Having recently read Phil Baker’s The Devil Is A Gentleman: The Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley, I was moved to revisit the Hammer film adaptations of Wheatley’s novels – The Devil Rides Out (Terence Fisher, 1968) and To The Devil A Daughter (Peter Sykes, 1976), both of which ‘starred’ pseudo-aristocratic plonker Christopher Lee. The first flick is an ultra-conservative thriller with some occult trimmings that looks absolutely pathetic when compared to what was happening in horror cinema at the time. It is of the same vintage as early post-modern classics like Succubus (Jess Franco, 1967), Rape of the Vampire (Jean Rollin, 1968) and Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968), but looks positively antediluvian in comparison.
With To The Devil A Daughter, Hammer finally caught up with what had been happening cinematically in the late-sixties; they may have been a decade behind the times but the result was still a groove sensation! Just before giving up the ghost, Hammer had finally made a film that rather than being plot driven was based around atmospherics and didn’t rely on a stupid climactic end scene to ‘please’ its audience. There was even some full frontal nudity, albeit very brief . Being arch-reactionaries (and literal Tory party supporters from over-privileged backgrounds) with absolutely no sense of taste or style, Lee and his chum Wheatley loved The Devil Rides Out and disliked the infinitely superior To The Devil A Daughter (which took enormous and much needed liberties with the half-baked novel on which it was based).
Lee’s contributions to the featurette accompanying To The Devil A Daughter in The Hammer Collection DVD box set, reveal him to be an unbelievably vain and pretentious twit. He has a movie career simply because he is tall and can look menacing (he is chiefly famous for his ‘non-human’ roles as Frankenstein’s monster and the ‘undead’ Dracula), few people beyond Lee himself could possibly suffer from the delusion that he can act. Despite this, he witters on about how his Wheatley movies fulfilled the serious function of warning the public of the dangers of the occult. Lee himself is enough of a half-wit to take ‘black magic’ and related hucksterism seriously. It should go without saying that the main danger ‘black magicians’ pose to the wider public is that their attempts to part fools from their money tend to be so ham-fisted that they sometimes make people complacent about the ability of more sophisticated con artists to pull a fast one.
Having had the misfortune to see Lee’s brainless performance on the featurette accompanying one of his best films (although it isn’t quite up there with Beat Girl, directed by Edmond T. Gréville in 1959), I found myself thinking that if this B-movie blockhead really wishes to distance himself from the villains he’s portrayed onscreen, then he really ought to stop behaving like one of the ‘undead’. I therefore leave him and you with the following question to ponder: Christopher Lee, why aren’t you dead? Isn’t it about time he did himself the huge favour of popping his clogs?
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!