Never a monster

  1. firstFew actors have had such a strong effect on the films I watch, and there is nothing more delightful in a movie’s opening titles than seeing  the name “Peter Cushing” appear .. born today 26th May 1913 (died 1974).

Starring in over 90 films throughout his career means that no matter how dreadful the script is, there will always be brilliant scenes in it thanks to him.

He had such great skill to be evil and charming at the same time, to look like your grandfather but act like your worst nightmare with performances that could turn down the room temperature.

It was all in his eyes; one moment full of menace, next tender, warm and sad. Eyes that could belong to a devil or a saint and he played both, meticulously.

The message was: being wicked is no excuse for bad manners.

His distinctive performances lift so many films that make them cult favourites, just think about Hammer’s “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957) whilst most people would agree the definitive Frankenstein’s monster still belongs to Universal’s make-up department and Boris Karloff, to me personally the best “Frankenstein” will always be Peter Cushing.

And when I first saw (in my youth) him as Van Helsing in “Dracula” (1958), carrying out blood transfusions or dictating into an early phonograph, he delivered his lines in such a way that I could actually believe that vampires existed!!

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But apart from all his horror films he perfectly played Sherlock Holmes in Hammers “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1958). Intelligent, resourceful and at the same time arrogant, Cushing as Holmes is wonderful. I could watch it on a continuous loop as he dons the deerstalker to solve the case with grace, dignity and determination.

Although he made his name with Hammer, some of his later works with the likes of Amicus were just so colourful! Devilishly charming in “From Beyond the Grave”, battling the murderous forces of “The Skull” and stopping the evil ET entity in “Horror Express”.

He always brought such vigour to every scene he was in and I was always amazed at how such a small actor could leap and fight with such startling athletic ability!

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I always get the feeling that most people don’t see him as ‘famous’ as his long-time friend and co-star Sir Christopher Lee, he was just as important to the success of the second great era of horrors from the late 1950’s to the early 1970’s. Working together and separately Cushing and Lee were their generation’s answer to Karloff and Lugosi.

Watching him has been one of the supreme pleasures of cinema – whether saving a town from bloodthirsty vampires, or solving mysteries with his brilliant deductions he is the one man of cinema I always feel safe with.

His films are like comfort food, when I can’t sleep or when I need to relax I use his movies like most would use their favourite CD or album.

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But to be honest I haven’t watched all his appearances which gives me something to look forward to …. The only decisions I have to make today is which ones to watch!

So today let us remember Peter Cushing, there hasn’t been another actor like you… or indeed another man.

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