Writing ‘Prince of Darkness'
(Christopher Lee goes over the script of 'Making The Wicker Man')
Late last year it occurred to me that nobody had ever written a really good book about Christopher Lee’s most important and influential movies. Lee’s autobiography, while superb, was as much about golf as movies, and didn’t offer much new information about his career. In the eighties, Scarecrow issued a hardback book which Lee contributed to, and while it’s an invaluable reference tool, the presentation and illustrations let it down. The closest anyone had come to getting it right was Mark A. Miller’s Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee & Horror Cinema a beautifully written tome, meticulously researched and nicely presented. But to the casual purchaser – particularly the casual British purchaser – it was a very expensive purchase, and like all Mcfarland books, not easily obtainable.
I put together a proposal for a book called Prince of Darkness – The Cult Films of Christopher Lee and submitted it to Eaton Books, a new company which I had been involved in establishing. It was basically an overview of what I considered to be the 30 or so most interesting (though not necessarily best) Christopher Lee movies. They accepted it and we were away. It was now January: I had 6 months to complete the project. I phoned a friend who knew Christopher Lee very well (we’d met in the past, but I didn’t know him) only to be told he was in Australia for 6 months. No problem, I could do this reasonably well without him. Fortunately, I know a lot of people who worked with Lee over the years, so I started going through my address book. Everyone was very helpful, willingly talking about Christopher at length. I spoke to people who worked with him in the 50s (Richard Gordon, Carol Marsh, Evie Bricusse, Tony Hinds), 60s (Virginia Wetherell, Peter Sasdy, Brian Clemens), 70s (Jenny Hanley, Caroline Munro, Michael Redbourn, Valerie Van Ost, Lorna Heilbron) and more recently.
I’d like to take the opportunity to acknowledge certain people’s efforts in print: first and foremost is Brian Clemens, my friend and mentor, and the greatest writer in the history of British TV. As ever, Brian was a tremendous support, cracking open his address book, offering invaluable advice and sharing his absolutely unrepeatable stories. The divine Joanna Lumley sent me funny and encouraging cards which made the process more enjoyable. Anulka Dziubinska – the screen’s most beautiful Vampyre – sent me a stream of encouraging e-mails and related hilarious stories of her meetings with Christopher in the 70s. Veronica Carlson sent me warm faxes of support and kindly wrote a wonderful Afterword. If I might digress, I’d like to say what a special person she is: when we first met 3 or 4 years ago, we took an instant dislike to each other. Thanks to a bit of diplomacy from Don Fearney, we’re now the best of friends. Linda Hayden – who I seem to have known forever – was an absolute rock. Ringing me regularly for progress reports, penning a great Foreword and being a very special friend (I get sick and tired of people saying actors and actresses aren’t nice people: it just isn’t true). Suzanna Leigh – despite being up to her ears with her own book – was her usual enchanting self. Jennie Linden provided me with a welcome break in the country. Ingrid Pitt was, of course, Ingrid Pitt: strong, wonderful, reliable, funny, intelligent, witty: another special person. Tudor Gates, Max Rosenberg, Norman Warren and Richard Gordon were all very supportive. You really find out who your friends are when you're writing a book at unsociable hours, and I’m delighted to count all of these people as such.
We’re now in March and a friend rings me up about something to do with a documentary about The Wicker Man: would I like to be interviewed for it and could I set them up with a few relevant contacts. I put them on to Ingrid Pitt, Lesley Mackie and Edward Woodward. In early April both Ingrid and I were filmed at her beautiful home in Richmond. The crew were the best I’ve worked with: I think it helped that they had a genuine interest in the subject. The following day we were to film Christopher Lee in a room at the National Film Theatre. No, you didn’t misread that, he was back in England: I had been misinformed. As the nominally presentable representative of the crew, I was dispatched to meet and greet the great Christopher Lee.
Christopher Lee in person is an incredible sight: though he is very tall, he is not wiry: his shoulders are broad, his posture excellent and he still walks like an Officer. We had to endure three flights of the NFT’s stairs, and he warned me that, after a fall the previous week, he was finding stairs a little hard going. Naturally, he then proceeded to take them three at a time, leaving me trailing behind. The filming was smooth and problem-free, Christopher is perfect for interviews – he has a vast supply of stories to tell, and always tells them very well indeed. He is precise, erudite and witty – he laughs at himself as much as anyone else – and positively radiates intelligence. Had he not been an actor, he could, no doubt, have been an excellent diplomat or a highly successful author. Once the interview was wrapped, he sat talking animatedly with me for hours, wistfully about the fate of his beloved Jinna, hopefully about his proposed remake of The Devil Rides Out and cheerfully about mutual friends.
