A Centennial Celebration of Movie Joy
A Dedication and Review of
Peter Wilton Cushing, OBE.
26th May 1913 – 11th August 1994.
By E.D. Leach.
The Cult Movie Review will now attempt to do justice to one of cinemas great icons… “nay legend” by expressing our delight and gratitude toward his work by writing about not just one of the greatest actors of a certain golden age of cinema but also someone who had a significant personal influence on what is undoubtedly TCMR’s favoured movie genre, resulting in we here and doubtless those regular to this site whom I imagine many will also be fans of this great man and his massive canon of genre work. It is also necessary to note before we step forward with this particular review that the following article on completion has been a particular great undertaking on my behalf. As a fan I have attempted with this (mini)-biographical review based upon this individual character who had an astonishing career longevity and formidable movie association, therefore I fear I may be taking on slightly more than one should but because of his personal importance and this being a centenary celebration of his life and work, I should at least attempt to do the right thing in my own usual convoluted way, so without further hesitation… here we go!
There are many talented actors past, present and doubtless future that will in time remain important to both movie fans and I alike on a personal level and during a lifetime of viewing an assortment of movies. It is true to suggest that many of these people often are an aesthetic integral reason behind why our love of film is what it becomes. Behind every great stand out movie event is often a stand out individual acting aberration that gives greater credence and a complementary additional ingredient, that something often very special to any cinematic classic(s) output. Being a fan of movies can also often lead to a high pre-conceived expectancy level being raised about certain individuals, they often becoming idolised by the viewing public… unfortunately more oftly there lies the possibility of said worship leading to an ultimate and bitter disappointment, a bi-product that frequently occurs when we as mere fans pin our hopes and fandom on certain famous stars of the entertainment world, be that in film, music, literature, theatre, etc. It is quite clear on this occasion however that the man behind this review and all the superlatives I will speak of shall only add to what we already know about this fascinating character who had no conceivable public or private (off-putting) foibles that would lead to said bitter disappointment, which again in this case was very rare and refreshing and in this day and age is largely non existent. To know the modesty of this particular gentleman who was not just brilliant at his craft but long after the camera’s stopped rolling was often a private man whom was noted for his unconditional love and dedication, a doting toward his wife (Violet) Helen Beck, he also having a notable loyalty toward close friends alike. This particular review is not just an ‘In memoriam’ aspect of just any actor… as we do not do normal, what we prefer is to offer unique, often extraordinary people that have contributed and defined greatness within cinema culture or genre specifics, they have become a part of a film fans lifelong companionship in large part.
“A constant welcomed passage of movie memories that indelibly stain the fabric of the brain – forever after imprinted”.
We can also extend all this great cinematic good fortune with fond thoughts that sometime later down the genre line two acting nobilities would be formed as a result of this horror construction, as on many subsequent occasions both would join the ranks of an on screen alliance that would represent horror movie iconography that has never… ever been equalled since.
Please note that during this review time-lines and events will on occasion collide as most film release dates do not necessarily come during year of film production so please bear that in mind when reading on.
For me personally, celebrating the important centenary year **26th May 2013** of the majestic Peter Cushing fits TCMR bill perfectly and to this day and many decades after his passing it is easy to note the total epitome of traditional acting excellence offered forward by this individual actor’s great talent and on screen presence beside he also being quintessentially horror movie royalty, a bonus! who I may also add is by far and away one of my favourite British actor of all time (seriously). Noting again in my opinion he was also one of the worlds great elite actors… that simple. This gentleman of the silver screen and television was in essence so much more than just a perceived typecast individual even if he later in his career became renowned for his ‘horror’ status tag (which he dearly loved by the way). There was no underline arrogance, pomposity or regret in Peter Cushing’s manner at any time during his illustrious career path choice nor life.
It does not really surprise me at all what most people would immediately think of when Peter Cushing is mentioned in conversation. The usual reply would most definitely be his prolific work in the horror medium. This actor also goes on to prove a valid and important point in displaying his acting prowess, work ethic and attitude. Here was a man who simply enjoyed his work and always appreciated his later good fortune in being able to work in his profession of choice – from humble theatrical beginnings until his eventual resulting on screen success and with it the subsequent reward and trimmings (though still modest by the standards of today) followed as a result of his continued work and eventual fame and success throughout what would be a great established career, he in return ‘always’ reciprocated this with performances that exuded even added a greater gravitas to the work in hand and indeed his own personal acting standards, particularly in horror movies, something often overlooked and not always credited to both Cushing and the genre as a whole. I personally find the art of horror on most occasions just as important and rewarding as any other fictitious or reality based subject matter and greatly dislike the snobbery that often surrounds those who choose to stick their nose up in the air at the genre in both literature and movie terms. Peter Cushing does indeed define the reason why I find such social misapprehension a great sadness, especially by people so blinkered and so one dimensional in their thinking. Alas their loss in not appreciating a fine acting talent the like of Peter Cushing is in many ways a horror fans unique gain as we are left to glory in his many splendid career performances and also enjoy his deep rooted Britishness often with a devoted glee. Let me also take this opportunity to point out (clearly) that Peter Cushing was just as comfortable in the earlier stages of his career in both touring theatre (homeland and worldwide) and his tenure in numerous television productions which came before his later more associated work, choosing here that very case in point by highlighting one of his early film performances in Shakespearian fair the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier’s version of Hamlet 1948 in which he played Osric, or on actually touring with the aforementioned Olivier’s production company in the personal company of the great man, Olivier. Peter Cushing’s early television work included a starring role as a little known Jane Austen character called Fitzwilliam Darcy in a BBC adaptation of Pride and prejudice 1952. He was just as at home playing historical figures, King Richard II in Richard of Bordeaux, 1955 again for the BBC, (noting The National Film Theatre – NFT still have this particular version in their formidable and extensive archive) as he was chasing The Count around Transylvania/Klausenberg? (and other such places), or ambitions of creating the creature/monster (Adam), he as the Baron. He was adept at carrying off great literary characters of massive stature and formidable legend and made them his own. Again his star turn in an early 1954 BBC adaptation of George Orwell’s, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which he played the lead character Winston Smith, was a performance that was originally broadcast ‘live’ no less and also gained him great plaudits and critical acclaim I should add. During his illustrious career he also played Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s eponymous Sherlock Holmes on numerous occasions and eventually a portrayal of Conan Doyle. One of his many memorably highlighted roles coming in his début portrayal of the detective in Terence Fisher’s (a life long career association) 1959 Hammer production of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, again making his performance look both natural, stylish and equal if not often better to those who had previously and have since taken on such auspicious a role. He also defied convention by upsetting (a small minority) of an early established (avid) fan base by taking on the role of Dr Who in two Amicus productions. ‘Dr Who and the Daleks, 1965 and the follow up Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. 1966. Based on the Doctor Who BBC Sci-fi series. He was easily able to adapt his acting style in order to play individuals of many different type and social background with brilliant often complex nuance detail. He was however at his most stunning and brilliant best in performances that required a touch of narcissism, conflict ridden characterisations, be they extrovert in demeanour, touched by obsessive viewpoints or tainted by an inner madness or the extremes of evil. He was also just as at ease playing noblemen or characters of good moral appeal and anything in between the two strands of ‘good and evil’… he always capable of adding that little bit extra to any character he took on board. Peter Cushing was a tremendous character actor and even by acting contemporary standards of today he would undoubtedly stand tall over many of those who we consider special or unique in acting terms. That is how important Peter Cushing was in the scheme of early cinema onward and the lasting impression he has left since his passing. Fortunately for horror fans most of his work came via a great British institution of the time and quickly made him a household name not just in the UK but also as the case would become; A world renowned figure.
His early work for the BBC had shown off his obvious talent before hand, so his eventual move into the film establishment would make him a cultural genre icon for his ‘would-be’ long association with Hammer productions. This formidable coming-together would also make this famous recipe of horror entertainment offer up a massive appeal to cinema audiences all over the globe – Cushing/Hammer in conjunction becoming one of the new identifiable images for the second coming of the horror genre and all it encompassed. The whole movie world now looked on with envious eyes as this combination of evolved acting delight and massive highlighted production values (often by one of Hammer’s unsung heroes Bernard Robinson – Production designer) lit up cinema screens as Hammer would now provide its audience with Eastman/Technicolor exquisiteness which began to define new cinematic standards for the franchise and a new cinema going public. From the middle of the 1950’s to the early stages of the 1970’s Hammer held a great sway over the horror market in particular and like no other association had done since Hollywood’s earlier cinematic horror dawn created often by the likes of Universal Pictures or RKO Pictures, studios with great visionary – ahead of its time studio output. Hammer also came a number of years before the Italian’s started to be highlighted for their own conceptual visions and stylising of great genre work from the likes of Ricardo Freda, Mario Bava, two of the earlier Italian genre trailblazers.
Peter Cushing was one of two great actors that became the main focal point with this new awe inspiring genre masterclass of horror inspiration. Hammer found no risk in regularly using the man from Surrey to be one of their staple acting figureheads for their large canon of work to come. We must also consider other unusual aspects that arose from this powerful tour-de-force combination of production company and loyal acting talents. Enter one Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, a fellow actor that not only would become an iconic visual entity in his own remarkable right and again in association with Hammer Films but he would also become a lifelong personal friend of Peter Cushing whom both together would also share the spoils of much of their subsequent success and screen time, (often with irony as cinematic foes!) though this did not mirror in the slightest their off screen loyal friendship.
