Welcome to Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten or unknown film and TV credits.
The word icon is thrown around loosely, but Christopher Lee was the definition of one. As prolific as he was unique, he initially rose to prominence as a stalwart for Hammer Studios, most notably depicting Count Dracula. However, there was more to Lee than sucking blood – and horror even. While his horror output was understandably his best (I mean, he was in The Wicker Man after all), Lee’s palette was expansive. Some know him from his work with Tim Burton, others remember his as Sauron in Lord of the Rings,; but the point is that Lee is known to everyone for something, and that’s why his legacy is immortal. He was even the frontman of a power metal band into his ’90s. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.
However, with so many movies in his filmography it’s only understandable that a few performances would slip through the cracks. But that’s what Buried Credits is for after all. As you’ll see, we’ve included a famous title on this list, but it features a forgotten cameo from the man himself and we felt that was worth remembering. So sit back, relax and enjoy as we reminisce and delve into Sir Christopher’s Buried Credits.
Castle of the Living Dead (1964)
By Rachel Bellwoar
Bruno (Jacques Stany) and his troupe of traveling show people have come into big money. Their act, involving a fake hanging, appeals to Count Drago (Lee) and his assistant, Sandro (Mirko Valentin), so he hires them to perform at his castle. The ‘why’ can be answered with the film’s title. Bruno is mocking death and Drago considers himself an expert on the subject. His definition of living is distorted.
Drago kills people. His embalming fluid preserves their youth for immortal beauty, but his insistence on calling his victims alive would be a better cryogenics story. Early victims don’t fit the pattern, and take a while to pass away, but later ones freeze instantly after contact with his solution. Were they living, there’d be a chance they could recover. Drago has basically landed on a poison that simplifies taxidermy.
Set pieces, including a statue garden, serve for hiding places; props, including a toy hangman on a stick, are macabre; and the many dead animals, starting with a raven, insist there’s no way this ends well. Bruno’s troupe accept their unsavory conditions for three pieces of gold. A number of them don’t live to spend the money.
The film is dated after Napoleon’s exile and enjoys undermining authority by pairing tricorn hats with harlequin costumes. Crowds laugh at the troupe’s skit because a prisoner is pulling one over on his executioner, while a troop of soldiers are the butt of jokes for letting Drago use his title to get away with atrocities.
The film can’t make up its mind about Laura (Gaia Germani), who tells Drago and Eric (Philippe Leroy) off, but then flutters at being called Eric’s woman. An unrecognizable Donald Sutherland plays the witch who speaks in riddles and creates an alliance with the dwarf, Nick (Antonio De Martino). Both are standard characters in carnival stories but their team-up is one of the film’s best, and a hunchbacked witch should be the opponent for the ageist Count Drago.
Moving rigidly without blinking, Drago wants to look on beauty but the shadows under his eyes are craven with sleeplessness. Lee somehow isolates body parts so his eyes can be dead while the rest of his face tips off viewers to what’s he is thinking. Drago is ready to kill strangers for science but would he be equally giving with his own mortality? Lee doesn’t ignore Drago’s fear as his wrongs garner more traction
Verdict: maybe not three pieces of gold but Buried Treasure-ish
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
By Adam Thomas
Joe Dante’s original Gremlins may well be responsible for my love of the horror genre. It was scary, imaginative and had some great laughs to boot. The comedy was sort of under the surface for the most part, with only bits of slapstick-style jokes here and there. The sequel is a completely different animal.
Set a few years after the original, the film takes our small town setting into the city where we follow our hero Billy into his workday at a huge conglomerate that’s stationed in a skyscraper.
The pint-sized lovable fluff that is Gizmo makes his way to Billy where naturally the rules set forth in the first are thrown out the window and more mogwai are born. Mogwai who turn into their green, sharp teethed counterparts and wreak havoc upon the building in glorious, hilarious and off the wall fashion. Think Die Hard meets Looney Tunes, and you may get some idea of what you are in store for.
This is truly the type of film that Joe Dante loves to make. His love, well-documented love, of Looney Tunes and cartoons in general pulses through the veins of this film and is showered upon the viewer in waves of zany brilliance. Also featured are some amazing over the top performances from the ensemble cast that will have you scratching your head while you also laugh your ass off. Several key members from the original cast are back here, but it’s the new players that steal the show. John Glover is particularly good here as the head of the company our hero works for, as well Robert Picardo as his right hand sleaze-ball. Robert Prosky also gives a great performance as an ageing horror host dressed for the films entirety as Dracula. Speaking of Dracula, appearing here in a bit part as the head of a medical lab that runs all sorts of crazy experiments on animals is our man of the hour, the V.I.P., Christopher freakin’ Lee.
When I say “bit part”, I really mean it’s more like an extended cameo. Regardless, Christopher Lee serves an important purpose to the story as a whole. His lab holds, for some reason, various potions that our Gremlins naturally ingest that give them all sorts of powers and deformities. One becomes a bat hybrid while the next becomes a female. One literally turns into electricity and zaps about the building via the phone and power lines. Truly an awesome spectacle to behold and one that will allow us the viewers to notice and pick out new bits with each viewing. Alas, I digress.
Basically playing the atypical moustache twirling villain, Mr. Lee, (or is it Sir Lee?) doesn’t really do much here. It’s a fine performance but not necessarily a memorable one and could have easily been played by any actor with a lick of talent. I don’t know if it was strictly a cash grab role for Lee or a bit of fan service from Dante, but it almost comes off distracting as he is such an identifiable and recognizable person. Literally given very very little to do, it feels like a wasted opportunity to do something really fun or iconic. That being said, it is still a great and fun movie that is definitely worth checking out if you have yet to see it. The musical number alone makes it worth it.
VERDICT – The movie neither succeeds or fails on the part of Mr. Lee, but there is plenty to love. I call this Buried Treasure all day.
The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)
By Sam Panico
So what if I told you that there was a satirical take on the superhero movie tropes made in 1980, starring Alan Arkin and songs by Rocky Horror’s (and Flash Gordon, never forget) Richard O’Brien? Would it further pique your curiosity if I told you that Christopher Lee plays Mr. Midnight, the villain of the piece? And that he sings, too?
I discovered this odd piece of Ozploitation thanks to a trailer collection and it’s pretty darn strange. To summarize, the good Captain helped win WW2, but after the big battle was branded a Communist, disgraced for wearing his underwear in public and left for Australia, where he’s become an alcoholic. Of course, it’s all the fault of the aforementioned Mr. Midnight.
Remember The Howling II, the film that replayed Sybil Danning’s breasts bursting out over and over and over before the end credits until you never got sick of them (sorry, editorializing here)? This film comes from the same mind, Phillipe Mora, but got stuck in legal battles and then died a quick death in theaters. It’s only recently become rediscovered and hey — Christopher Lee brings up any movie, does he not?
To answer the burning question in your mind, yes, Sir Christopher Lee CBE CStJ does indeed sing and he sports a rich baritone. He gets an entire song, “Choose Your Poison,” to extol the virtues of sweet, sweet alcohol and another, “Mr. Midnight,” where he explains that evil has existed before, well, anything.
VERDICT – If an ’80s musical about a flawed superhero — way ahead of it’s time — that features Christopher Lee singing while a Cats-like troupe flashdances behind him sounds like your cup of tea, then by all means, this is Buried Treasure.