This week marks the birthdays of three men who made a profound impact on my life growing up: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price. What’s remarkable about this is that there is just one day difference between the birthdays of these three masters of the macabre: Cushing’s birthday was yesterday, May 26; while Lee and Price’s are today, May 27. And while it’s been nearly 20 years since Vincent Price and Peter Cushing left us, Sir Christopher Lee is – at 89 years of age – still going strong and seemingly more in demand than ever for films roles.
So, to pay tribute to these legendary titans of terror, I thought I would showcase some pieces here of my collection of Lee, Cushing and Price memorabilia.
I began watching these films at quite a young age, probably when I was around five years old or so. I have vivid memories of the first Hammer Dracula flick I ever saw. It was a Friday or Saturday night back in the mid-1970s, and I was watching the 11:00 PM edition of Eyewitness News on Channel 7. Anchor Irv Weinstein came on and introduced the station’s upcoming late movie: Dracula, Prince of Darkness. Although the film kind of scared me, I was in awe of Lee’s hissing, powerful Dracula. And from then on, I was a fan.
I can honestly say that if I had never started watching (or reading about) about the creepy cinematic adventures of these gentleman of horror all those years ago, I would never have become the horror fan I am today. I most likely would never have started writing for Rue Morgue. And I wouldn’t be doing this post right now.
I’m sure I must have drove my parents crazy with my obsession over Hammer films. One year for Halloween, when I was seven, I desperately wanted to go out trick-or-treating as Dracula. But not any version of the Count; not Bela Lugosi. No, it had to be Christopher Lee. So, not being satisfied with the assortment of cheap black plastic capes in the stores, I asked my mother if she would make me a “cloak” – with a red satin lining, just like Lee’s. Thus, she reluctantly cannibalized a black coat (by removing the black lining from it) and a red dress – and I soon had my “cloak.” That, along with a pair of plastic fangs and I was happy. And since I wound up using the same cape for the next couple of Halloweens, I think it was a pretty good investment on her part.
Soon after, I was able to catch the other Dracula films in the series like Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and Scars of Dracula when they played on television during Saturday and Sunday afternoon matinees. Can you even imagine such a thing as Saturday afternoon matinees of monster movies nowadays? It seems almost unthinkable.
Around that same time, I also began watching the films of Peter Cushing: the various entries to Hammer’s Frankenstein series like The Evil of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Created Woman, as well as Amicus flicks like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and The Beast Must Die! At the time, it struck me as interesting that Cushing appeared in so many of the same films as Lee – oftentimes as adversaries and I wondered how they got along in real life. But though they often battled it out on the screen, they were (along with Price) the best of friends off of it.
The first Vincent Price films I remember watching was a double bill of The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again — also when I was around five or six years of age. Being the imaginative kid I was, I immediately constructed a pseudo-Phibes skull mask out of cardboard and took a white bedsheet in order to dress up as the homicidal, revenge-seeking organist. To heighten my macabre playtime, I even made a Phibes ”organ” out of cardboard boxes and paper! No wonder other kids thought I was strange …
And while I love The Fly, Return of the Fly, the Corman/Poe adaptations, Theatre of Blood, Witchfinder General and the like, I’m still most fond of the two Phibes films.
As a teenager, I didn’t spend my money on clothes and shoes like other kids. Instead, I used a good portion of it on vintage horror movie memorabilia: posters, lobby cards, stills, soundtrack albums and the like – much of it from films that Lee, Price and Cushing had appeared in. Some of the most prized possession in my collection are the items I first bought: film posters, lobby cards and stills and tie-in novelizations, as well as the autographed stills I later acquired from various Hammer stars.
No book collection would be complete with a few biographies and autobiographies. I was fortunate enough to meet Christopher Lee around twelve years ago or so at a classic horror convention in the Washington D.C./Baltimore area and had him autograph a copy of his autobiography, Tall, Dark and Gruesome for me.
Last year, I was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview Sir Christopher for the piece “Royal Blood,” which ran in Issue #100 of Rue Morgue. Needless to say, it was an experience I’ll never forget. And to make it even more fantastic, I later went on to win a Rondo Award for the piece.
Over the past decade or so, there have been several companies that have put out 12-inch collectible figures based on classic horror film characters. While Sideshow Toys released their popular line of Universal Monsters figures, companies like Product Enterprise and (the now-defunct) Majestic Studios went on to release figures based on Lee and Price.
Over the years, a British company named GDI Records released a number of Hammer soundtracks on CD. Comprised of both singular film offerings and compilation collections, they are truly fantastic items and a must for fans. Additionally, other collectibles like mugs, t-shirts, calenders, and even costume accessories were released by various companies within the U.K.
Some enterprising people have even made their own items like busts, figurines and dolls. I picked the following piece up at a convention some time back from an artist that goes under the name “Clay Guy.”
That concludes my little tour of my collection of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price memorabilia. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. And Happy Birthday to the Masters of the Macabre!