Let us just for one moment take stock of all these amazing conspiring coalition’s and what all this came to represent in terms of horror cinema and filmmaking as a whole industry. What was being offered forward here is a very rare commodity that today’s film studios and producers would offer great riches to obtain. That is what makes this particular piece of historical provenance resonate so strongly with people of a certain age and vintage. The pieces of this particular puzzle fitted perfectly through concise visionary choice and even today is still something very special and often makes me smile like a lune with a happiness often unsurpassed. Undoubtedly you can not mention Peter Cushing’s aligned career path without mentioning his younger friend and acting colleague Christopher Lee in the same breath, though both stood independent in regard of great acting ability, one already established, one up and coming. Their tandem ride into horror is a very important part of cinema history and I for one will forever appreciate its everlasting impression and the massive contribution that it offered a certain warped Mancunian childhood (or was I really?) and now with hindsight of adulthood, I feel all this became an integral and important part of my fascination and love of horror.
In 1957 what I will call the magical arc alliance emerged, a group/collision of people that became long term components associated with the name Hammer Films, a long partnership that would go on to delight cinema audiences and in particular horror fans in a revolutionary way. Hammer films released ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’, filmed in late ’56 and early ’57. With Hammer producer Anthony Hinds long term vision for franchise supremacy and Terence Fisher in the directors chair and Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein would take lead and become the very insidious beating heart behind this horror drama based on Mary Shelley’s novel. The idea behind this particular re-telling focused specifically upon the Baron character and his obsession in the study of the human condition and his obsessive attempts to become ‘Godlike’ by re-creating life in his perceived image. The Sangster? written script focusing to a larger degree on Frankenstein and his pathological obsession and the extreme measures he would engage in in order to achieve his ultimate goals.
The Creature of ‘Curse’ though important is not necessarily the real monster of the piece – the film concentrating more about the frailties of compulsive human endeavour rather than the familiarity of Universals earlier version that concentrated more upon the trials and tribulations of Karloff’s monster creation whom was thrust unceremoniously into a world of confusion and ultimate condemnation. At this point you would think that alone would rightly satisfy those who wished to subscribe to difference but as this was Hammer placing down a significant marker by showing the world the glorious possibilities of production value and acting supremacy the talent does not end their… oh no! Add Jimmy Sangster’s (screenplay), ”Hold on one moment reviewer, who is this J.S. Character I here you enquire… My answer – “you are joking right?”
He was an extremely important part of the Hammer empire, his screenplays going on to create a new era of refining screenwriting processes and re-shaping some of literatures original and legendary monsters for application upon the big screen. Without Jimmy Sangster everything ‘Hammer’ would often simply fall apart, that is the legacy I feel this great man gave to the genre and yes he will most definitely be mentioned innumerable times during this Peter Cushing review and future reviews aside, that is how important Jimmy Sangster was to Hammer films. Okay uninitiated may I continue please… ”I thank you!”
“Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein”
Okay so we have Hammer/Hinds ✓. We have Peter Cushing ✓. We have Terence Fisher ✓ at the helm and as we have just explained we have a screenplay written by one Jimmy Sangster ✓. So what the hell is missing… Well Hell itself? (Right… enough smart arsery Ed!) what are you warbling about reviewer. The creature… I am talking about the monster of the piece of course. Mary Shelley’s fictional nightmare abomination. The Creature – Christopher Lee, all 6ft 5in of him. (It is believed Carry On’s Bernard Bresslaw all 6ft 7in of him had originally been considered for the role). Lee became the final component of this monster universe and though Lee was unrecognisable under the make-up artist/effects of the legendary Phil Leakey, he having the unenviable task of not just breaking down and then reconstructing the world famous copyrighted Universal film imagery of Jack pierce/Boris Karloff Frankenstein’s monster, now sought out a new image for a new era. (see, Greasepaint and Gore: The Hammer Monsters of Phil Leakey documentary, 2004). This was a role played by Lee that appears only in the latter half of the film but what a showcase of cinema reconstruction and acting appeal is revealed as a result. (Ask famous US genre director John Carpenter what a major effect the unveiling of Lee’s creature had upon him?) It would not be until a further year later while playing another iconic horror figure that Christopher Lee would finally become better recognised and again in his portrayal create a new iconic version of one of horrors greatest ever foes?
It is truly amazing how the name Peter Cushing not only creates a sidetrack of enormity but he also brings together a fusion of many incredible parts that are so hard to separate! With ‘Curse’ we must also give special mention to Hazel Court – Elizabeth, Robert Urquhart – Paul Krempe and Valerie Gaunt – Justine, the latter a femme fatale performance that ends in inevitable disaster and contains one of Hammer films most duplicitous and monumental cinematic moments that includes a (dark-humour) cut from one chaotic betrayal and ceremonious relationship discard which ends in a collision of a life and death affirming scenario followed immediately by a sudden calm after the storm moment. “Pass the Marmalade would you?”
Valerie Gaunt would also go on to appear in another Cushing/Lee horror masterpiece (and historically she would undoubtedly draw vampire first blood), a moment that will be even bigger than this gothic production if that were possible. The impact of what this cinematic epic achieved in regard of massive financial return, appeal and the precision of the production pieces that came together to make this film the success story it became is well documented. It historically built the new foundations for numerous epics to come. Simply put into context ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ was the point that defined modern horror cinema from that moment onward and has most certainly inspired many directors since, many appreciating the new sense of grand guignol scale that was unleashed on the world as a result of this miraculous endeavour.
“Image by Peter Watts”
As Peter Cushing moved from one Hammer production straight into another, a film which was the appealing, not to shoddy, ‘The Abominable Snowman’, 1957. We did not have long to wait before the alliance of the genius arc came together once more for a gothic second coming that included the return of Peter Cushing to the famous Bray studios for a November 1957 winter shoot, again using the magic formula of ‘Curse’ as the template in order to sprinkle its alchemy across the celluloid stock of a remake, this time based upon Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. What differed here in both perceived scale of grandiose ambition with this epic was not just the visual feast placed before its would-be audience or in large part the fine cast on display but more significantly the added ingredient had to be the amazing music score by James Bernard whose long association would again make this and other such genre moment even more spectacularly important. Adding his own powerful accompaniment to the mix of spectacle and drama of this and more of these classic genre movies to come. The opening anthemic film score and brash (recently re-introduced) titles to ‘Dracula’, 1958 are absolutely incredible in building up an accompaniment of real foreboding atmosphere and presence that easily forms its own invisible characterisation to this massive gothic organic process. In Dracula Peter Cushing takes up the mantle of Dr (Abraham perhaps?) Van Helsing, a less self obsessed, self absorbed antithesis that his Baron Victor Frankenstein had been in Hammers previous outing. This re-telling also focuses more upon the lurking antagonist in the form of what is undoubtedly the most famous of all the historical gothic monster creations. Christopher Lee not only revealed the famous blood soaked fangs for the first time but he was no longer hidden under a mask of make-up effects that made him indistinguishable from this black cloaked vampiric spectre, though Phil Leakey still manages in a (perceived) reduced transformation of Lee to offer a menacing monster more human like but still as stunningly disturbing in posture and effect and possibly even more menacing than The Creature (again… if that were ever possible). With more subtlety Leakey had once more risen to the challenge of defining his own version of an iconic fictional figure for the new more visceral Hammer era of horror. We must also mention Cinematographer Jack Asher and his striking visual vitality toward Hammers opening monstrous character salvo, both ‘Curse of Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’ being the early examples in point, he making them stand out with even greater pathos and presence as he did with much of the filmic backdrops that often surrounded the cast and production team. This was full throttle horror at a new peak in visual effect, glorious casting and frenetic storytelling. Jimmy Sangster often reduced certain aspects of the original gothic written source material in order to compact the more elaborate storytelling for duration purposes but more so his slim downed screenplays would be adapted for financial reasoning which unlike Hollywood, Hammer Film budgets where often minuscule by hefty US production comparison, so plotting was vital in reducing certain original more elaborate elements of character backdrop. In Hammer’s world there is no global journey by ship (Demeter) for their Count on this occasion sadly, instead we are simply given a (Sangster) solution which is a cross boarder horse and carriage travelogue. Despite the story line cut backs, at no time does this deflect from the processes of visual imagery that Fisher and Co bring to this colourful pastel palette and blood splatter effect. We must also give mention to the recently restored Blu-ray version of this extravaganza and the mastery of the full-on vampiric seduction scenes that courted even with cuts by censors of the time (as was) the coveting by Dracula of both Carol Marsh – Lucy Holmwood and more so Melissa Stribling – Mina Holmwood. (I must add here that to this day I still find it a mystery has to why J.S. Kills off one of the main male characters early in proceedings and also changes the situational female dynamic around?) Read Bram Stoker’s original story to understand these glaring concerns. With those thoughts aside the whole thing works anyway. It is the death scene in particular that comes at the end of Dracula that broke new ground and you only have to imagine how audiences of the time who witnessed this film on its release in the Spring of 1958 must have reacted not just to the precision of Fisher’s direction and Lee’s cloak wearing shenanigans, he in portrayal of the evil Count but the film also shows off Cushing at his athletic best in a performance the polar opposite of his dark Victor Frankenstein incarnation. The final battle scene between Van Helsing and Dracula is not just a splendid example of the special effect advancements of the time but the sheer scale and physicality of the showdown between Cushing and Lee produces a performance from the frantic Cushing in particular a moment that really did define his massive presence as an acting entity. The disintegration scene of Dracula is tremendous for the obvious and celebrated reasons but for me it is Cushing whose dispatch of the Count is a lesson in how to perform an ‘action hero’ scene with class and panache, (yes I genuinely mean every single word) without a smart foul mouthed one-line retort, or being blood soaked in over the top machismo. What we had here with Fisher’s Dracula was a moment of smart and wonderful cinema that needed nothing other than two massive stars combining toward making this scene a visual feast never since repeated. Cushing is as elegant in pursuit of Dracula as Lee is menacing as the masterful vampire monster. In the US, Horror of Dracula 1958 as it was re-titled was an instant box office smash hit (renamed as not to be mistaken for the Universal 1931 version). “As if it could?”
