Christopher Lee is Dead. Long Live Christopher Lee!




Sir Christopher Lee died this week, although we’re just hearing about it today. He was 93, and an actor of uncommon talent, although because of his looks, his height, and the depth of his voice, he will forever be known for his villainous and monstrous roles.

For many of these latest generations, Lee will be remembered as Saruman the White in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels.  He played pirates, generals, demonologists, wizards, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, Lord Baskerville, the Man with the Golden Gun, a bit part in 2012’s Dark Shadows, and three roles (one uncredited) on one of my all-time favorite tv series:  The Avengers.


Dr. Frank N. Stone, android maker, in “Never, Never Say Die,” The Avengers


But for me, and for the millions of horror film fanatics across the world, Lee will always be firstly and royally  remembered as the king of the undead, the Prince of Darkness, Dracula.


He brought to the role a grandeur, an elegance, that Lugosi never had.  He brought to the role a primal energy, an almost erotic vitality, that wanted to explode off the screen.  1958’s Horror of Dracula remains Lee’s best portrayal of Stoker’s creation, and, for me and many others, the single best portrayal of Dracula ever filmed.  Rumors abound about Lee’s first, quintessential outing as the vampiric count finally being released in the U.S. on Blu-Ray this year.  It’s been two years since the restored version was released abroad, but no such luck here yet.

Dracula dies and keeps coming back.  It’s just like the rising and the setting of the sun.  Sir Christopher is gone to us now, yet his legacy–decades of memorable roles, hours upon hours of storytelling about good vs. evil, magic and reality–remain.  Sir Christopher Lee will shine forever on the silver screen and our flat screens.

Dracula lives!


Horror of Dracula…Restored! (But not for the U.S.)

Some of you probably don’t remember when there were only three networks on television, and when less than a handful of channels were available to watch on UHF channels and the distant channels flickering with static from out of town. It was considered really late night viewing to watch Johnny Carson between 11:30 pm and 1:00 am, at first, and then 11:30 to 12:30 when he went to just an hour. There were only a few other late night shows, premiering mostly in the late ’70s; but in mid-1972 there were only Carson, Cavett…and the CBS Late Movie.

Here is a true fan’s comprehensive list of movies and shows that ran late night on the CBS Late Movie.  It was a great time to be a movie fan who was starved for entertainment, because finally you’d be able to see movies and tv shows you had only heard about before.  For me, that meant some of the movies mentioned in my favorite magazines, The Monster Times and Famous Monsters of Filmland.

The best newspaper ever.

The best newspaper ever.

Occasionally, at some point in ’72 or ’73, CBS would promote and broadcast one film, and then, during the broadcast, announce that a second film would follow.  This didn’t happen often, but, on one occasion, they showed a second, unheralded movie that I had been afraid I would never get the chance to see.  (And, if you’re wondering, the list I linked to only gives the titles of the first movies broadcast at 11:30.)

Think about that, now, here, in the 21st Century, when almost every old movie is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, YouTube, Hulu, Vudu, Netflix, or BitTorrented…

The movie I refer to is, as far as I’m concerned, the finest adaptation of the novel Dracula ever filmed.  Horror of Dracula, produced by the great Hammer Film Studio in 1958, is as primal and as sensually powerful as it was 56 years ago.

However, over the years, the distributor, Warner Bros., or Hammer lost some of the footage due to censorship issues around the world.  I have Horror of Dracula on DVD, and it is not the same film I saw on CBS in the ’70s.  Specifically, Dracula’s death scene has been cut in every recording I’ve viewed ever since.  It was, perhaps, the most powerful demise of Dracula I’ve ever seen, simply because it was so visceral, so groundbreaking, for 1958.  And that is why portions of the scene were cut from the finished film.


This is part of the death scene that has been unseen in this country since the early 1970s.


For decades, I wondered what happened.  Now, that scene has been restored to all its phantasmagoric glory, along with at least one scene I don’t remember, in a Blu-Ray produced for Region 2…the UK and Europe.  But not for us here in the States.


The Blu-Ray was released in spring of 2013, and carefully restores and color corrects the vintage film.  But it’s not yet available here.  Okay, I don’t get it.  I know that there’s a built-in audience in Hammer’s native England, but the sheer numbers of horror lovers are enormous right here in the US.  To me, the restored is a natural for horror fans, Dracula scholars.

It has been almost two years.  It’s time to offer this Blu-Ray to the vampire lovers in the States.  Warner Video…get this into the stores!  Until then, the death scene is viewable on YouTube…

