"Only God Has No Fear-


The Top 10 Most Heroic Moments

On Screen"



"Only God has no fear." This line, of course, is from THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), spoken by Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing, arguably the most heroic character Mr. Cushing ever played in the movies.  In fact, all but three of my top ten moments in this article come from Peter Cushing's portrayals of Van Helsing.  Thus, I was tempted to change the focus of this piece to simply an examination of the hero Dr. Van Helsing, but the three "non-Van Helsing moments" I found I couldn't exclude.

    Yet, there's no denying that Van Helsing is "the man" when it comes to thinking of Peter Cushing as a movie hero.  Part of the reason Van Helsing is so memorable, besides Cushing's energetic portrayal of the good doctor, is the fact that he was pitted against one of the best movie villains of all time, Count Dracula.

    Which is why so many of Van Helsing's moments are so much more memorable than say the heroics of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Stanley in ISLAND OF TERROR (1966), or Major Horace L. Holly in SHE (1965).  Think about it.  What's more memorable?  Matching wits against an oversized hound, slow-moving cancer research mutants, Ursula Andress, or Count Dracula? (Okay, who's the wise guy who said Ursula Andress?).

    And we're not just talking about any Dracula.  Peter Cushing's Van Helsing was not dueling Lugosi, Langella, or even Gary Oldman.  He was dueling Christopher Lee, the most dynamic and frightening of all the screen Draculas.  Say what you want about Christopher Lee, and I'd be the first to argue that Peter Cushing was the better actor, but choose any movie Lee is in, and you can't take your eyes off him.  Even when on the surface his performance is only average at best, you still can't take your eyes off him!  He dominates every Dracula film he's in, and he does this with a minimum of screen time and dialogue.  Put someone else in the role besides Lee, and you don't have the same film.  Mr. Lee does more with less than any other actor in the horror genre. 

    Thus, the stage is set.  Peter Cushing, the screen's most powerful Dr. Van Helsing, vs. Christopher Lee, the screen's most chilling Dracula.  Together, they made for some of horror filmdom's best confrontations and enabled Mr. Cushing to become the screen hero that he is remembered as today.

    But, as stated earlier, not all Peter Cushing's most heroic moments came vs. Dracula.  There were others, and now, without further delay, here they are. Peter Cushing's top 10 most heroic moments on screen:


10) The final scene in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967).


    While Baron Frankenstein was an energetic, exciting, and even likeable character, the man we love to hate (or for many of us, hate to love), he was hardly heroic.

    Think of it.  How many times did Cushing's Baron Frankenstein ever do anything to help someone besides himself?  Let's see.  He did shout for Hans (Sandor Eles) and the mute woman (Katy Wild) to save themselves and flee from the burning castle in the fiery climax of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, and I guess he did try to save Elizabeth (Hazel Court) from the Creature (Christopher Lee) in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, although he ended up shooting her instead of his creation.  Some of you may argue that he helped the disfigured hunchback Karl (Oscar Quitak) in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN by placing his brain in a new "perfect" body, but you only have to look at how quickly the good Baron disposed of Karl after the poor fellow collapsed and died to see where Frankenstein's priorities lay!

    But in the final seconds of FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, we see probably for the first and only time emanating from the Baron- compassion.

    Christina (Susan Denberg) has had about all she can take.  The soul of her wrongly executed lover has been implanted into her "new" body by the Baron Frankenstein.  This soul speaks to her, inciting her into a killing spree to seek revenge against the men responsible for her lover's fate.

    By the end of the movie, she snaps.  She runs to the edge of a cliff where she is stopped by the Baron, who calls to her, "Christina!"  his eyes imploring her not to take her own life.  He says in earnest, "Stop there.  Now listen to what I have to say.  It wasn't you who killed those young men.  You didn't know what you were doing.  Let me tell you who you really are."

    There's a look in Cushing's eye, a tone in his voice.  It's more than just the Baron trying to salvage his latest experiment.  He really does not want Christina to die.  It's probably the only time Baron Frankenstein ever looked so sincere, and ironically, it's one time when he wasn't listened to.  Christina jumps to her death, and the Baron can do nothing but walk away in sadness, which is how the picture ends.

    Of course, one can make the case that Christina would not have been jumping off that cliff, would not have gone on that killing spree, had the Baron been more forthright with her in the first place.  She was constantly asking "Who am I?" and in his usual pompous way, the Baron ignored her inquiries.  Only the gentle Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters) showed her kindness.  From the Baron, she received nothing but cold instructions, tersely delivered, until that moment on the cliff, when he begged her in earnest not to take her own life.  But by then it was too late.


9) Confronting Johnny Alucard in DRACULA A.D., 1972. (1972)


    "Aren't you going to give the bride away?"  young cocky Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) shouts to Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), egging him on about the fact that Dracula now has his granddaughter, Jessica.

