So Christopher Lee left this world for a better one earlier this year, and while I knew little about his life and career at the time, some of the things I've learned have been quite surprising - none more so, perhaps, than his recent sideline as a heavy metal singer!
What I've always found to be the hilarious thing about classic metal, especially British metal, is the way they took the most preposterous, over-the-top, apocalyptic lyrics and performed them so sincerely. Bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath refined it to a fine art, and it helped that they were fronted by singers with mighty, high-pitched pipes: Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson, and the Metal God himself, Rob Halford.
So to hear someone with such a deep and resonant voice as Lee's perform songs in that same spirit makes for a startling contrast - and he only got on this kick a few years ago! As you can imagine, though, he had a history of vocal talent, and in his case, it ran in the family, as he explains in this video. Lee's voice reminds me a little bit of Thurl Ravenscroft, the singing voice of the Grinch in the animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, among other things, roughened by age. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure Lee's metal songs are to my taste; maybe I'm just so used to high-decibel, Halford-esque shrieking in metal that the contrast is off-putting. Still, how can you not respect someone like him accomplishing this so very late in his life? It's quite inspiring.
As for Lee's acting career, in looking over his filmography, I've noticed that he tended to stick to genre material time and again. One imagines he could've easily crossed over into "straight" material, and indeed, one can see he made movies like A Tale of Two Cities, Julius Caesar and Treasure Island, but movies like these almost seem like footnotes in a career that also included films with titles like Uncle Was a Vampire, To the Devil a Daughter, and my favorite, The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism! It's no wonder that he's as embraced as he is by the geeks.
Horror Express is the kind of film that the hardcore horror-philes no doubt love to pieces, and as much as Lee and his long-time cinematic wingman Peter Cushing try to class it up, it's still derivative schlock (apparently, it's inspired by the same novella that brought us the original The Thing From Another World, if IMDB is to be believed). It's entertaining, though. I like the idea of a monster running loose on a train, and Telly Savalas totally hams it up in his limited appearance.
So fare thee well, Sir Christopher. Yours was a long and full career, and even if most of the films you made weren't necessarily my cup of tea, I hope you had a lot of fun making them.