“Original cinema poster for Hammer’s Dracula”
As Christopher Lee stood tall over the succumbed flailing body of Melissa Stribling (Mina) in all the Dracula publicity shots, his cloaked figure now stood tantalisingly ominous over cinema entrances and publicity posters across the world. As Hammer gold was being struck for a second time, by now Peter Cushing had moved on quietly back to his BBC tv roots before once again returning to the Hammer fold In the official follow up to ‘Curse’ in ‘The Revenge of Frankenstein’ 1958. This movie brought back much of the earlier winning formula minus Lee on this occasion (sadly). With Cushing reprising his role as the ‘Baron’ aka Doctor Victor Stein in this case we move the story on from the movies predecessor and note the escape of the Baron from his trip to the guillotine. ‘Revenge’ is not too dissimilar to its predecessor other than Frankenstein nay Stein has now moved on to Carlsbruck. Here Cushing’s character shows a probable growth in humility, this despite still being steadfast in his beliefs toward his secretive, private (not yet revealed) ambitious project, aligned with his sturdy highlighted antagonism aimed on this occasion toward the local medical association. He still quite possibly being the symbolic, “A wolf in sheep’s clothing?” What Dr Stein shows toward the poor and ill of his community is an ideology of help, aid and care, however perhaps hidden behind this façade of goodwill toward mankind there may lie a more devious underlying deceit. When Frankenstein is recognised by a former student – now one of Carlsbruck’s practising physicians Dr Hans Kleve – Francis Mathews, whose performance in alignment with that of Cushing; it has to be said is very impressive indeed. Initially Kleve attempts to blackmail Frankenstein into taking him on in the form of an apprenticeship that will entail the start up of Frankenstein’s controversial work of alleged reanimation. Frankenstein eventually accepts that Kleve does indeed have a similar passion toward his own work, so rather than keep the metaphorical “skeleton in the closet” Kleve compels Dr Stein to not only reveal his real motives for working with the poor and inflicted but also offers Frankenstein a loyalty that will provide a partner to the cause in order to further his previously ‘failed’ attempt to recreate life but this time have someone who will not easily betray his own life long ambition. Frankenstein however has already stolen a march on his would-be apprentice as he’s already been deep into the development of a new and promising project which Frankenstein is finally happy to include Kleve’s enthusiasm in participating in proceedings. Again Terence Fisher’s direction, Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay bring to life not just Shelley’s monster once more but that special colourful glory that now clearly defined most Hammer films is easily rediscovered in this impressive sequel. Okay the Creature/Karl – Michael Gwynn in initial appearance is definitely not Phil Leakey’s original Lee recreation nor is it as shocking but the performance of the suffering Karl by Gwynn is very sympathetic and wonderfully portrayed. The imagination of this film however is in the twist of many character fates and that makes the whole process very different and extremely interesting in concept. Here the story concentrates more upon what is seen as initial success before deterioration takes its inevitable hold of our Karl character and the proverbial monster amongst us is sadly unravelled and revealed to the people of Carlsbruck as a man who through violent misfortune (by another) unfortunately suffers brain damage and in doing so takes a steady climb into degradation and the onset of a disturbingly formed mistrust, despair and psychosis that sadly culminates finally in the act of murder. The reveal in ‘Revenge’ also finalises a further twist in plot-line with the movies other extremely violent finale, (gang beating) producing a moment that defines the continued success not just of the fictional character of Victor Frankenstein (as he becomes?) but also with the help and courage of conviction not dissimilar to that of Frankenstein, allows Kleve whom surprisingly steps forward and takes the mantle of his teacher toward new heights?
So with Peter Cushing now supremely able to transfer from crazed Baron/doctor then to doctor/vampire protector then back to deceitful Baron/doctor again in the space of three massive genre movies, how could this man from Surrey possibly top his ’56 -’58 work. The answer for all at Hammer and those who had been part of this good fortune thus far took a hold of something a little different but still contained a vast underlying undertow of horror spectacle enriched in its tale. The next project was not just one of Cushing’s stand out performances but showed this actors true star quality by putting to bed any doubt or misnomer that Cushing (to use the obvious foolish idiom) was or had ever been ‘a one trick pony’.
“Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes”
In late 1958 Cushing, Fisher, Hinds, Asher, Bernard, Robinson and once again Christopher Lee returned to Hammer films and started work on their version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ 1959. Include one of the UK’s most often overlooked actors André Morell’s glorious (stronger) portrayal of Dr John H. Watson and what you have here was yet another master stroke by Hammer films. Peter Cushing was given the auspicious duty of playing Sherlock Holmes. In taking on this role a fan dichotomy appeared as a result of this production, as degrees of varying standpoints and valid opinions divided. The appraisal of this work has more than one fan base to contend with and in all cases needed to be catered for. You had many who felt on the one hand that the great Basil Rathbone was the only screen version of Sherlock Holmes that mattered and could never be bettered. Then you had certain ‘Conan Doyle’ fans who were much maligned by Peter Bryan upping the ante with his screenplay tweaks and the physical scenarios that often put Holmes in greater peril as he added that ‘action hero’ attribute once more to Cushing’s portrayal. As in his performance as Van Helsing in Dracula, Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes would be filled with an athleticism that took these novelised characters to new and dizzying heights. As with Morell’s Dr Watson this pairing would not suffer fools gladly. The other strange mix that added that something special to this new lease of life on a much beloved fictional icon was the genius idea that Christopher Lee – Sir Henry Baskerville would on this occasion be the sympathetic character and not what Lee had been in previous Hammer outings as the strong, unearthly, foreboding presence. Here Lee’s character is a victim of historical circumstance and as such becomes the victimised character of the piece throughout. Was this Hammer taking a casting risk or Lee wanting to show a diversity, that he too could play in opposition of audience perceptions? Again Fisher’s direction and Bryan’s resourceful screenplay along with all the usual suspects make this production emanate of spectacle that most certainly drives the just short of one and half hours of movie joy toward another victory to be added to the ever expanding Hammer archive. The partnership of Cushing and Morell is precision created perfection. Cushing revels in his portrayal of Holmes and gives a new dimension for a new age of cinema and easily meets the high standard and expectancy levels now being taken for granted. Morell for his part pulls off a stunning performance that just adds to the great on screen equal partnership (the way it should be). Despite slight misgivings by numerous quarters, Hammers ‘Baskerville’ is still my personal favourite screen version of this tale but as is my privilege, I will remain defiantly biased on this occasion even if others may disagree with my broad conclusion.
“André Morell as Dr. Watson & Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of The Baskervilles 1959”
In September of 1959 Hammer films attempted to take on Jane C. Loudon’s original monster creation ‘The Mummy’ and again under the guidance of Terence Fisher and a screen adaptation by (you’ve guess right?) Jimmy Sangster. It seemed it was business as usual regarding much of the cast and crew. The Cushing, Lee alliance was once more put to work in front of the camera, Lee showing two versions of his self but we are mostly offered up the indistinguishable version in large part as his character Kharis (high Priest) is punished for an act of blasphemy, (trying to bring back to life the dead Princess Ananka in an act of forbidden love), Kharis for his crime is then interred alive in an Egyptian tomb as part of his punishment but not before firstly being made mute, (cut off thy tongue) then mummified and finally placed in a sarcophagus and sealed away from the world. It is not until 4000 years later that the tomb is rediscovered by archaeologists, amongst them Cushing – John Banning. Again we all know that the opening of an Egyptian tomb is forbidden and ignoring such warnings can only mean you will inevitably suffer a curse, symptomatically meaning only one thing as a result… First rule of horror, “do the opposite of what one is told?” Anyway you get the point of such disregard the result being much madness and mayhem is finally initiated as a consequence and the tomb invaders soon become cursed victims of their own making. Add a perceived reincarnation of an Egyptian goddess, a clear case of mistaken identity on behalf of our bandaged soul, (Lee – bless him!) and the good Vs evil scenario is once again sent to task the world of Banning and Co. The formulaic routine by this time is very obvious, despite this the delight of seeing all the usual suspects again make this interpretation a colourful, vibrant spectacle in a re-adaptation of this particular work maintains the great vein of cinematic fortune now being associated with Hammer Films. Cushing performs with his usual acting reliability and gusto and Lee tears through the scenery like an angry… well like an undead mummified cliché. Though I like ‘The Mummy’ I have never been (overly) a fan of the tale as say compared to either Frankenstein or Dracula but that aside Fisher’s production as far as Cushing’s usual trusted performance go, still stands proud amongst Hammers work.
“Peter Cushing as Dr. Robert Knox in The Flesh and The Fiend 1960”
In 1960 Peter Cushing appeared in something a little different and unusually on this occasion shows up on the screen but not under the mast of Hammer. Though this production is genre orientated his next performance came in what I personally consider a true horror masterpiece. Shot during Spring of ’59, ‘The Flesh and the Fiend’, 1960, in the US released as ‘Mania’ was unleashed on the world. It deals with the infamous and subsequently famous case of Burke and Hare whose murderous spree of 1827-28 is the fulcrum point of this film. This biographical account of these Edinburgh killings is world renowned so for director John Gilling to create a film based around this true incident as a form of cinema meant dealing with subject matter of an uncomfortable nature for many. It was okay dealing with gothic creations of fantasy but when dealing with a reality that had actually existed – was indeed to truly create a real horror film! And no… I had not forgotten Robert Wise’s (one of the greatest movie directors of all time) masterpiece ‘The Body snatchers’, 1945.