    It's the 1970s.  The young have never been so rebellious.  Drugs and sex are way cool, and the older generation have never been so out of touch.  The perfect time for Dracula to resurface!

    Johnny Alucard, Dracula's liaison to the 70s youth, is young, athletic, and very deadly, and when he threatens our hero, the aging Van Helsing, we're frightened.   We want Van Helsing to strike back, but we also know the odds aren't in his favor. Van Helsing in HORROR OF DRACULA could have held his own against Alucard, but this is quite a different matter.  This is a mismatch. 

    A struggle ensues, and Alucard gets the better of Van Helsing, wounding him with a knife, but the professor takes note of the sunlight coming through the window, and using a hand held mirror, directs the light into the vampiric Alucard's face, maneuvering it so that the vampire is driven backwards, eventually into a shower where he is destroyed by running water.

    A moment full of excitement.  Heroic because Van Helsing is clearly overmatched, yet by using his wits, he is able to destroy the much younger and much stronger vampire.


8) Telling Marianne that her fiancé Baron Meinster is a vampire in THE BRIDES OF      DRACULA (1960).


    "It was Gina.  Gina is now an undead.  She's the third victim since the Baron was set free," Dr. Van Helsing says to a distraught Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur).

    Marianne can't believe it, and she cries that it can't be true, that the Baron cannot be the monster responsible for all the recent deaths in the village.  But Van Helsing, forever strong, refuses to mince words.  "You must know I wouldn't say such a thing unless I was absolutely sure.  I've got to find him, Marianne.  Do you know where he is?  Where is he, Marianne?  If you know, you must tell me.  Tell me!"


A memorable scene because it shows the dedication and drive with which Van Helsing operated.  Unlike Baron Frankenstein, Van Helsing is tender and gentle many times on screen.  With little Tanya in HORROR OF DRACULA, comforting his granddaughter Jessica after a nightmare in DRACULA A.D. 1972, to name a couple.  But this moment isn't one of them.

    Van Helsing could have said something like, "Marianne, there's something I have to tell you.  It's not good news.  Why don't you sit down.  I'll bring you some tea." He could have been oh so gentle.

    But time was of the essence.  Baron Meinster was on the move.  His coffin was no longer resting within the Chateau Meinster. Van Helsing knew that once the Baron had claimed his bride Marianne, he'd be free to disappear.  He had to tell Marianne quickly for her own safety, as well as learn from her the Baron's whereabouts. 

    Thus, Van Helsing doesn't take the easy way out.  He makes the difficult choice to be the bearer of bad news, risking alienating himself from Marianne when she needed him most.  But like all good movie heroes, things worked out for him for the best.  He learns of the Baron's whereabouts, and the rest is  history.  Movie history, that is.


7)  John Banning's visit to Mehemet in THE MUMMY (1959).


    In a film featuring not one but three physical confrontations between Peter Cushing's heroic John Banning and Christopher Lee's powerful Kharis, the Mummy, all of them memorable, it might come as somewhat of a surprise that I've selected a nonaction scene from THE MUMMY as one of my top ten most

heroic moments.  Indeed, I've surprised even myself.

    Now, those aforementioned scenes are all exciting, but there's something extra special about this scene, something that stands out long after the movie is over.  In fact, I might go so far as to argue that it's the most memorable scene in THE MUMMY, right up there with the shot of Christopher Lee's panicked eyes as the tomb closes, burying him alive (Again, in regards to Mr. Lee, more with less!).

    John Banning has just been warned by Inspector Mulrooney (Eddie Byrne) not to visit the home of Mehemet (George Pastell). Yet, Banning urgently wants to meet Mehemet, to find out for himself if he is the man controlling the mummy.  But Mulrooney is concerned for Banning's safety and warns him against carrying out any "private police work."  So, in true hero fashion, Banning goes anyway!

    The scene is set up beautifully, in a brief shot of Banning walking through the woods in the middle of the evening towards Mehemet's house, with ominous atmospheric music in the background.  It's the confrontation we've been waiting for. And the scene does not disappoint.

    Peter Cushing is relentless, as John Banning seems to delight in pushing Mehemet's buttons.  The tension is wonderful.  It's one of those, "I know you know that I know who you are, but neither one of us are going to say anything.” Banning goads Mehemet with lines like "Karnark wasn't a particularly important deity, a third-rate god."

 "Did it ever occur to you that--- there could be a great and passionate devotion to this god?"  Mehemet asks."It occurred to me.  But I dismissed it," Banning replies.

    By the end of the conversation, Mehemet is stewing, blurting out words like "punishment" and "consequences."  His cover has been blown.

    The scene is a classic example of how exciting a battle can be without fists and blows and all things physical.  It's verbal repartee at its finest, and in true Peter Cushing fashion, John Banning is the victor.


