Wednesday, November 12, 2008
For my movie-viewing pleasure this Halloween, I mostly restricted myself to Hammer Films. (With the exception of the infamous CALIGULA of which the less said, the better.*) As much as I’ve loved their films since childhood, I’d really only seen the “big” ones like DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS or CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN because they were the ones that were shown on TV. As a result, I hadn’t yet been exposed to some really good stuff like BRIDES OF DRACULA or PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. (Yes, Christian, it was good. I was just sleepy.) So, by adulthood, my exposure to Peter Cushing was somewhat limited and I mostly knew him as the evil Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS. Tarkin was a really bad guy and, according to Princess Leia, had a “foul stench.” This really didn’t endear Cushing to my nine-year-old self at all. Which is too bad because Peter Cushing was the tits.
This year, working through as many of Hammer’s horror films as I can get my hands on, I’ve grown to realize just how incredibly awesome Peter Cushing was. Whether he was playing the noble Van Helsing in the Dracula films or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the slimy Victor Frankenstein in a multitude of films, he made even the worst of them entertaining. Cushing started with Hammer at a relatively advanced age (in his forties) and so I’m amazed, as I discover my own new aches, pains and twinges each day, that Cushing was able to perform most of his own stunts, even into his sixties! In BRIDES OF DRACULA, he bounds around the set, jumping from ladders to hay bales to staircases with agility and grace. And his performances were never less than top-notch. He obviously took his craft very seriously and brought dignity and class to a genre that sorely needed it. By all accounts, Mr. Cushing was also a true gentleman in every sense of the word, famously apologizing to his female co-star when the studio insisted (despite Cushing’s protests) that a rape scene was necessary in one of the Frankenstein movies.
I’ve been watching a lot of interviews with Cushing on YouTube and he was gentle, humorous and charming to the end. Tragically, he lost his beloved wife Helen sometime in the 1970’s (right before filming TWINS OF EVIL) and was quoted as considering the rest of his life after that point merely “marking time” until he could be with her again. That’s so sad, it breaks my heart. I hope they’re together now, somewhere, and he’s happy again. He certainly deserved it.
Likenesses are not my strong suit but fortunately Cushing had very distinctive features that must have been a Director of Photography’s dream. Every once in a while I see someone and that urge to draw them kicks in. Usually it’s a pretty woman but lately, I’ve been absolutely needing to draw Cushing. I think it came out pretty good and I’m surprised at how quickly it happened. I did this drawing in less than an hour which is fast for me. I think it’s a fairly accurate likeness (I drew from a photograph.) but I think I somehow missed that little twinkle in his eye that you can see in a lot of his films.
* I don’t really like porn. In all honesty, I find it repetitive, frustrating and eventually downright boring. Unlike pro football, sex is something that’s more fun doing than watching. I’d rather be teased, which is why I enjoy the Hammer films so much. But I’d always wanted to see CALIGULA because the idea of a big-budget, all-star historical epic crossed with a triple-X-rated porn movie was too much to pass up. But it was a huge disappointment because it felt like they shot a genuine Hollywood movie and then, without telling the stars, cut in some barely-relevant boom-boom. Problem is, the Hollywood part was very brutal and gory and, in my opinion, gore and sex are two great tastes that do not taste great together. It was very disturbing and a huge turn-off. (With the exception of Helen (THE QUEEN) Mirren who was absolutely stunning back then.) Funny story, though. The morning after I watched this atrocity, I was flipping channels on the HDTV Suzanne got me for my birthday and when it got to some local religious programming, it froze. The remote wouldn’t work and the controls on the TV didn’t respond. I couldn’t even turn it off. It was as if the TV, feeling I needed redemption, was going to force some proper viewing on me. I was alarmed about the problem but couldn’t stop laughing. I guess the TV felt like it had cleansed itself because it’s working fine now. Hilarious.
Posted by Matt Wieringo at 5:19 PM