“Yes we will get to Mr Wise and give him TCMR treatment eventually!”
Dr Robert Knox is a maverick of his profession and as such is willing to go that extra distance in studying the complexity of the human body… sound familiar anyone… anyone? The reality is however and as was in the real case of these events that the medical council of that period constantly battled with Dr Knox who unperturbed would eventually attempt to further the understanding of human life by studying it in the state of death. He viewing the constant interference of the council as bureaucratic and as is also noted by a Knox allies Dermot Walsh – Dr. Geoffrey Mitchell and quote: “We are students of Hippocrates, but some of us are hypocrites”.
With this movie we are also transferred back to the good old days of black & white which in this case works perfectly… trust me some films are made for monochrome delight, this being that perfect example. Cushing’s cold and calculated performance is simply stunning beyond belief, this performance coming in a film that contains many more stunning attributes. This is not his Victor Frankenstein of much made comparison and as some still think. What we have here is one of the greatest portrayals of obsession within the protagonist’s lack of understanding at what will follow as a result of relying on other unscrupulous elements outside his control – but a necessity nonetheless. His characters eventual ‘turning a blind eye’ attribute becomes shockingly premeditated, it seems as his alliance with the aforementioned two William(s) blackmailed or otherwise makes this character even more reprehensible in his final cause. The Burke and Hare, performances by Donald Pleasence and George Rose respectively are also so shocking and sickening splendid in their character portrayals of self indulgence for financial greed and a self preservation that you genuinely begin to fear through their on screen presence as they stifle and often suppress others in their pursuit of finance and ultimate lifestyle choice. These performances along with Cushing’s take this masterpiece beyond normal horror fair and put this movie in a category of being one of the true great films of the genre, period. The often depressing depiction of the common person is well highlighted in reconstruction of social class and the structural observations of a dramatic and dangerous period in British history, which is savagely highlighted in this fascinating recreated dystopia and what it must have been like to live and even die amongst this social degradation of 19th century Scotland/Britain. The highlighted perfection of social backdrop and the two different types of powerhouse pursuers of dreaded goals is quite breathtaking. **SPOILER ALERT** The murder of ‘Daft Jamie’ (yes… very un-PC I know but it is what it is and most certainly of the time!) as played by Melvyn Hayes (He once playing the young Victor Frankenstein in ‘Curse of’) still fills me with dread even some fifty + years later. The scene I mention is quite claustrophobic, terrifying… and with the pigs heard screaming in the background while the helpless Jamie cries out for mercy mixed with his eventual screams of terror just echo in the ears (long after the scene has subsided). True horror at its fearful goose-bump best. ‘The Flesh and the Fiend’ is not just Cushing at is best… yet again! But like most movies of that time the cast and the direction is so powerful that today you often wish we could once more rediscover – capture the essence of how to make such films as structured and as perfect as this genre classic masterpiece undoubtedly is.
This particular cinematic entrance into the swinging 60’s as it would be defined in history would also see Peter Cushing have another decade of continued work in both movies and again TV. His association with Hammer would also continue including reappearance’s as Van Helsing and three further outings as Frankenstein reincarnated based characters in one form or another. Terence Fisher’s ‘The Brides of Dracula’, 1960 saw Christopher Lee absent and the protagonist in this case was one Baron Meinster – David Peel. A spectacular epilogue is created during the showdown and despite Lee’s absence it is still a great, entertaining film. Cushing worked with Freddie Francis’s, (again long association) 1963 winter shoot of ‘The Evil of Frankenstein’, 1964. Terence Fisher’s filmed in the summer of ’66, ‘Frankenstein Created woman’, 1967 and again he worked with Terence Fisher in ‘Frankenstein Must be Destroyed’, 1969. This film is noted for Cushing – Frankenstein raping the character Anna – Veronica Carlson. A moment that bought true questioning and doubt into Cushing on both a personal and professional note. (I recommend you read Titan Books recently published ‘A life in Film’ by David Miller in which this difficult and problematic scenario is mentioned in Carlson’s own foreword summation).
In between these productions Peter Cushing also appeared in a pre-cursor, pre – Alan Rickman circa 1991, as The Sheriff of Nottingham in the Hammer/Fisher ‘Sword of Sherwood Forest’, 1960. Again a Cushing performance often overlooked by many. If Mr Rickman was not influenced by Cushing’s portrayal in this version then someone out there in the big wide one is not being truthful are they (seriously!) Of Cushing’s many other personal highlights of this particular decade were Terence Fisher’s 1963 winter shoot of ‘The Gorgon’, 1964 under the construct of Hammer and once more appearing with his close friend Christopher Lee. Again this is a marvellous Hammer production. In 1965 Peter Cushing could be seen in no fewer than four movie projects and one made for TV appearance in The Thirty-minute Theatre (series). His film work released during that year included his first and again what would be a significant association with another specialised genre film company Amicus who unlike Hammer made films based largely on modern fictional pieces (often involving anthology/portmanteau work). The very point in question being the Freddie Francis directed 1964 filmed, ‘Dr Terror’s House of Horrors’, 1965. In which journeymen including Christopher Lee – Franklyn Marsh (tale No: 4. ‘Disembodied Hand’) board a train in which one of the compartments sit several fellows. A mysterious Tarot card toting elderly gent Peter Cushing – Dr Terror enters and then in turn performs a reading for each person present in the carriage as the train travels to its destination? The film is amazing good horror fun and though it looks somewhat dated for me today, it still oozes with moments of classy tale telling and was a further stepping stone that provided horror hungry audiences with several juxtapositions of genre joy. During 1965 Hammer released the Ursula Andress led Robert Day ’64 directed ‘She’. Apart from Peter Cushing – Professor Holly this film also drew together once more Christopher Lee – Billali and Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes sidekick Watson aka André Morell – Haumeid. (The ‘Baskerville’ crew were back together again). Freddie Francis returned as director for ‘The Skull’, 1965 which was based on a Robert Bloch story and saw Cushing return to the Amicus fold for a second time and again the film also included Christopher Lee.
“Peter Cushing as Dr. Who”
Peter Cushing made it three in one year as again he worked with Amicus but this particular project stood out that little more. Gordon Flemyng would direct both big screen adaptations of Doctor Who, his first coming with ‘Dr Who and the Daleks’, ’65 which also starred Roy Castle – Ian; both had featured alongside each other in ‘Dr Terror’s House of Horrors’ earlier in the year and were reunited for a different doctor on this occasion. This version of Dr Who came at a time when the first TV doctor (William Hartnell) was still the BBC’s official time lord. I will not get into the fan politics of those whom hold the good doctor dear. What I will state as an outsider on such matters is that the big production value of the Amicus versions and the fact that Peter Cushing is perfect as an ageing doctor is a pleasure and never a chore. By the time I was old enough to understand or connect with the television version the late great John Pertwee had become the time lord aligned with the special double bills of the two ’65-’66 Peter Cushing versions that were being re-shown at the (many) local cinemas (flea-pits) of that period, so I entered the fray knowing of Pertwee and Cushing as the doctor and for that reason both in conjunction are obviously going to be my favourites, you may also add Tom Baker to the fold and I am done. So for me in mentioning Peter Cushing as a obvious and important Dr Who, if that is blasphemy in many quarters, then so be it!
As we entered 1966, the year this reviewer was born, Peter Cushing appeared in Terence Fisher’s ’65 filmed ‘Island of Terror’ as Dr Brian Stanley and though Edward Judd becomes the main focal point of the film, Cushing does not disappoint nor do the rest of the cast. This feature was more Sci-Fi than horror orientated. This very underrated B-movieesque siege movie is not without drama and though the creature/aliens aren’t exactly Hans Rudolf Giger’s Xenomorph’s the film still eerily works in the pretext of the time in which it was produced… but hey it is after all Terence Fisher? The second of Cushing’s ’66 work load saw him return as Dr Who in the Amicus second outing in Gordon Fleymng’s ‘Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.’ I still clearly remember the greater impact this second ‘Who’ outing had on me more so than the first. For it’s time and age and for the fact that the brilliant Milton Subotsky screenplay plays more like a war drama, it is pretty amazing stuff. Cushing steps boundlessly forward in this second instalment and with the great Bernard Cribbins – S.C. Tom Campbell replacing the somewhat damp squib that was Roy Castle the improvement is immediate. Then add great performances from Ray Brooks and (one of my favourites) Andrew Keir who for me almost steals the movie, both being members of the resistance force that is fighting the invading forces of the Daleks and what you have here is a truly fantastic film of adventure and drama and a plot that includes the zombification of mankind. (We don’t need the Daleks to achieve that do we… just watch Saturday evening television and the battle is won already!) What still sticks firmly in the memory is not the Daleks but the mothership (spacecraft) it is amazing… trust me on this one it is a glory to behold. From 1967 to 1969 Peter Cushing was kept very busy in that time, his work load was considerable. Not only would he work for Hammer and Amicus and star in an episode of ‘The Avengers’, ’67 series in ‘Return of the Cybernauts’ (UK version folks!) but he would return to two figures that fitted him perfectly, twice as Baron Frankenstein in two Hammer/ Terence Fisher productions ‘Frankenstein Created Woman’, 1967 and ‘Frankenstein Must be Destroyed’, 1969. It was however in 1968 that Cushing would return to television and importantly his old stomping ground – the BBC playing a character he had done so wonderfully once before. For sixteen glorious episodes Peter Cushing once more played Sherlock Holmes, replacing Douglas Wilmer ’64-’65 who had played the character alongside Nigel Stock’s Dr. Watson, he returning as the aforementioned. Cushing would also reenact said character in a two part episode of ‘The Hound of the Baskerville’.
