Peter Cushing. The great British actor. He was Sherlock Holmes, he was Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars New Hope. He has even been Doctor Who in Doctor Who and the Daleks. He’s done it all. When I was younger I wanted him to be my Grandad.
Since we’re celebrating Vampire Week Mr. Cushing’s 100th birthday has come up at the right time. He may have played Dr. Frankenstein 7 times but he’s played our favourite Vampire Hunter, Van Helsing 5 times as well as another vampiresque role. So lets look at the vampire links of this great actor.Cushing was born on the 26th May 1913 and began acting at an early age. He would join Hammer Horror films and would star opposite Christopher Lee in a fair few of these, his most famous being Cushing as Van Helsing and Lee as Dracula. They would become very close friends until Cushing’s death in 1994.
The film Dracula came out in 1958. Obviously everyone who’s a vampire lover has seen it. This is one of the greats of Hammer Horror. The film is loosely based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula and there are some differences to the book. You’ll find that in the US the name of the film is Horror of Dracula, this is because of the 1931 version of the film starring Bela Lugosi also titled Dracula. The year before Cushing had starred in his first Frankenstein film, The Curse of Frankenstein, and this led to the next 6 Frankenstein films. But back onto Dracula and Van Helsing!
1960 brings us The Brides of Dracula. Cushing plays Van Helsing but there’s no Dracula in this one. The weird thing about this film is that it was made has a sequel to Dracula but follows on more from Stoker’s book than the actual film. There are certain powers not seen in the first film but were used in the book. Doesn’t really matter if you’d read the book or not. Cushing had some great input into this film and had some say in how the film ended. The ending intended for The Brides of Dracula was eventually used in 1963’s Kiss of the Vampire.
Cushing wouldn’t reprise his role has Van Helsing until 12 years later. In 1972, aged 59, Cushing joined the cast of Dracula Today. You may know it has Dracula AD 1972. This would be the first time since Dracula in 1958 that he and Christopher Lee would take up the roles they made famous. It was also the first time the Dracula franchise was moved forwards a century. The film is set in a more modern day setting where Dracula preys on young party goers. A descendant of Van Helsing is in the mix too.
The Satanic Rights of Dracula (1973) would be the last that Christopher Lee would play Dracula. Cushing would carry on in his Van Helsing role a bit longer. Joanna Lumley plays Jessica Van Helsing in this film. The film consists of lots of vampire women and secrets and carries a spy thriller feel to it just as much as horror. It really is like no Dracula film you’ve seen before and watch out for the hidden meanings throughout the film… Van Helsing lures Dracula into a hawthorn bush. Christ’s crown of thorns was made out of hawthorn making it a symbol of good.
1974 brought us The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. This is a down right strange one. Dracula was played by John Forbes-Robertson but his voice was dubbed by someone else. Cushing played the familiar Van Helsing role in an unfamiliar Hong Kong. A local student helps Van Helsing find a long lost village that is terrorised by vampires, one been Dracula. It goes on like this throughout the film. Lots of Asian influences and major differences between all the other Dracula films. This was Cushing’s last Dracula film for Hammer films. None of the films apart from the original Dracula ever got good reviews and it’s easy to see why, even though there are good parts in each film. They never made as big an impression as the original. Just like any series really.
Peter Cushing once played a vampire. Tender Dracula, or Confessions of a Blood Drinker was a French film released in 1974. Cushing played an actor who’d played vampires a lot in the films he was in. Two writers and their girlfriends visit the castle where he lives and the longer they stay the more they believe he’s actually a vampire. Watch it to find out what happens.
Peter Cushing, along with Christopher Lee, is one of the actors who made horror accessible and watchable for everyone. He was able to adapt to all his roles and enjoyed what he did. He didn’t just do pure horror even though that’s what people remember him for. Hammer Horror have a lot to thank him for and so do we, the public. He’s also credited with being Sherlock Holmes in the 1959 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles…. The first Sherlock Holmes film in colour.
Peter Cushing 100 years old and will, hopefully, be remembered in another 100 years.
Talking of vampires, it’s Christopher Lee’s 91st birthday tomorrow. Dracula lives! Long live Dracula.