Dracula seems to have returned to his tomb. Sir Christopher Lee, a true cultural icon, has passed at the age of 93. In his near 70 year career as an extremely prolific film actor, he portrayed so many roles that people of multiple generations could identify him with, whether it be the Hammer Films version of Dracula, Sarumon in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings & Hobbit film series, Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun, Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels or countless other roles. Still, he had many more interesting aspects to his life beyond his filmography; he served in multiple organizations during World War II (including the Royal Air Forces, The Finish Army and the Special Operations Executive espionage group), was a step cousin to James Bond creator Ian Fleming, performed vocals for various metal bands and spoke nine languages, amongst many other accomplishments.
Now, those are all very impressive facts, but none of them really speak to Sir Christopher’s astonishing presence on screen. The reason he rivals Bela Lugosi as the most recognizable and revered version of Dracula is because of his chilling ability to enter a room with his sleek tall slender frame and immediately become the center of attention by merely giving a glare and revealing his intimidating fangs. He even managed to capture a similar silent intimidation as the initial Hammer depictions of Frankenstein’s monster in 1957’s Curse of Frankenstein and Kharis in 1959’s The Mummy. Despite Lee’s rejection of his vampiric role due to the lesser quality of his later Hammer works, the poise he flaunted in that part was recognized by so many filmmakers over the subsequent decades, particularly with his roles as Sarumon or Count Dooku. There was an authenticity to that intimidation Lee showed off, which was definitively confirmed in a moment director Peter Jackson relayed during the commentary of Return of the King;
“When I was shooting the stabbing shot with Christopher, as a director would, I was explaining to him what he should do… And he says, ‘Peter, have you ever heard the sound a man makes when he’s stabbed in the back?’ And I said, ‘Um, no.’ And he says ‘Well, I have, and I know what to do.’”
Even when he was more of a protagonist, there was still this subdued regal charm clearly dwelling deep within him that feels comforting yet could easily switch on our lead character at any moment. This sort of presence can be felt in everything from the paranoia fueled horror of his secret cult leader Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man to even the zany comedy of a disease obsessed scientist lugging around an Invasion of the Body Snatchers pod in Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Roles like this showed that Lee had a softer or more comedic side that displayed his versatility as a performer. So, it’s with a heavy heart that we say farewell to the great actor, in only the most appropriate fashion… with his work in face melting metal. RIP, Sir Christopher Lee.