On this day in 1913, one of the greatest actors to ever grace TV and movie screens was born.
Today we celebrate the life of the man who brought Van Helsing and Doctor Frankenstein to life better than any other; Hammer Films’ pride and joy – Peter Cushing.
I’ve cited these three men before as my favourite actors. I also said that I couldn’t choose a number one favourite between them. But, after giving this some careful thought and consideration, and rewatching some of my favourite films, I realized that I DO have a stand-alone favourite. And yes, it’s Peter Cushing.
~ Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in “Horror of Dracula” (1958)
As with Lee and Price, Cushing’s roles in the realm of horror are what I feel to be his very best performances. I think it’s safe to say that my favourite fictional character of all time is the unrivalled master vampire slayer, Van Helsing. And there’s no doubt that Peter Cushing’s portrayal set the bar for that role so high that it’s never been matched, and dare I say, never will be. Sorry, Edward Van Sloan (“Dracula”, 1931), Laurence Olivier (“Dracula”, 1979), Anthony Hopkins (“Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, 1992), and Hugh Jackman (“Van Helsing”, 2004). You all deserve your 15 minutes of fame, but I’ll take Peter Cushing guarding my back any day over the whole lot of you.
~ Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” (1973)
My post The Art of Fear was written to pay tribute to my three favourite leading men of the macabre. In it, I gave a selected filmography of some of my favourite Peter Cushing films. I touched on a few of them in that post, but in celebration of his 101st birthday, let me highlight a few others for you now.
Do you know what other fictional character I have a real soft spot for? Sherlock Holmes. I enjoy mysteries and who-dunnits probably more than most. Heck, I called my blog “Seeker of Truth”, for cryin’ out loud! It only stands to reason that I’m a mystery-loving Sherlock Holmes fan.
The newest incarnation of the immortal detective definitely does the role justice. Benedict Cumberbatch (or Bendylegs Cucumberstem, or Breathableunderwear Cottonpanties – oh, God, make this ridiculous name parodies sickness stop!!) is a brilliant Holmes in the BBC’s Moffat/Gatiss modernized creation, “Sherlock”.
I’m very tempted to pick Cumberbatch as my favourite Sherlock. Except… you know who else played Sherlock Holmes?
That’s right. Peter Cushing.
In 1959, Hammer tackled my favourite Holmes story, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. Playing alongside Christopher Lee (as Sir Henry Baskerville), Cushing dons the famous deerstalker and solves the case with grace, dignity, ingenuity, and determination. Puffing away on the detective’s trademark pipe, Holmes along with Doctor Watson (André Morell) hit the ground running in an effort to protect the life of the new heir of Baskerville Hall – Sir Henry – whose life is in danger.
One of my favourite scenes in the film is where Cushing saves Sir Henry from a deadly tarantula “attack”. “Don’t move, Sir Henry, if you value your life,” Cushing whisper-hisses in his unmistakably unassuming yet commanding voice.
I adore this movie. I could watch it on a continuous loop. And I will sing its praises till the Hound comes home. (See what I did there?)
The other role I’d like to shine the spotlight on is Cushing as the surprisingly frightening witch-hunting Puritan, Gustav Weil, in another Hammer film, “Twins of Evil” (1971).
This film is made memorable to most by the real-life Playboy playmate twins Mary and Madeleine Collinson, who play Maria and Frieda Gellhorn, nieces of Weil. It is Hammer, so there is of course some nudity, but for me, it’s Cushing’s zealous but well-intentioned Gustav that steals the show.
“Twins of Evil” is just your typical vampire story, but with Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas) instead of Count Dracula. Throw in a little witch-hunting and boobs and there you go.
It’s not one of my favourites, but it has its moments. Like the beheading of Frieda (the “evil” twin) by her uncle.
I’ll never get tired of seeing Peter Cushing handling severed heads.
I’ve never seen a Peter Cushing film that was bad. A bad script? Bad supporting cast? Yes, at least half of them fit that category. But much like his contemporaries Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, Cushing’s presence alone makes any film watchable.
Peter Cushing died on the 11th of August, 1994. But his legacy continues to live on. To me, he’ll always be horror’s hero. Whether saving a town from bloodthirsty vampires, or solving mysteries with his brilliant deductions, Peter Cushing is the one man of the cinema that I’d always feel safe with.
~ Peter Cushing portrayed Baron Frankenstein in six Hammer films: “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957), “The Revenge of Frankenstein” (1958), “The Evil of Frankenstein” (1964), “Frankenstein Created Woman” (1967), “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed” (1969), and “Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell” (1973)
~ Peter Cushing in makeup as the character Arthur Grimsdyke who has risen from the grave for his revenge in “Tales from the Crypt” (1972)
~ Michael Coles (Inspector), Peter Cushing (Abraham Van Helsing), and Stephanie Beacham (Jessica Van Helsing) in “Dracula A.D. 1972” (1972)
~ Peter Cushing as Dr. Christopher Maitland in “The Skull” (1965)
~ Peter Cushing as Emmanuel Hildern “The Creeping Flesh” (1973)
~ “There is evil in this world. There’s dark, awful things. Occasionally, we get a glimpse of them, but there are dark corners, horrors almost impossible to imagine even in our worst nightmares. There is a Satan.” ~ Professor Van Helsing, “Dracula A.D. 1972” (1972)
A very Happy Birthday, Peter. I hope you’re at peace with your beloved Helen.
I don’t want to sound gloomy, but, at some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. For example, you can call that friend, and from the very first maniacal laugh or some other joke, you will know who is at the other end of that line. We used to do that with him so often. And then when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again.
~ Christopher Lee on Peter Cushing