher Lee

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Christopher Lee, the British actor and classic horror star whose career was revitalized in the fantasy genre in the 2000s, has passed away at age 93.

Lee, who died in hospital this past Sunday (where he was being treated for respiratory problems), made hundreds of movies over his long career, but will always be most closely associated with British genre outfit Hammer Films, usually opposite his good friend Peter Cushing. The two first co-starred in 1957’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, with Cushing as the titular doctor and Lee as the monster, and they reteamed on 1958’s HORROR OF DRACULA—the first of seven Hammer films in which Lee played the vampiric count. Lee’s other credits for the company include THE MUMMY (1959), RASPUTIN, THE MAD MONK (1966), THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1967) and the last horror feature from the studio’s original incarnation, 1976’s TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER.

As the Dracula series was waning, Lee starred in a film that became his favorite of his movies and has since become a classic, 1973’s THE WICKER MAN, in which he played Lord Summerisle, overseer of a pagan island community; he also cameoed in director Robin Hardy’s 2011 follow-up THE WICKER TREE. He teamed with cult director Jess Franco on a number of features, including COUNT DRACULA (1970), considered one of the most faithful adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel, KISS ME MONSTER, THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU, THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU, EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION and THE BLOODY JUDGE. Among the other noteworthy genre films on his résumé are I, MONSTER (1971), in which he portrayed Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; HORROR EXPRESS (1972), a non-Hammer team-up with Cushing set on a train terrorized by a brain-sucking creature; DRACULA AND SON, a farce from France in which he played a comical Count, released in its home country in 1976 and in a badly bowdlerized version in the U.S. three years later; and GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990) as geneticist Dr. Catheter.

Lee returned to prominence in the fantasy field when he played evil wizard Saruman the white in Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING in 2001 and THE TWO TOWERS in 2002. His scenes as Saruman were cut from 2003’s THE RETURN OF THE KING, and then restored for subsequent special editions. He briefly reprised Saruman in Jackson’s THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY and THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES. In 2002, Lee followed the lead of Cushing, who had appeared in the original STAR WARS, by playing villainous Count Dooku in STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES, and again in 2005’s EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH. Lee also teamed with Tim Burton several times, taking small roles in SLEEPY HOLLOW, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and DARK SHADOWS and doing voice work for CORPSE BRIDE and ALICE IN WONDERLAND; his scenes in SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET wound up being deleted. In 2011, the revitalized Hammer cast Lee in its first production, the psychological thriller THE RESIDENT.

Lee had many memorable parts outside the realm of horror and the fantastic as well, matching wits with Roger Moore’s James Bond as Scaramanga in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1973) playing the Comte de Rochefort in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974) and even serving as guest host of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in 1978. But he will always be remembered as the last of the great horror stars, and has left an indelible and influential mark on the genre.

About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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