Lord of the Undead

The most popular image is not necessarily the best.
Boris Karloff’s portrayal of The Monster is arguably the first and strongest image that springs to the collective mind when the word Frankenstein is spoken; yet there have been other visions of The Monster, such as Bernie Wrightson’s: beloved by comic art fans because of the artist’s intricate line work, shadow play and evocative stylistics–yet the masses are barely aware of his arguably finer version of Mary Shelley’s creature.
Most people are familiar with Conan (not O’Brien) because of Ahnold Schwarzenegger.
But Conan the Barbarian never would have been produced in the early ’80s if writer Roy Thomas had not started adapting Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories for Marvel Comics in the early ’70s.  The most popular version of Conan was that drawn by veteran comics artist John Buscema.
Musclebound, gorilla-like, savage, and certainly primitive.  But this vision of Conan, the one that found mass popularity around the world, was not the Conan of the first, classic issues.
This first issue was an artistic anomaly.  Artist Barry Smith was heavily inked to make his illustrative style more like Jack Kirby–more Marvelesque.  The right inker was quickly matched with Smith’s pseudo-antique style, and Barry Windsor Smith’s Conan exploded into the public consciousness.
By Crom!  Isn’t his black and white work simply amazing?
Ultimately, Smith’s Conan is the consummate Conan.
Unfortunately, Buscema’s Conan is the one people remember.
Now, let’s talk about the prince of darkness, the king of the vampires, the lord of the undead.  No, not Rush Limbaugh.
Of course, Bela Lugosi immediately springs first to mind–it was his 1931 portrayal that solidified the image of the aristocratic Count as the typical, popularized vampire.  And each culture or generation has tried to make Dracula in its own image.
 Max Schreck, Nosferatu, 1922
In case you didn’t know, this was the first–and completey unauthorized–adaptation of Dracula.
 Christopher Lee, Horror of Dracula, 1958
Primal bloodlust and eroticism at its finest.
 Frank Langella, Dracula, 1978
Disco hair.
 Gary Oldman, Francis Ford Coppolla’s Dracula, 1992
My mind is still trying to grapple with Keanu Reeves’s awful English accent.
Buffy met Dracula on TV in 1997.

For comic book fans, the single best version, as imagined by the late Gene Colan, Tomb of Dracula, 1970s
Lee’s Dracula is far superior than others, to me, at least, because of the sheer ferocity of his portrayal.  The imagery of the Hammer Dracula embodies blood and violence and sexuality in ways that would best be explored in a doctoral thesis.  Nevertheless, each version of Dracula captures the imagination of many . . . but it’s Lugosi’s image that the world still remembers most (even though the 1931 version may possibly be the dullest version ever made.  Sorry, purists).
Besides being popular and beloved fictional characters, Conan and Dracula now have something else in common.  New illustrated versions of their stories are currently being published, both drawn by a relative newcomer to illustration and comic art, but one whose artistic voice is essentially 21st century in style, yet as evocative and inspiring as Barry Smith’s Conan and Gene Colan’s Dracula (and let’s include Berni Wrightson’s Frankenstein, as well).
The illustrator is Becky Cloonan, and you can see for yourself at her website and in these few samples that her artistic vision is uniquely contemporary, yet she captures the timeless essence of the stories she transforms.
 Cover of Conan: Queen of the Black Coast
The queen of the Black Coast, Belit
Dracula just came out in hardcover, and its illustrations are, perhaps, the best I’ve ever seen in any edition, combining the color and sensuality of a Hammer production with the gentility of Victorian romance and gothic mystery.
 Publicity poster
 The brides of Dracula
I urge you to buy these books and love them, especially Dracula.  The story is as wonderful today as it was when it was published in 1897–and this edition is magnificent in terms of Cloonan’s illustrations and Iris Shih’s book design.

Becky Cloonan is one of today’s best.

Get Becky Cloonan’s Dracula.
Get Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein.
Get Becky Cloonan’s
Conan comic books at Stories Comics.


If only Dracula, the classic adventure-horror tale by Bram Stoker, had never captured the world’s imagination and become an icon of supernatural literature, then perhaps its first (so far) official sequel would not seem so bad.

But Dracula is not only a good book, it’s a great book — an allegorical archetype that has proved as deathless as its title character. And Dracula the Un-Dead, co-written by Stoker’s great-great-nephew and by a Dracula scholar, is not great, nor even remotely good. Instead it’s a big-budget, Hollywood equivalent of a timeless, supernatural classic: filled with dumb, uninspired action, disrespectful, spiteful of its far-superior predecessor, and plotted with pointless rush-rush* that only the least discriminating reader will enjoy. It has a couple of good ideas, but the whole endeavor is so amateurishly executed that it should drive a stake through its own heart and put the public out of our literary misery.

This sequel, the first of a planned trilogy, subverts Stoker’s classic in many ways: it changes the timeline, it ties the action in with the murders committed by Jack the Ripper five years prior to the action in Dracula, and it makes a mockery of the honor and sacrifice of the original’s characters by killing them off in the most ignoble of ways. If the original was so wrong in so many ways, why even bother to capitalize on it with a sequel?

The real villain of this novel — the behind the scenes evil genius of the secret-story premise — is Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess of history and legend. She’s been used before in Dracula tales, and will be used again — she’s just too convenient not to use. At the same time, using her is not original at all — it’s old hat, as is the book’s concept of vampirism: we’ve seen it all on the screen, in Buffy, Lost Boys and Fright Night: grotesque mockeries of humanity aided and abetted by metamorphing CGI. There’s no relationship here between the undead of the original, nor even the undead of the single best Dracula-inspired novel, 1975’s ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. King’s creation of Barlow, who is clearly the Dracula the 20th and 21st centuries deserve, is so far above and away from this book’s Dracula, who at best is a cardboard character, weak and utterly gentrified. He’s less the Lord of the Undead and the Prince of Darkness and more like Count Chocula. Bleh. Bleh.

By the time the reader reaches the revelations at the end, anyone who cares about Dracula will not care about the climax. There has been no restraint; no elegance. It’s all pandering to a commercial audience instead of telling a brilliant and creative story deserving of the original.

Dracula may be undead, but this book is Dracula the Un-Readable.

* Pointless rush-rush” is a term borrowed from a review of Surrogates in the Los Angeles Times. It captures perfectly the unintelligent pacing and action endemic in Hollywood’s youth-oriented action films today. I plan on using it a lot.