Monday, 23 December 2013


The appeal of Hammer horror extended across the globe, earning Lee and Cushing fans in all walks of life. One such fan was Sammy Davis, Jr., who pulled his weight on the set of One More Time (1970) by compelling director Jerry Lewis to bring the two actors in for a cameo appearance.


The loosely plotted and non-too-amusing sequel to Salt and Pepper (1968) focused on the continued adventures of nightclub owners Charles Salt (Davis, Jr.) and Christopher Pepper (Peter Lawford).  The addition of a sight gag involving the sudden – and poorly covered – appearance of Count Dracula (Lee) and Baron Frankenstein (Cushing) in a rather impoverished-looking “mad lab” set no doubt baffled the film’s target audience.  In any event, Lee and Cushing appear to have had fun filming their cameo and working with the gifted Davis, Jr. Next up, Lee and Cushing returned to Amicus for another anthology.  Lee had originally been slated to appear opposite Cushing in the “Man Who Collected Poe” segment of Torture Garden (1967), but Columbia wanted an American star – so Jack Palance got the gig instead.

Cinerama, the distributors of The House That Dripped Blood, were only too happy to have the reigning British kings of horror on board.  The screenplay was penned by Robert Bloch and dealt with a house with an unfortunate past, which is at the center of an investigation into the disappearance of ham horror star Paul Henderson (a terrific Jon Pertwee, playing a role originally ear-marked for Vincent Price).

Lee and Cushing would not share any screen time, as they occupied separate segments, but both actors were at the top of their game here.  Lee is by turns imposing, frightening, despicable and moving as the ice-cold father of an angelic little girl (Chloe Franks, who very nearly steals the show) who is not everything she appears to be.


Cushing brings an air of melancholy to his role as a retired stock broker who falls under the spell of a statue of Salome.  The sadness radiating from Cushing could be attributed to his ongoing panic over the deteriorating health of his beloved Helen.  The actor was reluctant to face facts, but she was not to be by his side for much longer.

The film was another hit for Amicus, thanks in large part to an admittedly tacky title which would prove to be the bane of director Peter Duffell’s existence; it wasn’t subtle (even if the film itself was – you’ll note, there isn’t a drop of blood in the film itself) but it helped to put people in the seats.

Lee and Cushing would round out 1970 by reteaming for another Amicus production.  On the face of it, I, Monster was more typical of Hammer than Amicus: it was period-set and would tell only one story.  The adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s venerable “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” would remain true to the source material – and to Subotsky’s overall credo with regards to downplaying graphic shock effects.

Sadly, the film would be overrun with bad luck.  Peter Duffell elected to pass on the picture, fearing becoming typecast as a genre director, and Lee would recommend the young (21 at the time of filming) filmmaker Stephen Weeks on the strength of his short film 1917 (1970), which had impressed the actor.  Weeks would prove ill-equipped to cope with Subotsky’s dialogue-heavy script or the additional baggage of a half-baked 3D process with which the producer decided to burden the production.  Thoughts of 3D exhibition dried up part of the way into filming, but the damage was already done – the material would prove awkward and difficult to cut together, and the film would pretty much just lie there… bereft of life, despite some interesting art direction and a brilliant central performance from Lee.

As Lee has often said, it makes very little sense that Subotsky saw fit to write the most faithful adaptation of Stevenson’s novella, only to change the names of the central character(s) while leaving all the other names intact.  Whatever the thinking was, the moniker I, Monster would prove to be off-putting for many viewers and the film would slide into relative obscurity.  This is to be regretted because, at the very least, the film is worth seeing for Lee’s performance.  He is tremendously effective as the repressed Dr. Marlowe, who transforms into the free-spirited and vicious Mr. Blake.  Lee seizes every opportunity available to him, making this one of his most memorable characterizations.

Cushing, sadly, is squandered in a dull supporting role.  His performance as the stuffy lawyer Utterson is professional, but the role gives him no opportunity for shading or nuance.  Worse still, he is forced to share several scenes with the amateurish Mike Raven, a disc jockey turned actor who was making an open bid for horror stardom at that time.  The film would prove to be a relatively minor footnote in the Amicus canon, but a life-changing event was in the works for Cushing – and from that point on, life, as he knew it, would hold precious little meaning.


'A Talent To Terrify : The Twenty Two Films Of Peter Cushing And Christopher Lee' is written by Troy Howarth with Artwork and Images by Marcus Brooks. 

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