Gary Collinson presents Five Essential Christopher Lee Villains…
Enjoying an incredible career spanning over sixty years and with more than 250 credits to his name, British actor Sir Christopher Lee has earned his place as a true legend of the screen. After serving in the Royal Air Force and intelligence services during World War II, Lee secured a seven-year deal with the British film company Rank Organisation in 1946 and made his debut the following year. Over the next decade the aspiring actor made numerous appearances before gaining international recognition as one of the leading faces of the Hammer Horror revolution.
Perfecting the role of the villain, Lee went on to appear in a number of acclaimed features and popular franchises such as James Bond, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. He is also a frequent collaborator of filmmaker Tim Burton, most recently supplying voice work for Alice in Wonderland, and will return to the horror genre later this year in three features: Hammer’s The Resident, supernatural thriller Season of the Witch and a reunion with The Wicker Man director Robin Hardy for The Wicker Tree.
Without further ado, here are my picks for the five essential Christopher Lee villains, appropriately ranked in terms of sheer villainy…
In compiling this article the choice of what to include in fifth – or rather, what to exclude from the list – was perhaps the most difficult decision of all with his extensive back catalogue providing more than a few worthy options. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to go for Francisco Scaramanga, the crack-shot villain of the ninth Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Lee is excellent in an otherwise mediocre Bond and his plan – to hijack solar energy and more importantly, “to create one indisputable masterpiece… the death of 007” – is just about evil enough to earn the tri-nippled assassin his place on the list.
4. Lord Summerisle
After finding international success with Hammer in the 50s and 60s, Lee wanted to explore new territory and collaborated with screenwriter Alex Shaffer and director Robin Hardy to bring David Pinner’s 1967 novel The Ritual to the screen. Lee stars as suave heretic Lord Summerisle, owner and magistrate of a Scottish island who also happens to serve as the head of a perverse neopagan cult. After a failed harvest, they lure policeman and devout Christian Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) to the island as a human sacrifice, leading to a shocking and powerful climax that remains haunting to this day. Lee will also appear in Robin Hardy’s ‘spiritial sequel’ The Wicker Tree, scheduled for release later this year.
Lord of the Rings fan Lee realised a lifetime ambition when he appeared in Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy trilogy, albeit as the traitorous wizard Saruman as opposed to his dream role of Gandalf. The head of the White Council, Saruman is corrupted by a lust for power that leads him into an allegiance with the Dark Lord Sauron against the people of Middle-Earth. Lee’s suitably menacing performance introduced him to a new generation of movie fans and led to a career resurgence, while Saurman would surely feature higher if he wasn’t second fiddle to a gigantic flaming eyeball.
2. Count Dooku
After waging war on Middle-Earth as Saruman, Lee’s next move was to threaten an entire galaxy when he followed Hammer contemporary Peter Cushing in joining the blockbuster franchise Star Wars. He stars as Count Dooku, a fallen Jedi and leader of the Separatist movement who also happens to be a treacherous Sith Lord. Dooku is criminally underused and his scenes in Attack of the Clones (2002) – particularly his confrontation with Yoda, which bagged Lee an MTV Award for Best Fight – are the highlights of the movie. However, as with Saruman, Dooku is little more than a pawn to a greater evil therefore the elder statesman has to settle for second place.
1. Count Dracula
Who else could top this list but the Prince of Darkness himself? Bram Stoker’s creation is the true embodiment of evil and a character that remains synonymous with the veteran actor, with Lee first donning the fangs for Hammer’s 1958 classic Dracula (US: Horror of Dracula). He w would go on to reprise his role in six sequels of varying quality between 1966 and 1973, along with appearances in the underrated European effort Count Dracula (1970) and French comedy Dracula and Son (1976). However, unlike Bela Lugosi, the part of Dracula proved to be Lee’s springboard to success and allowed him to go on to enjoy an extensive and varied career that makes him a strong candidate for the greatest screen villain of all time.
Movies… For Free! The City of the Dead (1960)
Movies… For Free! Horror Express (1973)
Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your comments on the list…