The Trinity of Terror: Lee, Cushing, and Price
It seems fated that horror legends Peter Cushing, Sir Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price share near the same birthdays: Cushing on May 26, and Lee and Price on May 27, even if not the same year. In the hearts and minds of most horror fans, they are three of the most important actors of the genre. All three had acting careers spanning from the 40’s to present, even after their deaths. A look at Lee’s IMDB page still lists him as having voice credit in projects as recent as this year. Peter Cushing had the dubious honor of being resurrected, through CGI, as his STAR WARS character Grand Moff Tarkin in 2016’s ROGUE ONE. Personally, I could have done without that one.
Starting in the 50’s, all three became essential parts in the revitalization of the horror genre after the Universal monster era. Lee and Cushing helped create the movie production powerhouse that was Hammer Studios by recreating the Universal monsters Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy in lurid color and expanding that universe. Price teamed up with director Roger Corman and reimagined the writings of Poe and Lovecraft for a modern audience. They all springboarded into other projects, creating their own immortal characters such as Lee’s Lord Summerisle, Cushing’s Grimsdyke, and Price’s Dr. Phibes, among others.
Lee and Cushing, of course, acted together many times as adversaries in the Hammer films, as well as other projects. Both men also had projects with Price, but the three only appeared together in two films, SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970) and HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983). Only in HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS do the three interact with each other.
SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, directed by Gordon Hessler and adapted by Christopher Wicking, is a strange jangle of a film. A Nazi-like military cult is creating super-human beings running amok in London, and young girls are turning up bloodless and mutilated. Unfortunately, Cushing, one of the cult Commanders, is killed off early. Lee plays a government official who only really shows up at the end. It is a Price film, with him playing a terribly misguided mad doctor creating a Super Race. It is a typical 70’s Brit film, complete with a mod rock band, The Amen Corner, singing the theme song. Over and over. The best part of the movie is the end, as Lee drowns Price in a vat of acid, using only his signature demonic glare.
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, which also stars John Carradine, is a showcase for Lee, Cushing, and Price. It was directed by Pete Walker and adapted by Michael Armstrong. Desi Arnaz, Jr. is a jaded writer who makes a bet with his publisher that he can churn out an epic novel like WUTHERING HEIGHTS in a mere 24 hours. He spends the night in an old Welsh manor that is supposed to be deserted, only to find himself caught up in a mystery with an eccentric group of characters.
Cushing, Price, and Lee all make entrances that reflect each of their own particular images. Peter Cushing is the soft-spoken country gentleman. He was often the beleaguered defender of Good against Evil, or he was the tormented seeker of forbidden knowledge. He always seemed to have a fragility and reticence unlike the other two. There seemed an underlying current of nervous energy in Cushing’s characters. He was the Knight.
Vincent Price makes his entrance as the over-the-top stage actor persona he was best known for. He even admonishes Arnaz, “Don’t interrupt me while I’m soliloquizing.” Price was the Jester of Horror. He had the unique gift of mixing theater, horror and comedy. He could make jokes while torturing you to death. The only thing missing in this film is his smoking jacket.
Christopher Lee is the Dark Prince. He carried himself with a natural sense of royalty. He swoops in with his cape and even though he isn’t playing Dracula, he has an ominous charm that draws us in as it terrifies us. He was the magnetic pull of every scene but also a generous actor who knew how to create space with his fellow actors.
The ending of HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS reveals the mystery to be an elaborate hoax orchestrated by the publisher on Arnaz with the help of a group of actors. During a party scene, the three greats joke together and it comes across that they had genuine respect and affection for each other. Cushing, Price and Lee weren’t just great actors, they each led fascinating lives off screen and that depth of character magnified every role they played.