“Cinema poster for Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966)”
As we entered the decade of the 1970’s we were met by Peter Cushing in a genre movie that was remembered more for its cast rather than the film that at best is mediocre and somewhat lacklustre but nonetheless contains some moments of dark humour and at least brings three genre icons together in one movie and for that reason alone it adds value to this (AIP) Tigon production 1969 effort. ‘Scream and Scream Again’, 1970. Starred Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (Though Cushing has no direct screen time with Messrs Lee and Price) but that matters not one jot. The answer is simple. These three gentlemen always gave strong performances in whatever films they made and as is typically highlighted here in this particular case in point. They had a professionalism and knack of taking something average or even rubbish (on occasion) and would somehow make it just a little more accommodating which again is quite something special to obtain and maintain in ones credibility stakes when all others around seem amateur by high comparison.
The highlight of Cushing’s 1970 presence had to be in the great Roy Ward Baker’s ‘The Vampire Lovers’, which also became known as the first of the Hammer Karnstein trilogy. The last day of film production on this great movie came on the day this reviewer celebrated his 4th Birthday… (March 4th). This classic Starred the glorious Ingrid Pitt as Carmilla. What is so important about this film is not just the fact that Cushing had reached ‘Guest Star’ appearance status by this time, on this occasion he plays General Von Spielsdorf, even in a reduced role as such, when he is present in front of the camera his professionalism is still clearly defined while those around him sparkle as a direct result of his foundation work, he being the very tight grip that magically positions everything together nicely. The Hammer formula seems to flourish again and for a brief moment this film reminds everyone of all the greatness of such time honoured work. Based on Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu’s tale of a vampire whose love will inevitably kill you, this film is given that formulaic Hammer titillating stylising that seemed unique – of its time and strangely is an ingredient often missing from others who have since attempted such controversial, erotic subject matter as Carmilla clearly was originally intended when written and how Baker so eloquently transfers to the screen. Ingrid Pitt’s lead is nothing short of mesmerising and like her victims you can understand why her sensuality would overpower her would-be victims. You also knew with this outstanding performance that Ingrid Pitt would in her own right become a horror icon and with her next project not only did she prove such but also gave one of the greatest horror movie portrayals ever brought to the screen… just superb! Yes TCMR will one day review Countess Dracula, 1971. You guys saw that coming, you little horror scamps!
Sometime during 1970 Peter’s wife Helen who had been ill for a considerable period of time became very poorly. Such stress must have certainly taken a greater toll and constantly played upon Cushing’s mind during his work and in his private time now began to show obvious physical signs of strain. Helen was not just his wife but had throughout their lifetime together been his best friend and confidant. Both had been together through times of struggle and Cushing’s subsequent success, which meant as such his emotions would be high doubtless. Despite his thoughts being concentrated specifically on Helen he continued to work as best he could but these strenuous times obviously showed signs of surfacing into his work. In the summer of 1970 Cushing had begun filming for Amicus on another anthology film and for the first time in his illustrious career he had wanted to break his contractual obligations but for some legal reason was unable to do so and therefore had no choice other than complete his work on ”The House That Dripped Blood’, 1971. Based on a compendium of Robert Bloch short stories, this portmanteau effort is one of Amicus’s better efforts. The star lead went to Christopher Lee and also featured other notable casting the likes of Denholm Elliott, Jon Pertwee, Josh Ackland who played opposite Cushing in the second tale “Waxworks”. This effort also starred Nyree Dawn Porter and Ingrid Pitt. Despite his personal situation Cushing is once more commanding in his portrayal of Philip Grayson, who is one of two men who becomes obsessed by a female waxwork figure ‘Salome’, believing the work to be that of a once jilted love.A supernatural conflict occurs as a result and in time honoured genre tradition we all know the inevitable?
“Peter Cushing with his Beloved wife Helen Beck”
In early January of 1971 Hammer started production on ‘Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb’ based on Bram Stoker’s ‘The Jewel of Seven Stars’. Sadly this production connected two tragic events that though separate in incident really tainted everything for cast and crew members alike. On the 11th January Peter Cushing began shooting his role as Professor Julian Fuchs (shortly replaced by one of Peter’s friends Andrew Kier). After the first day came to a close Cushing received a phone call from his would-be long time friend and secretary Joyce Broughton who informed him that Helen had taken ill and had been taken to hospital. Over the next several days Peter withdrew from film production and brought Helen home to have private care. On the morning of 14th January 1971 Peter’s wife Helen passed away, he by her bedside. Helen had left a note of love and she hoped he would continue onward in her absence and though history shows his strong attributes toward his work ethic which had been staunchly maintained even throughout Helen’s long illness, it was now glaringly obvious to all friends, associates and fans alike that Peter Cushing as he had been before 14th January 1971 would never return whole of heart after loosing the love of his life. We will not go into his later bouts of depression and his earlier notions of suicide soon after because despite the emotional wreckage that surfaced from time to time in his later years, thankfully he continued onwards as Helen had wanted.
Sadly and separately while ‘Blood from the Mummy’s tomb’ was nearing completion, on the 14th February ‘1971 the films director Seth Holt suffered a cardiac arrest and died on set, he was only 47 years old. The final week of shooting was taken over by Hammer producer and director Michael Carreras. It is also noted that Cushing’s fellow actor and friend Andrew Keir had struggled throughout the production with a written script that had been created specifically for Cushing and not Keir. Despite this Keir and his larger than life presence sees him proceed through the process of the film very admirably indeed.
In late March of 1971, the Great Peter Cushing finally returned to what he does best. His performance in Hammer’s production of the John Hough directed ‘Twins of Evil’ (the third instalment of Fanu’s, Karnstein trilogy) is something very special indeed, now whether as has often been suggested that the months previous had in earnest thrown forward a sudden unexpected edginess in a frailer looking Cushing or whether he was just glad to be working once more, briefly allowing him to forget his woes for a time no one truly knows. Personally I think his portrayal of Uncle Gustav Weil, a puritanical, dangerous man is both unnerving, disturbing and ultimately quite brilliant. Here Cushing portrays the lead member of a group of religious zealots known to the locals as simply ‘the Brotherhood’. The twins of said title have come to live with their uncle and auntie after being orphaned. (Real twin sisters) Madelaine Collinson – Frieda Gellhorn and Mary Collinson – Maria Gellhorn make an immediate impact on the townsfolk of Karnstein. A local teacher (Fulci legend) David Warbeck – Anton Hoffer takes a liking toward Maria the more hospitable of the twins while Frieda maintains an often cunning and darker deceit in her personality to that of her more accommodating twin. Having met Uncle Weil both girls feel angered at his often tyrannical behaviour and thus the resentment builds. The dreaded Count Karnstein – Damien Thomas hears word of these two twin sisters staying with the Weir’s and he immediately starts plotting how he may take advantage of this situation which will also allow him the pleasure of taking a form of selfish revenge upon his arch enemy Gustav Weil. There are many twists and turns in the plot and throughout Hough manages to balance many strands of storyline to finally meet together in a climatic ending that brings Cushing and Co to an inevitable Crescendo of soul searching and bloody violence. The Count Karnstein Vs brotherhood show down is well paced and the impact of Weil’s beheading of an individual? is quite spellbinding and genuinely breathtaking. Peter Cushing is intense from moment one and in a way I and many of his fans had to this point probably never seen such a furious side to Cushing being unleashed but again this is one of the greatest British actors at a stage in life were he was possibly going through some kind of on/off screen catharsis of both body and soul and in this particular performance it is easy to note. It is wonderful dark stuff indeed and at times is clearly more visceral than usual, especially for a Cushing performance. ‘Twins of Evil’ is easily the best of the (Karnstein Trilogy) by a wide mark.
In ‘1972 Amicus released ‘Tales From the Crypt’ an idea and title based upon the American EC horror comic of the same title, also the movie uses Stories based on EC’s ‘The Haunt of Fear’ titles. Again this anthology is quite interesting in how it uses original comic storylines from the genuine source and then places them in this Freddie Francis, ’71 directed delight. The film holds its own as one of the superior Amicus portmanteau’s. The bit we are most interested in however comes in the third tale ‘Poetic Justice’ (based on The Haunt of Fear issue #12, March-April edition 1952). In this story Cushing plays one of his more notable and sympathetic character performances as Arthur Edward Grimsdyke.
“I remember when I first watched this has a child and by stories end I had been taken on a emotional journey that had seen Arthur persecuted by the indifference of a certain family of nasty neighbours”. In this story the psychological bullying tactics of Edward Elliott – David Markham (father) and more so Robin Philips – James Markham (the son) is quite a hate filled smear campaign that arises as a result of the Markham’s not liking the way Grimsdyke behaves and keeps his home. The local children for their part enjoy Grimsdyke’s company and he enjoys their presence. His character also keeps a number of dogs as his pets. As the smear campaign becomes a vile onslaught of character deconstruction that includes unfounded reports of possible child molestation and the removal of his beloved dogs via a James Markham set-up, (Grimsdyke’s pets being blamed for multiple property damage in the neighbourhood). It is during the final vindictive stages of the campaign against Arthur that we see James Markham in his unrelenting pursuit of ridding Grimsdyke from the neighbourhood in the hope it will be permanent. A number of Valentine cards are sent to Arthur, on receiving them he then reads what is vindictively written within each card, this soon leads to Grimsdyke finally being pushed into committing suicide. The poignancy of this act was not lost on me and the moment prior to his death Arthur chats to the picture of his late wife which is simply heartbreaking. Sometime later the now dead Arthur Edward Grimsdyke rises up from his dead place and goes in search of retribution upon the Markham’s. Arthur’s revenge from the grave is finally completed but I could not help but think how sad the tale really is and despite the Markham’s demise the sadness of Arthur Edward Grimsdyke’s unprovoked torment and death was quite overwhelming by this time. Again Cushing draws on his persecution and his convincing performance genuinely makes you feel his great loss and sadness, it’s very emotional indeed.
