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Christopher Lee was baby boomers Frankenstein, Mummy, Dracula
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"Curse of Frankenstein" (1957), with the "creature" played by Christopher Lee, began a string of hit horror films for the British Hammer Studios and made Lee a star. - photo by Chris Hicks
After the death of Christopher Lee last week, it was interesting to see that so many of the stories about his death spent so much ink on his having been a participant in the Star Wars prequels and the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.

Not that those werent significant and deserving milestones in Lees later life as an actor. They certainly were. And its significant not just that he was still making pictures into his 80s and 90s but also that he was still playing vital roles in major movies.

But for me, and perhaps for other baby boomers out there, the name Christopher Lee is more associated with the Hammer horror films of the 1950s and 60s, in the same way that Boris Karloff was associated with Universal horror films in the 1930s and 40s.

In his way, Lee was the Karloff of the next generation.

Karloff was a British actor who labored in small character parts for several years before finally making his movie mark as the monster in Frankenstein (1931), then as The Mummy (1932), followed by myriad horror films, including three Frankenstein sequels. He and Bela Lugosi, who starred as Dracula (1931), had parallel careers and were often paired up.

Lee was also a British actor who labored in small character parts for several years before finally making his movie mark as the creature in Curse of Frankenstein (1957), then as Dracula (1958, released in America as Horror of Dracula) and The Mummy (1959), followed by myriad horror films, including six Dracula sequels. He and Peter Cushing, who starred as Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Van Helsing in those first two films, had parallel careers and were often paired up.

When I was a kid, I watched all the old creaky black-and-white Karloff and Lugosi pictures on our boxy 13-inch television, and even though I also read Mary Shelley and Bram Stokers novels, the movies are really what shaped my ideas of what these characters were like.

That is, until the one-two punch of The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, which I saw for the first time a few years after their initial release on a double bill. It turned my monster world upside down.

Seeing Frankensteins monster and Count Dracula terrorizing the English countryside in vivid color on a 40-foot screen, in movies that boasted lavish production values, quicker pacing, more flamboyant performances and a vigorous musical score, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention for the length of both films.

Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula also pushed the violence, blood and sex further than had been allowed in earlier films, causing some controversy in their day although by todays standards, theyre pretty tame. Today, the blood looks like bright red paint and the sex is primarily come-hither looks from women in frilly, low-cut blouses. (Some of the later 1960s and 70s entries pushed things even further into R-rated territory.)

After his debut in the Frankenstein and Dracula films, Lees name on the credits was enough to pique my interest.

Lee made a lot of movies more than 200 over the length of his 66-year career. Plus some 60-plus TV appearances.

He arrived on the screen in 1948, and here we are in 2015 with two new films awaiting release with Lees name in the list of cast members.

In addition to horror movies, Lees filmography includes dramas, comedies, fantasies, Westerns, epics, small independent productions, serious literary adaptations, broad slapstick farces, brooding theater pieces you name it. Horror films are actually a rather small percentage.

To younger moviegoers, of course, its only natural that Lee will always be Count Dooku and Saruman.

But for baby boomers like me, hell always be a pitiable Frankensteins creature, an eerie and scary Mummy and, of course, a sensual and terrifying Count Dracula.