That night, Christopher was the star guest on a panel discussing The Wicker Man. The panel were hardly stretched by the questions asked, but Christopher shone, speaking with genuine regret about the hatchet job The Wicker Man suffered at the hands of uncaring distributors.
Since then, I have been in regular contact with Christopher and can honestly say that he stands shoulder to shoulder with Roger Moore as the nicest, most gentlemanly and most articulate international film star I have had the honour of meeting. There are certain things about Christopher that his fans might not know: above all else he is a great movie buff – his knowledge of cinema is encyclopedic (for example, I pride myself on being a Dennis Wheatley buff, and when Christopher told me that two of Wheatley’s books had been filmed prior to The Devil Rides Out, I quite honestly didn’t believe him. He was, of course, absolutely right – both The Forbidden Territory and The Eunuch of Stambul were filmed 30 years prior to Hammer’s efforts). He is also incredibly modest about his achievements, very, very funny and passionately patriotic – a quality constantly on the wane is show business today.
So there you have it. Prince of Darkness – The Cult Films of Christopher Lee is published by Eaton Books in August. Personally, I’m intensely proud of it – not because I love my own writing, but because it gave me the opportunity to work with and know one of the great icons of the cinema.
Lee with 'Making The Wicker Man' director David Gregory
'The Cult Films of Christopher Lee'
Foreword by Linda Hayden
Afterword by Veronica Carlson
Rasputin – The Mad Monk!
The Devil Rides Out!
The Wicker Man!
The Three Musketeers!
The Man with the Golden Gun!
Christopher Lee is, without doubt,
one of cinema’s most popular and respected actors. During his career – which
has spanned over half a century – he has appeared in more films than any other
British actor. Though best-known to millions around the world as the definitive
Count Dracula, Christopher is an actor of considerable range, both in and
outside of the horror genre.
This exciting volume from Eaton
books looks at 30 of Christopher’s most important and influential roles,
ranging from Bram Stoker’s arch vampire to Ian Fleming’s million dollar
hitman Scaramanga and Dumas’ wicked assassin, Rochefort. The films are
examined in great detail from inception to release, offering a unique insight
into how films are made, marketed and, sometimes even lost!
This is the first time that a major
book has examined Christopher Lee’s contribution to popular culture and world
cinema and the author has conducted dozens of exclusive interviews with many of
Lee’s best known contemporaries including Honor Blackman, Edward Woodward,
Britt Ekland, Nyree Dawn Porter and Joanna Lumley. He has also examined scripts,
contracts, production notes, pressbooks, diaries and press releases to give
these films unrivaled coverage.
This deluxe 256 page book is
profusely illustrated with over 300 stills, posters, lobby cards and even unused
promotional artwork, and features a stunning 24 pages of full colour,
Published: July 2000
For more information, please visit:
Or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Christopher Gullo
I awaited reading this book with much anticipation as I was not fully satisfied with Christopher Lee's biography which I had purchased two years ago. Lee's autobiography was enjoyable but did not cover enough background information on his films which I was really interested in. I'm glad to report that Jonathan Sothcott's book is just what the doctor ordered: a well researched and fascinating look at the history behind many of Lee's most famous films.
The choice of films reviewed is well contrasted. With Lee's extremely long film career which is still going strong it would be easy to just pick his most recognizable Hammer films with a few others thrown in but the author makes some interesting choices. Some of the more obscure Lee films covered include the Fu Manchu films, Night of the Big Heat, Curse of the Crimson Alter, and Nothing But the Night. Don't worry if these titles do not interest you, there are many of Lee's most famous Hammer films including all of his Dracula series, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy, and much more.
What really makes a 'good films of' book in my opinion are rare photos and information that has not been rehashed over and over again. Sothcott hits the mark here and there are photos that you will just be amazed with. I went back after reading the book just to pick out some of my favorite photos. My absolute favorite is on page 156: a shot of Cushing and Lee admiring their Queen's Award to Industry. Almost every film covered has some rare behind the scene photo to accompany it.
Another aspect of the book that I like is that if like me, you are always pressed for time and cannot finish the book at a single sitting (which you will not, it is a whopping 278 pages), the chapters break off nicely for separate reading. But time away from this book will leave you in anticipation of what the author will dig up for another one of your favorite Lee films.
With an introduction by Roger Moore and an afterword by Veronica Carlson, this book is a fun read from cover to cover. It certainly would be nice to see a book on Peter Cushing so well written.