“Artwork by Lucas Soriano (cowboy-lucas)”
Over the next several years Peter Cushing worked solidly taking on parts from starring roles and special guest appearances in much notable horror fair. During this time he worked on a number of Hammer and Amicus movies that included reprising roles such as a member of the Van Helsing dynasty in the ’71 produced Hammer film, ‘Dracula A.D. 1972’. Christopher Lee also returned as the vengeful Count transferred on this occasion into modern day England. Many have suggested that this retelling of Dracula came as a result of the American market upping the vampiric horror routine by offering forward a modern slant on the formula by setting the new vampire stakes (see the very poor pun… ignore… continue!) by releasing two back to back movies under the title of ‘Count Yorga Vampire’, 1970 and the ’71 ‘The Return of Count Yorga’. The original had been initially intended as a soft core porno movie ‘The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire!’ but director Bob Kelljan decided to side in favour of horror aficionado’s and saw a possible exploitative market potential in making this particular Count a more up to date antithesis in period setting. The Count in question being played with notable glee by Robert Quarry who will soon be mentioned again in this review?
Cushing soon after his Van Helsing stint appeared in yet another Amicus anthology by appearing in the Roy Ward Baker directed ‘Asylum’, 1972 – (tale #2, The Weird Tailor). Amongst this films acting nobility and its inclusion of up and coming acting talent was the likes of Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Richard Todd, Robert Powell, Barbara Parkins, Sylvia Syms, Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland. Again this film caters well for those who enjoy a good anthology of horror woes and does so with yet again, some considerable style.
Peter Cushing’s next part was highlighted by his brief inclusion in a AIP’s 1971 production. Here Cushing was just one part of a role call of great casting. In this cameo appearance Cushing plays a character known simply as the ‘captain’ in Robert Fuest’s ‘Dr Phibes Rises Again’, ‘1972.
It is often suggested that Cushing had originally been cast in 1970 for Robert Fuest’s ‘Abominable Dr. Phibes’, ‘1971 opposite Vincent Price but sadly the role came at a time when other work commitments and with Cushing’s wife Helen becoming very ill at that time therefore made it impossible to commit to the project and as a result he regretfully had to relinquish the role of Dr Versailius later played by Joseph Cotton. This version of ‘Phibes’ also starred Robert Quarry? (Don’t worry the point will be made very soon… I promise!)
Over the next couple of years Cushing would work alongside his friend Christopher Lee in Horror Express, ’72. The strange and creepy, often bizarre but thoroughly entertaining ’72 shot, ‘Nothing But The Night’, ’73 (noted for Lee being one of the films producers ‘Charlemagne Productions’). Cushing and Lee then returned in ’72 to film Freddie Francis’s ‘The Creeping Flesh’, ’73. In 1972 Cushing also starred in Roy ward Baker’s, …And Now The Screaming Starts! 1973. Cushing once more returned to Amicus this time minus his friend and acting colleague Lee and played opposite a TCMR favourite Ian Ogilvy. Starring as part of the fabulous cast to this often overlooked delight were Herbert Lom and Patrick Magee who had previously appeared in Amicus’s Asylum, ’72, again directed by Baker. Cushing’s next two roles returned him into the arms of Hammer and the familiarity of a character dynasty that once more offered up the metaphorical ‘comfy slippers’ of Victor Frankenstein and again as another member of the Van Helsing’s. Firstly it was Dr Carl Victor aka… you know who? in Terence Fisher’s ’72 directed ‘Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell’, 1973. Followed up soon after and again with his vampiric foe Christopher Lee again donning the cape and fangs in ‘The Satanic Rites of Dracula’, 1973. On this occasion the story takes place in the modern setting of Londinium. Again both Cushing and Lee do what they do best in their inimitable way, this despite the staleness and regurgitation of a once dearly held Hammer concept the film does little to inspire a once thriving body of work and though both are still watchable, ‘Monster From Hell’ just has enough legs to work well enough to not concede to mediocrity – plus it included the talents of Shane Briant (he featuring in one of TCMR favourite Hammer movies ‘Kronos’. See review…) ‘Satanic’ despite the presence of the two legends and again like ‘A.D.’ feels really sluggish and tainted by time unfortunately. I feel very sad saying that but again I fear honesty is indeed the best policy.
“Peter Cushing in From Beyond The Grave 1974”
In 1974 Peter Cushing would feature in a movie that was not only the last of the Amicus anthology movies as the company moved toward full one story features but this film seemed as if it was waving a fond farewell to the genre as it had been in its heyday. Filmed in June of ’73. Not only is the great Kevin Connor’s ‘From Beyond The Grave’, 1974 the best of all the Amicus portmanteau’s but it is also my own personal all time favourite anthology and is most certainly a treat to behold. In this excellent effort we are gifted my own particular favourite humourous role performed by Peter Cushing. In this role he plays a pipe smoking, flat capped wearing backstreet antique dealer of ‘Temptations (UN)Ltd’ – Objet d’art. His straight faced portrayal of a mild mannered (even meek) gentleman definitely contains an exquisite underline comedy turn which in great acting measure is both charming and also damn right dark and creepy at times, however the overall humour behind the character façade is what makes this Cushing exploration so thoroughly amusing and enjoyable, also note his brilliant Lancashire dialect. This moment shows an actor so polished and comfortable in his work that you almost think he’s giving his fan base a merry wink and a thank you for their continued support over the many decades of interaction. The film is bonded together by Cushing as it is interspersed with several great tales that divide Cushing’s fabulous turn in what is at times a very scary film that is not without moments of great deep routed humour which makes this film that extra special, should I be bold to even suggest it is greatly superior in genre classic terms. With one of the finest stellar casts available and containing some fine combined performances that keep this powerhouse anthology machine running at full horror throttle it is good to note that on recently re-purchasing this marvellous film for my dvd collection it still holds great favour with me, especially watching Cushing being at his genius best. The normal expectancy level of such a quality cast has time and history often suggests such combinations can most often prove fatal for many a director that uses “all stars but little in the way of substance”, however this considered project does not in the slightest resemble any of those past, present and doubtless future unmitigated overinflated disasters.
During this time in genre cinema we must start to consider its evolution and the importance of this period in film and the massive changes that were afoot and clearly highlighted by the introduction of William Friedkin’s ‘The Exorcist’, 1973. This films move into cinema history would most certainly change the boundaries set previously by Hammer, Amicus and others. Friedkin’s glory would become the massive cultural en-mass game changer so the work of the likes of Cushing and Co, those who have been mentioned throughout this bow to Cushing and what he and others had originally brought to the table with his and their glorious careers thus far was becoming more and more a fading image to some of the new guard and though Peter Cushing would still work in the genre for years to come, it seemed times were indeed changing.
‘1974 saw Cushing appear in and alongside Vincent price in AIP/Amicus ’73 production ‘Madhouse’. Price had recently played a part not too dissimilar to the character he plays in ‘Madhouse’ but more importantly this picture was noted for another important point of reference in the genre’s ever changing face. Robert Quarry… remember him (I told you we would get to the point… eventually) also stars in ‘Madhouse’ and was also it seemed being lined up (groomed) to take the place of Vincent Price in future associated projects and film productions. This complicated matter had been simmering for sometime now. This fact was being rumoured when Quarry had featured in ‘Dr Phibes Rises Again’. The suggestion that in the fickle world of movies there were plans afoot to find a new genre king elect to inconceivably replace Price had become a persistent and this noted rumour was being touted by many in the business, this included Price being made aware of these facts also. ‘Madhouse’ represented much in what was seemingly happening beyond its cinematic making. We must also note that Price had worked previously on the wonderful ‘Theatre of Blood’, ’73. For many ‘Theatre’ is a far better movie than ‘Madhouse’ though comparisons are invariably made. For all the off screen drama and people being speculatively moved aside for new blood it seemed, this effort is not without reward and though Price is the star Cushing as Herbert Flay again shows a great turn as Price – Paul Toombes old and dear friend.
‘The Beast Must Die’, ’74, shot during the summer of 1973 is another attempt by Amicus in conjunction with British Lion Film Corp to make a one story feature.
I may be wrong in suggesting this but I believe that it was also the first occasion in which Peter Cushing in all of his previous monster encounters had ever faced a werewolf – until now. He had faced most movie nemesis, monsters of mayhem and even the Baskerville hound twice but never a lycanthrope. Cushing steals the show as usual and makes what is a mediocre werewolf movie that little more accommodating.
As ‘1974 drew to a close Cushing returned to Hammer and once more under the direction of Roy WardBaker for what is the strangest concoction of movie genres I have known? Take Cushing playing yet another loved member of the Van Helsing clan then place him against his old foe Count Dracula, this time not Christopher Lee but John Forbes-Robertson as the fanged menace, then transfer this rivalry to China and what you have here ladies and gentlemen is horror movie mayhem that contains what at the time was becoming a new trend in movie entertainment, that of the martial Arts genre and you understand what to expect thereafter. Directed in late ’73, ‘The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires’, 1974 is more madcap adventure than being straight horror in any sense of the word. Cushing keeps up the high standard of portraying the Van Helsing’s and moves through the film like he means business as usual. The film is quirky and as to be admired if for nothing else in the fact that it is very watchable for some bizarre, unbeknown reasoning. It is the probability that mixing Western folklore and culture with that of the legends of Chinese/Cantonese culture is both an opportunistic, perhaps even an interesting idea. The film was also backed by Hong Kong based Shaw Brothers studios and shows a time-line that again pointed out movie culture change on the back of the success of Robert Clouse’s Bruce Lee led feature ‘Enter the Dragon’, 1973′.
