Peter Cushing – Horror Movie Month

Peter Cushing is my favorite horror actor. He is the only actor I have seen who properly captures the arrogance of Baron Frankenstein (which is good since he portrays Frankenstein six times for Hammer).

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

Ominous prophet Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing) informs five train passengers — including art critic Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) and physician Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) — about the grisly details of their imminent deaths in this anthology of eerie vignettes. Schreck tells Marsh that he will be maimed; that Carroll’s new bride has a supernatural secret life; and that architect Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) will be attacked by a werewolf.

Of all of Cushing’s films, this is the one I’d most recommend watching. Not because it’s the best but because it has never had a U.S. DVD or Blu-Ray release. While this appears to be sourced from a videotape transfer, the quality isn’t too bad and once it leaves Netflix you won’t be able to catch it anywhere.

Having said this, Dr. Terror is pretty standard fare for a portmanteau film. Cushing and Christopher Lee are wonderful and a very young Donald Sutherland is fun to watch. The movie is enjoyable but nothing special.

 

Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969)

After a drunk wanders into and disrupts his secret lab, Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) decides he must find a new place to set up shop. Conveniently, he finds an innocent young girl (Veronica Carlson) who happens to have a boyfriend (Simon Ward) employed by the local hospital. Seeing his opportunity, Dr. Frankenstein kidnaps the couple and forces them to take part in a dangerous brain-swapping experiment.

Cushing takes center stage here and this iteration of Frankenstein is his most ruthless. Gone are the almost paternal qualities he had in Frankenstein Created Woman and with one notable exception, his icy performance here is marvelous. The exception is that for some odd reason, there is an implied rape subplot shoehorned into the movie. Judging from character reactions after the incident, it appears as though this was added after normal filming.

The Vampire Lovers (1970) – Rated R

Fanged femme fatale Mircalla Karnstein (Ingrid Pitt) slakes her bloodlust for mortals of girlish figures in this Hammer horror story that has the 19th-century noblewoman stalking the Austrian countryside, bewitching young daughters at every turn. Appearing first as Marcilla, then as Carmilla, the insatiable siren steals women’s hearts and leaves ruin in her wake, but in grieving General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing), she may have met her match.

The Vampire Lovers is definitely an acquired taste. Here Hammer films reaches the 1970s and says goodbye to cleavage and hello to nudity! This is where they also play with the “exotic” concept of lesbianism. Peter Cushing is in fine form but is not in much of the film. Ingrid Pitt is the star here and is quite engaging as Mircalla/Marcilla/Carmilla as is Madeline Smith as Emma. The movie is quaint and often comes across as soft porn with the sex scenes removed.

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) – Rated PG

Devil-worshipping hippies revive Dracula (Christopher Lee) in this groovy 1970s Hammer Studios horror flick set in London. Thinking Dracula’s one cool cat, Johnny (Christopher Neame) and his psychedelic gang resurrect the count. The powerful creature of the night awakens with a mission: to destroy his archnemesis Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). It’s good vs. evil as Van Helsing faces Dracula in a thrilling final showdown.

Hammer realized after five period Draculas and countless period horror films that audiences wanted modern scares. The idea of bringing Dracula to a modern setting is not a bad one and the opening scene set in 1872 is pretty exciting. Having Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing reprise their roles as Dracula and Van Helsing was a no-brainer so why is this movie not a classic?

The script is hilarious and appears to be written by someone middle-aged who fears what the younger generation is up to. The counterculture is depicted in a mind-boggling fashion and a band is featured in an extended sequence that serves no purpose in the film. Christopher Lee is barely in the film but at least has some dialogue this time out. The fashions are marvelous – too bad the film isn’t.