In an age when people are justly cynical about the character of their heroes and celebrities, we still like to harbour a secret hope that some of them might actually be decent people. Well, by some glitch in the matrix, history handed us at least two gentlemen in the movies who showcased ultimate class, erudition, and charisma; and, as if that wasn’t enough, they happened to be quite close friends. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing made some twenty-two films together, many of which have become classics as irreplaceable as the two masters of the macabre themselves. On screen they were often adversaries, occasional allies, and sometimes just in the general vicinity of each other; but they were always classy and they remain unforgettable.
We can’t help but love how two guys famous for playing terrifying characters seem to have been genuinely nice in real life, and we’re here to celebrate ten of their greatest film collaborations. It will be difficult to discuss these movies without mentioning the great filmmaker Terence Fisher, who directed so many of them that he deserves to be an honorary member of this discussion; Fisher helped to pioneer a new wave of horror films that have held up remarkably well over the years. But here’s to Cushing and Lee, two heroes of horror – giants of the genre – and ten of the best movies they made together.
10. The Skull (1965) – Freddie Francis
The always reliable trio of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and director Freddie Francis join forces once again in this delightfully devilish tale of horror. The plot is taken from a short story by Robert Bloch, titled “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade,” and it’s every bit as fun as you’d expect. With a musical score by avant-garde composer Elisabeth Lutyens, The Skull is equipped with the perfect skeletal structure to build a great film around.
In London, the actual skull of the infamous Marquis de Sade is being passed among collectors of occult memorabilia, with disastrous results. The problem is that victims of the apparent curse on the skull can’t stick around long enough to warn the next owner. Christopher Lee plays a collector who wants to be rid of the dangerous object, and Peter Cushing plays one who is eager to obtain it. Can the two work together quickly enough to escape untimely ends, or will their passion for this twisted piece of history destroy them both? The Skull’s allure is undeniable.
9. Scream and Scream Again (1970) – Gordon Hessler
Look, we can’t possibly imagine anyone growing tired of the Lee and Cushing combo, but just in case you need an extra incentive to check out this little cinematic gem, you should know that it is also graced with the presence of the great Vincent Price. Yes, all three titans of terror appear here, making Scream and Scream Again an easy recommendation for that reason alone; but a strong script and an intriguing story also make this British sci-fi an all-around winner.
Based on Peter Saxon’s science fiction novel “The Disorientated Man,” Scream and Scream Again is an intriguing piece of sci-fi horror. Weaving three different story lines into one compelling tale, this is a unique film with a stellar cast. Lee plays an intelligence agent, Price is an eccentric transplant surgeon, and Cushing is a victim of a serial killer roaming London. Give this one a watch to discover the common thread that ties them all together and solves the mystery.
8. I, Monster (1971) – Stephen Weeks
Not only are we treated to performances by both Lee and Cushing in I, Monster, we’re given a double-dose of Sir Christopher, whose character takes a potion which turns him into an entirely different person. But that’s a prescription we’re all too happy to take, and by the end of the film you’re sure to be feeling fine until your next Cushing/Lee fix comes along.
I, Monster is a retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – a story so rich in imagination that perennial retellings never dim its shine. When a psychologist concocts a drug meant to free the inhibitions of his patients, he decides to perform a trial run on himself; but the results are disastrous, as his freed alter ego runs wild in violence in crime. Peter Cushing plays his lawyer, who begins to have suspicions and may soon be in danger of knowing too much. You won’t want to miss a minute of this thrilling classic.
7. Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) – Freddie Francis
This anthology is blessed with a cast to die for, two members of which are Lee and Cushing; add a young Donald Sutherland, and it’s going to be hard to go wrong. Thankfully, the film is also blessed with an intelligent and intriguing script, making it a real treat to watch. Packing five story segments into a film of average length, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors ensures that the viewer won’t experience a moment of boredom!
When five strangers become neighbors in a train car, they’re surprised to see a mysterious sixth figure joining them. This sixth guest is Peter Cushing, and he plays a Tarot card reader with important messages for each of his new companions. One by one, Cushing foretells the doom of each man in the train car, but also offers them a slim hope that their fortunes might yet be reversed. One of the unfortunate passengers is Christopher Lee, and for a change he is the skeptic of the group, with a strong hostility toward the supernatural; Lee turns in a dynamic performance as an insufferable art critic whose arrogance might be his undoing. This is one cinematic trip you’ll want a ticket for.
6. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) – Terence Fisher
It was inevitable that a legendary horror studio like Hammer would want to put their unique stamp on the Frankenstein story, and they did so in legendary fashion. The first in a series of films featuring Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein, The Curse of Frankenstein is a classic of the horror genre. Though Cushing and Lee are antagonists in this outing, and Lee is barely recognizable, a distinct magic is still palpable for fans of these two legends of the genre.
This initial installment in the Frankenstein series is the closest to the original literary story. In it, Peter Cushing is Victor Frankenstein, who becomes obsessed with creating new life from various parts from dead bodies. When his monstrous creation (played by Christopher Lee) comes to life, Frankenstein loses all control over it, and the newborn monster discovers its power to kill and destroy. The horror is handled with restraint and class, making this a classic worthy of frequent resurrections.