What is strange about Cushing’s next exploration into horror is in the fact that many of its participants from actors to director and writer had all been Hammer stalwarts previously so you would imagine with people the likes of Freddie Francis directing and Anthony Hinds writing and Cushing starring and one time Frankenstein victim Veronica Carlson also involved that this ’74 production would indeed be a Hammer Film…well you would be wrong? Tyburn Film productions Ltd came about as a result of the now ailing British (horror) film industry falling from grace. The man in charge of this ambitious project was director Freddie Francis’s producer son Kevin Francis. The falling popularity of what had been for the best part of three glorious decades of movie making success was now drawing to a close so this last gasp challenge to make Tyburn succeed was in all probability just that…’one last chance’. With past associations, personal friendships and the whole British horror genre in free fall ‘The Ghoul’ 1975′ was a decent effort but alas was going to be swimming against a movie tide of tougher grittier filmmaking which was being provided in greater continence by the US. Sadly and despite Cushing and Co being involved it was not enough to make this film glimmer or stand out and even if it would have been the case by the time Tyburn completed their second horror outing again in the safe hands of Cushing, Francis and Hinds (and a music score by Henry/Harry Robertson) again shot in ’74. ‘Legend of the Werewolf’, ’75 is a better film than ‘The Ghoul’ and as a member of the Werewolf genre of horror stands its ground and is really very good. Again and sadly because of time frame this little gem was lost in the wind of great change but for those fortunate to have viewed it, in other than name it does indeed contain all the great hallmarks of Hammer’s golden age and feel and if you are unfamiliar with Hammer’s ‘The Curse of the Werewolf’ 1961′ starring Oliver Reed then not only was that written by Anthony Hinds aka John Elder as is the case here but even the werewolf itself harps back to Hammer’s ground breaking version as it was back then. If you wish to add either ‘The Ghoul’ and this particular movie to your collection then sadly the best that can be offered today is either by purchasing an old VHS copy for lots of your hard earned or in the case of ‘Legend’ see the 35mm transfer on YouTube. ‘The Ghoul’ is also available on YouTube but can only be enjoyed if you are fluent in French (which I am not sadly) or we can just simply live in the hope that one day someone will see good sense and give them both a polishing up and gain them their rightful place on dvd or even Blu-ray but sadly I wouldn’t hold your breath.
As 1976 came along so did the continued supply of work for Peter Cushing. He gained work in television, working on the likes of the popular Gerry Anderson Sci-Fi series ‘Space 1999’, (episode ‘Missing Link’). He also turned up in an episode of The New Avengers, (‘The Eagles Nest’). He could also be seen in a made for tv movie for a famous American network in ‘The Great Houdini’ in which he played one Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This film was written by a little known writer called Peter Benchley (What did he ever do?) and starred the then popular one half of Starsky and Hutch, Paul Michael Glaser and featured other great notable stars the likes of Wilfred Hyde-White, Ruth Gordon and Bill Bixby. The latter two projects coming in between filming a movie that we will get to shortly, a film that on its release in the summer of 1977 would not just be one of the biggest blockbuster movies of all time but would give the great Peter Cushing a new status above and beyond reproach and a new kind of lasting cinema identifiable permanence?
The release highlight of 1976 for older Cushing fans and as this film also allowed a more accessible feature catering for children alike came the AIP/Amicus production of an Edgar Rice Burroughs based story, Screenplay by the great Milton Subotsky. ‘At The Earth’s Core’ starred American actor and up until that point successful US TV star Doug McClure – David Innes, whom it was suggested in some Hollywood circles was destined for bigger things, he was allegedly going to be the next big star back in the US. He had recently managed to sway great favour with British audiences at least when McClure had been noted the year previous tackling both a German U-boat enemy of WWI… and if that were not enough he also had to contend with some very hungry dinosaurs also… what are the chances! This recognition came care of another adaptation of Burroughs’s work in Kevin Connor’s ‘The Land That Time Forgot’, 1975. The combination of a young fresh faced actor and an established icon the likes of Peter Cushing – Dr Abner Perry would surely at the very least have the UK contingent of movie goers happy… and so it was the case. ‘At The Earth’s Core’ is everything a fan of Cushing would require and then some. This particular beauty also headed into a Sci-Fi direction and though it had been family orientated for cinema audiences, ‘At The Earth’s Core’ was for its time still quite a scary affair for children of that period. That aside what ‘Core’ did was also take on wholeheartedly a great sense of comic ‘tongue in cheek’ adventure in this fantasy world of monsters and the subterranean suppression of the human population in its brilliant fantasy stride. At the time of the release of this film I was still a child and because I had been very lucky to have also watched more of Cushing’s adult material thanks to my parents. Eg. Hammer and Amicus (not all) and I had also recently been fortunate to see Cushing playing Dr Who, this moment for watching more ‘A’ certificate PG friendly material was nothing short of amazing. Despite the often (dodgy) special effects mixed with the better put together film sets and the Cushing, McClure combo doing wonders to convince its largely child audience that this was the exciting adventurous setting for our characters reality was again – the word I will use… pretty mesmerising at the time, plus this pre-pubescent boy also noted the beauty of one raven haired Caroline Munro who again (I think I am right in saying… or maybe not just yet?) by this time I had seen beforehand in her role as Carla in Hammer’s Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter… (and we all know what I think about the good Ole Captain and his sidekick Grost?) Anyway as usual I digress but you get the point and now you know I am indeed a massive fan of Kevin Connor’s ‘At The Earth’s Core’ and its ‘Mahars’ (naughty Pterodactyl like creatures that like to kill humans in there especially adapted arena)… “how cool does that sound for a kiddies movie!” And for three fine Burroughs adaptations including Kevin Connor’s Warlords of Atlantis, 1978′ I also became a fan of the late macho-man Doug McClure and I am proud to acknowledge that fact too.
Q: “Does anyone remember Clapperboard or Magpie during the summer of ’76 …I do?”
Right then… we reach 1977. I on a personal note would start secondary school in this year and yet again Peter Cushing would still be beavering away with a continued workload. However it was his work during May of ’76 that truly made Peter Cushing a reinvented worldwide film star and unusually a proper bona-fide movie villain for the masses and the new age of cinema. Cushing’s instinct to participate in this production gave him a personal feeling that this particular offer of employment would do reasonably well at the box-office but he would never imagine unbeknown to him that he would become one of two British acting greats the other being one Sir Alec Guinness to take up roles in one cinemas massive events, which was finally released in the summer of that year and fortunately for Cushing and Guinness fans respectively and also Sci-Fi/ Fantasy fans alike this film not only did well for actor profiles but regarding its status as a blockbuster, it simply went stratospheric and changed not just the face of cinema thereafter and the very genres mentioned but this production changed much more, including the future direction of cinema style, approach and a great many technological advancements to come, even the very concept of movie making as it had been beforehand but more so how it was going to be in future all came as a result of this cinematic experience and cranked up every conceivable aspect of cinema from top to bottom, has it did so it created the very foundations upon which modern cinema as it is represented to this very day and not just within the specified genres either. George Lucas made ‘Star Wars’, Peter Cushing played Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (George Lucas has stated that Cushing was his first and only choice to play the human face of the empires villainy?) Alec Guinness played Obi-Wan Ben Kenobi (strangely it was also rumoured that Cushing had been the original choice for this role?) Despite conjecture, it was this film that introduced these two world renowned movie stars to a new and younger mainstream audience and “the rest as they say is history”. We need not say more about Cushing’s performance in this film because everyone knows of, or at some stage in their life will know about, watch, or learn (the ways of the force Luke?… Stop it Ed!) of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. If you don’t, (wait for it… then what planet have you been living on… well not Alderaan that is for sure… right that is enough Ed!) Listen up folks – when you can command armies as part of the galactic empire, have one of the greatest movie bad guys (… that Vader chappie?) stood by your side and destroy planets at a whim and live on the biggest bloody death star in the Universe while wearing slippers and drinking ‘cup’s of tea’ and smoking cigarettes as Peter Cushing did (allegedly?) then you know you have met your idea of intergalactic nirvana and as a result Cushing would become an unmitigated movie icon of immortality thereafter.
“Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin and David Prowse as Darth Vader”
Despite the hullabaloo surrounding the whole ‘Star Wars’ thing, Cushing being the consummate professional moved on and with his role as ‘Tarkin’ now forever engrained in cinema history and culture, it was still business as usual for the man from Surrey. Sadly with the decline of the whole British film industry and despite George Lucas using Elstree Studios for ‘Star Wars’ it seems as if in the main and after his stint on Lucas’s movie between the latter part of ‘1976 and into ’77 Cushing would spend much more time working abroad. 1977 was the year that finally saw the release of what many Cushing fans consider their ‘little dark pleasure’. In the middle of the summer of ’75 (a full two years previous) Cushing had spent several days shooting on location in Florida for a then independent filmmaker Ken Wiederhorn. ‘Shock Waves’ is an unusual film and though it is on the whole an acquired taste, what we have here is a strange but on occasion quite interesting concept that takes the zombie premise and combines it with a bout of theoretical Nazism that makes for an interesting 85 minutes of wholesome horror fun, intentional or otherwise, plus you get to see a young Brooke Adams – Rose in a bikini (result) and (pre) ‘Invasion of the Body snatchers’ 78′ and ‘The Dead Zone’ 83′. In ‘Shock Waves’ Cushing plays a former SS commandant who has deliberately perhaps? become a recluse on a private island. What hides behind the Commander’s exile from the world is soon revealed and the fate of some stranded boat passengers whose now shipped wrecked boat has raised a zombified nazi unit known and later explained by Cushing’s character as The Toten Corps – The Death Corps. Though the film as an almost (at times) amateurish style in how it was shot, to be fair there are also some genuinely impressive and creative ideas of a genuine B-movie quality and includes lashings of light creepiness to expand the films horizons, including the vision of a severely scar faced Peter Cushing whom just adds a certain class to proceedings to what at times is just plain ‘tongue in cheek’ horror. What did impress me other than an opening and memorable special appearance by another horror icon John Carradine and the performances of Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams and Luke Halpin in particular was the quite visually encapsulating underwater shots of The Death Corps marching in formation underwater and even more cinematic is the moment when the uniformed zombies rise up from beneath the sea… quite brilliant. I also enjoyed the quirky before its time electronic soundtrack that sounded not unlike Harry Bromley Davenport’s later 1983 music score to Xtro. Here the film score is provided by Richard Einhorn who later went on to provide the score for a TCMR favourite – Joseph Zito’s underrated horror film ‘The Prowler’, ‘1981.
Over the next several years Peter Cushing would work all over Europe the US, South America, Canada, Australia and Africa. Amongst his globe trotting time he mostly worked on made for television productions invariably. From ‘Die Standarte’ (Battleflag) ’76, working in Spain and Vienna to as far reaching as working on ‘A touch of the Sun’ alongside Oliver Reed in Zambia in ’78. During his busy mid to late ’70’s schedule he also travelled to Montreal and filmed the decent enough horror anthology ‘The Uncanny’ which also starred Donald Pleasence, Ray Milland, Samantha Eggar. Filmed in November of ’76 and released in ’77. With Cushing still being in-demand, he never ceased or reduced his work load which continued to keep him very busy indeed and well into the early part of the 1980’s. This decade became important for Cushing and also his fans in many ways because during this time not only would there be a sentimentality and eventual semi-retirement attributed to this period but it would also be a time that would ultimately test Peter Cushing’s resolve (again) on a personal note. With a very (poor) deliberate or otherwise version of a Jules Verne classic tale bringing Cushing his first work of 1980 in ‘Mystery on Monster Island’. Despite it being dreadful, Cushing at least and as usual gave his time to provide a consummate performance as was always the case and that is all I can offer forward for this particular project… so let us simply move onward! During the summer of ’80 Cushing became a cast member on a lavish TV production of Charles Dickens – ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. Without doubt this was a vast improvement on his last project, here Cushing was being offered a more traditional part, taking him away, temporarily at least from the genres of horror, Sci-Fi and fantasy. With this production behind him what would please many Cushing fans was the fact that two great names by association would offer British television audiences care of ITV’s late evening schedule a weekly dose of horror by serialising an anthology of genre tales under the proud name of ‘Hammer House of Horror’. Not only was it a fabulous, consistent weekly event over 13 glorious episodes that lasted over the winter period but for Cushing fans came one episode with the running title ‘The Silent Scream’ and featured Peter Cushing playing an eccentric ex-Nazi called Martin Blueck who as a concentration guard during WWII gained a penchant for psychological experimentation. In this case Blueck confides, offers work in his pet store and then under a false pretence of work and trust captures an ex- con, played by a young Brian Cox – Chuck Spillers and keeps him confined to a different type of cell as a result of becoming a captive. (He is soon joined by his would-be fiancé). Again Cushing plays the darkness of his characters soul with massive aplomb and for me one of the rare occasions when you generally hope his character ends up on the receiving end of his own treatment not withstanding. Blueck is an evil man that has prayed upon a man who has attempted to become better in attribute initially! It is a great episode and again highlights why Cushing was much loved by genre fans, what is further as a result of this Hammer/Cushing alliance… for the briefest of time at least a match was made in horror hell and two names synonymous with the old campaigner’s of acting legend and in name the production company that created a genre legacy were back together once more.
In 1980 Peter Cushing appeared in what would be his last ever guest role on ‘The Morecambe and Wise show’ for their Christmas special. This had been a show that he had first appeared from 1969 onward/intermittently. The standing joke being that Eric and Ernie were always reluctant to pay their guests any form of salary, included in debts owed was one Peter Cushing who just over the next decade from M&W’s time at the BBC until their eventually move to ITV, Cushing would occasionally appear, pop-up on the show demanding recompense from the comedy act for his original ’69 fee, via many sketches and musical numbers later. It was brilliant to see Cushing in the show and I remember the pleasure it often gave me watching this man of horror show a completely different side to that familiar with many.
“The horror masters Lee, Price, Carradine and Cushing in House of The Long Shadows 1983”
During 1982 Not only would Peter Cushing star in his horror movie swan song but earlier in the year Cushing had been taken to hospital after concern regarding an extremely swollen left eye. Not wishing to inconvenience hospital staff he soon returned home and merely bathed his eye under the assumption he’d gained a stye. The day after however Peter became very ill and again was taken to hospital for observation and tests. Ultimately He was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Unbeknown to Cushing the doctors had given him only 18 months in which to live, information hidden from Cushing for several years by his friend and personal secretary Joyce Broughton, (a very brave and personal decision to make). Miraculously Cushing outstripped everyone’s expectancy levels and was to live for a further 13 years, which again showed an undeniable strength of character in Cushing. Only two months after news of his illness and a slight but extraordinary recuperation time Cushing was back at work and furthermore this project returned him to the genre and a cast that included Christopher Lee, Vincent Price and John Carradine. Though the line-up of legends was amazing the film ‘House of the Long Shadows’ ’83, based on the novel ‘Seven Keys to Baldpate’ by Earl Derr Biggers was not as impressive of cast acknowledgement but neither is the film terrible and at the very least it can be measured and favoured by those who like me welcomed such notable legends being seen together in the same movie. Not only was this movie the final horror outing for Cushing but it also ended a much loved and long career association of on-screen time with his great friend Christopher Lee. In this year Peter Cushing also appeared in a small but unusual (surreal) cameo role in the mad comedy world of Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker in ‘Top Secret!’ Finally released in the summer of ’84. Peter Cushing rounded off his work schedule of ’82 by being a cast member of ‘Sword of the Valiant’, ’84. After appearing on a 1983 episode of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ titled ‘The Vorpal Blade’ and travelling to the US to feature in a TV drama, ‘Hellen Keller: The Miracle Continues’. Cushing would draw closer to careers end but not before going out on what I consider a huge high.
“Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and John Mills as Dr. Watson in The Masks of Death 1984”
In 1984 Tyburn’s producer Kevin Francis approached Peter Cushing in hope that he would don the deerstalker once more and play Sherlock Holmes. The initial project would have been an updated version of… ‘yes you’ve guest it, another re-make of Baskerville’. It seemed the budget for this production would stretch costs to far and unfortunately as a result the project as it was, soon came to nothing. Not all was lost though and with Francis now determined to see Cushing play Holmes once again he soon had the idea of finding an alternative to the project and soon did so. ‘The Masks of Death’ ’84. With a Anthony Hinds written screenplay not based on any of Conan Doyle’s tales other than character based work the alternative soon made more sense. Take an old Holmes (by the time of production Cushing had just turned 71) and task the detective with a new case. With the great Roy Ward Baker directing and John Mills in a Co-starring role as Dr Watson, what Kevin Francis achieved here was a stroke of genius and it is clear that both Cushing and Mills make this tv movie a little gem but as regard of its importance as a Cushing farewell of sorts, it clearly needs to be strongly noted for its place in the Peter Cushing canon of work.
Ed: “If I remember rightly? I believe one of the production backers at the time was the newly formed infant that was channel 4, they acquiring the rights for this film in order to show it as part of their Christmas television schedule of ’84. I may be wrong in this assumption but if memory serves correctly that was the case?”
As with every great story there must be an end game, an epilogue, a conclusion to the work. In the early part of 1985 Peter Cushing entered the gates of Pinewood Studios for what would be his final on-screen performance. ‘Biggles’ ’86, was the end of a tremendous acting career that had spanned a great many important movie decades and let us not forget his contribution to early ‘live’ British television. Peter Cushing had not just formed many amazing movie alliance(s) but he was often the very backbone of one of cinemas great creative periods. This was a man that throughout his personal life had been tested time again with moments of great task but had always come out fighting his corner with strength and determination, even in moments when many would buckle under the emotional and physical strains of illness and loss. He was always professional in his work, despite sometimes the work not always meeting his very high acting standards. His work ethic was beyond reproach and he was always on hand for those in the business close to him. He never disappointed his fan base and very infrequently was known for venting his spleen. Peter Cushing was a loyal and trusted man and had no pretence. His love for his wife Helen was permanent, even after loosing her. What we had in this man was something greatly unique, something that sadly in the world of today no longer exist I am afraid. His Britishness was his essence and though today… again! It is a thing often ridiculed at times, he had a great pride in whom he was and what he ultimately achieved, something that many stars of today often feel almost embarrassed about, in particular during earlier parts of their careers… why? For me the late great Peter Winton Cushing O.B.E. is a definite one-off and sadly we will never see his acting like again. He was a trailblazer and part of my own personal life through childhood and into adulthood and was a continued presence that I dearly loved as did many others. In this 100 years of remembrance of the great Peter Cushing he is still fondly held in great esteem… So here is to the next 100 years genre fans, to one of the genres all time greats. E.D. Leach.