6)  Discovering Dracula's coffin in the Holmwood basement in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).


    "You know what happened last time I disobeyed madam's orders," Gerda (Olga Dickie) protests, responding to Arthur Holmwood's (Michael Gough) request that she go to the cellar to fetch more wine.

    "What do you mean?"  Holmwood asks.

    "Madam told me the other day that I was on no account to go down to the cellar," Gerda explains.Van Helsing's eyes widen, and he's off!  Running through the Holmwood household, flinging open the cellar door to discover in basement: the white coffin of Count Dracula.  Van Helsing leaps down the stairs, rips the lid off the coffin, just as Dracula bursts in upon him from the top of the stairs.  The two adversaries cast eyes upon each other for the first time, and then Dracula flees, locking Van Helsing in the cellar.

    It's the athleticism of Peter Cushing in this scene that makes it so memorable.  Running through the house.  Tearing the lid from the coffin.  Leaping down the cellar stairs.  It's the kind of thing moviegoers just don't forget.


5)  The destruction of Baron Meinster in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960).


    Who can forget the image of Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) leaping onto the blades of the burning windmill in the film's finale?  Hanging onto them long enough to move them into the shape of a cross, whereupon its huge shadow falls upon the fleeing Baron Meinster (David Peel), forcing the vampire to collapse to the ground, dead. 

    It's one of the most enduring images of any vampire film.

    Cinematic heroism at its best!


4)  The staking of Lucy in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).


    "Arthur!  Let me kiss you!"  beckons the vampiric Lucy (Carol Marsh) to her brother Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough).  Holmwood is shocked and confused.  His sister is supposed to be dead.  He approaches her, and as we in the audience collectively shout "No!" he prepares to allow her to kiss him.

    She hisses as the cross bursts onto the frame smack in front of her face.  It is none other than Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), nearly jolting the audience with the strength of his appearance.  With the crucifix, he forces her away from Holmwood and then presses the cross to her forehead, singeing her, causing her to scream and run back to her coffin.

    From strength to serenity.  Wrapping his coat around young Tanya (Janina Faye) who had unfortunately witnessed the whole ordeal, Van Helsing tells her in his most gentle voice, "You look like a teddy bear now.  Will you wear this pretty thing?"  He places the crucifix around her neck, the very same object which had so forcefully fought back the vampire moments before.  Now it quietly protects the child.

    The actual staking of Lucy is one of the most violent and frightening scenes of any horror film.

    "Is there no other way?"  Arthur asks.  "It's horrible!"

    "Please try to understand.  This is not Lucy the sister you loved.  It's only a shell, possessed and corrupted by the evil of Dracula," Van Helsing states forcefully.  "Believe me, there is no other way."

    What follows is one of the more gruesome scenes in the movie.  Van Helsing delivers a  powerful blow to her heart, and as Lucy thrashes and screams, we see blood spurting from her chest.

    The scene grows even stronger a moment later, when Van Helsing invites Arthur to look at the body of his sister.  Lucy is beautiful and at peace.  It's the most emotional moment of the movie.


    Okay.  We're down to the final three.  The three most heroic moments of Peter Cushing in the movies.  Drum roll please.  And the top three are:


3) Van Helsing burning the bite marks from his neck in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960).


    Baron Meinster has bitten Dr. Van Helsing.  Upon discovering the bite wounds on his neck, Van Helsing does not panic.  He efficiently gets down to business in what has become one of the most memorable moments of any vampire film.

    He takes a hot poker in his hand and placing it upon his neck, burns the bite marks.  He yelps in pain and collapses to the ground, where he is able to grasp his flask of holy water and pour it onto his neck. The wounds disappear.  I doubt anyone who has seen this scene has ever forgotten it.  Mostly because it's unique.  Name another movie in which the hero burns the bites from his/her neck? 

    But it's also largely due to Cushing's performance.  He expresses pain so well that it really seems as if he's burned himself. 

    And talk about your hero who won't give up.  He's down!  Beaten!  Bitten by the vampire!  But does that stop him?  Not even for a second!  He doesn't even pause to ponder his fate.  He discovers the wounds and immediately gets down to the business of getting that poker nice and hot.  And he does this without any camp at all.  This isn't Indiana Jones.  This is a man who won't let himself be beat by the forces of evil.  A hero in the true sense of the word.


2) Confronting the werewolf in the climax of LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF (1974).


    Is there any other scene like it in the history of werewolf movies? Professor Paul Cataflanque (Peter Cushing) descends into the sewers in search of Etoile (David Rintoul), the werewolf.  When the great beast

appears, snarling and growling, Cataflanque doesn't shoot it or throw a torch at it.  He stands there and TALKS to the creature, telling it that he means it no harm, that he wants to help it.

    What other film hero possessed this amount of courage?  Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains) didn't.  Rather than talk to his werewolf son Larry (Lon Chaney, Jr.) in THE WOLFMAN (1941), he clubbed him over the head with a silver cane.  Leon (Oliver Reed) in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) received no special treatment.  He was shot in the chest with a silver bullet by his father (Clifford Evans), who didn't utter a word before pulling the trigger. Even the lovely gypsy girl (Elena Verdugo) couldn't bring herself to talk to her beloved Larry (again Chaney) in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) once he had become a werewolf.

    Only Peter Cushing's Professor Cataflanque possessed the courage to stand there and talk.  (True, I haven't seen every werewolf movie ever made, and so if I've missed one, then I apologize.  If someone out there does know of another scene like this, I'd love to learn about it.).

    When the werewolf doesn't buy into his talk, Cataflanque even offers to put down his gun, to prove to the creature that he means him no harm.  Carefully, cautiously, Cataflanque drops his weapon.

    For the Peter Cushing fan, the first time viewing this scene brings knots to the stomach.  You can't help but feel that Cataflanque has been a bit too trusting, that he's going to be torn to shreds (for anyone who hasn't seen the movie, I won't give away what happens next). 

    LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF was never released theatrically in the United States, which is too bad because it's a fine horror movie, the last made by Tyburn studios.  No, it's not a classic, but the role of Professor Cataflanque is a great one for Peter Cushing.  He's heroic, humorous, and likeable, and as he did in so many of his movies, Peter Cushing raises this one to a level it wouldn't have achieved without him. 

    And that last scene, with Cataflanque possessing the courage to actually speak to the murderous werewolf, to place his gun down, is one that is remembered long after the movie is over. 


And now, for Peter Cushing's most memorable, most heroic moment in the movies:


1) Dr. Van Helsing vs. Dracula in the unforgettable conclusion to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).


    I tried very hard not to make this moment #1 on my list.  Why?  It was too obvious a choice.  Every Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee/Hammer Film fan has seen HORROR OF DRACULA.  Even nonfans have seen it.  Especially its ending.  It’s famous.  Widely considered to be the best ending of any vampire film, as well as Hammer Films' best movie altogether.

Especially its ending.  It’s famous.  Widely considered to be the best ending of any vampire film, as well as Hammer Films' best movie altogether.

    Yet, how could I not choose this moment as #1?  It is by far the most engrained in my memory, more than any other moment of Peter Cushing's film career.  On my wall in my work room, is a flyer advertising The Peter Cushing Association, and on that flyer are four stills of Peter Cushing.  One of them shows Mr. Cushing holding the two candles in the shape of the cross, bearing them down upon the shrieking Christopher Lee.  Sometimes when I close my eyes, that image is there without my even being conscious of it.

    Yes, without a doubt, the ending to HORROR OF DRACULA is Peter Cushing's most heroic moment on screen.

    Again, we begin with Christopher Lee.  In HORROR OF DRACULA, he scares the audience like no other actor portraying a vampire before or since.  Without his powerful depiction of evil, Cushing's Van Helsing would not have been fully appreciated.

    Those final few minutes in the movie, when the two powerful adversaries meet for the first time, are among the best final few minutes of any horror movie.

    It begins with Van Helsing chasing Dracula into his castle--- a brief note of interest.  Think of any vampire movie in film history.  Is there any scene- ANY scene- where a vampire runs as fast as either Christopher Lee's Dracula or David Peel's Baron Meinster when being chased by Peter Cushing's Van Helsing?   I didn't think so. (Sure, the vampire in THE NIGHT STALKER ran pretty fast, but he was being chased by an army of police officers, not one man!).---

    When at last they meet, and Van Helsing has Dracula cornered, the vampire king reacts like any creature with its back to the wall: he lashes out, throwing a candlestick at Van Helsing, attacking the doctor, pinning him down, strangling him to the point of unconsciousness.

    But the sly doctor has feigned his predicament.  Just as Dracula is about to bite him on the neck, Van Helsing shoves him away.  But the danger is far from over.  Dracula continues to advance, and this time, for the first time in the movie, it is Van Helsing who retreats, it is Van Helsing who now has his back to the wall.

    A sliver of sunlight through the curtains catches Van Helsing's eye.  He climbs onto the table, runs across it at full speed, and then leaps into the air, pulling the curtains down in an incredible moment on film forgotten by no one who has ever seen it.

    Dracula collapses in agony and quickly tries to crawl out of the sunlight, but Van Helsing is back at it immediately.  He jumps back onto the table, snatches two candlesticks, and shaping them into a cross, uses them to force Dracula back into the sunlight, where he disintegrates before our very eyes.


    Pure and simple.

    Even now, as I close my eyes, I can still see Van Helsing wielding those two candlesticks.

    I think I shall keep them closed for a while.



© 2000 Michael J. Arruda