5 Notable Actors In Classic Horror Movies

5 Notable Actors In Classic Horror Movies

For me, the golden age of horror movies ran between the 1920s and the 1960s mainly in the USA and then 1960s to 1970s in the UK . The movies produced in this timeframe were classic films that stood the test of time and stand up against any of today’s contemporary offerings.

Some of the finest actors in horror movies were introduced by Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount followed by the British studio, Hammer Film Productions.

Here I present six of my stand-out actors from this golden time:

Image Credit: IMDb – www.imdb.com

Peter Cushing
Peter Wilton Cushing was born on May 26, 1913 in Kenley, Surrey, England, to Nellie Maria and George Edward Cushing.

At an early age, Cushing had a keen interest in acting which he expressed through local amateur dramatics before he moved to London and attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

He was active in repertory theater in Worthing before heading to Hollywood in 1939, deciding in 1939 to head for Hollywood to mkae his film debut in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939).

Other Hollywood films followed including the Laurel Hardy movie, A Chump at Oxford (1939). with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Vigil in the Night (1940) and They Dare Not Love (1941).

Heading back home to England, Cushing did his bit during World War 2 by joing the Entertainment National Services Association (ENSA).

Following the war he performed worked the West End and had his big break appearing with Laurence Olivier in Hamlet (1948). In the production of Hamlet Cushing’s future horror allumnus Christopher Lee had a bit part.

It was during the 1950’s Cushing would team up with Hammer Film Productions and secure hie place in the hearts of many horror fans for decades to come. His first Hammer roles included Dr. Frankenstein in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dr. Van Helsing in Dracula (1958), and Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959).

Cushing revisited the roles of Drs. Frankenstein and Van Helsing, as well as playing other horror characters in Hammer films over the next 20 years.

He also appeared in films for the other major horror producer of the time, Amicus Productions, including Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) and its later horror anthologies.

Peter Cushing even played the cult time-traveling hero Dr Who in two films (Dr. Who and the Daleks 1965 and Dalek’s Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. in 1966).

Outside of horror, he is best known as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).

His last movie was Biggles (1986) before he retired from movie acting to concentrate on TV work.

Cushing produced two autobiographies and continued on with his hobbies of bird watching and painting.

In 1989, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of his contributions to the acting profession in Britain and worldwide.

Peter Cushing died at age 81 of prostate cancer on August 11, 1994.

Interesting Fact:
He turned down Donald Pleasence’s role as Dr. Sam Loomis in Halloween (1978) (as did Christopher Lee).

Some notable horror roles include:

The Ghoul (1975)
Legend of the Werewolf (1975)
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)
The Beast Must Die (1974)
From Beyond the Grave (1974)
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
The Creeping Flesh (1973)
Horror Express (1972)
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)
Twins of Evil (1971)
The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
The Blood Beast Terror (1968)
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966)
Island of Terror (1966)
Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)
Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)
The Gorgon (1964)
The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
The Brides of Dracula (1960)
The Mummy (1959)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
Dracula (1958)
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Image Credit: IMDb – www.imdb.com

Christopher Lee
Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee is probably best known as his recurring role of the ultimate vampire in history, Count Dracula.

He was also known for a range of other characters including, Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), or Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), or as the title monster in the Hammer Horror film, The Mummy (1959).

Christopher Lee was born in 1922 in London to his parents, Contessa Estelle Marie (Carandini di Sarzano) and Geoffrey Trollope Lee, a professional soldier.

He attended Wellington College from ages 14 to 17 going to to work as an office clerk. In 1941 when he enlisted into the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II.

Six years later, after leaving the RAF, Lee joined the Rank Organisation. He trained as an actor Rank’s “Charm School” and playing a number of bit parts in such films as Corridor of Mirrors (1948). He made a brief appearance in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), in which his future partner-in-horror Peter Cushing also appeared.

Being unusually tall for an actor he played the monster in the Hammer film The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) leading to him being signed or future roles in Hammer Film Productions.

While working for Hammer Film Productions he became good friends with Peter Cushing in real life. Conersely, Lee and Cushing usually played opposite roles contrasting roles on screen in Hammer films, Cushing usually the protagonist and Lee the villain. Examples of this are Van Helsing and Dracula respectively in Dracula (1958) and John Banning and Kharis the Mummy respectively in The Mummy (1959).

Lee continued his role as “Dracula” in a number of Hammer sequels throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s. He also appeared in a number of films in Europe. With his own production company, Charlemagne Productions, Ltd.

The success of these films prompted him in the late 1970s to move to Hollywood, where he remained a busy actor but made mostly unremarkable film and television appearances, and eventually moved back to England. The beginning of the new millennium relaunched his career to some degree, during which he has played Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) and as Saruman the White in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lee played Count Dooku again in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), and portrayed the father of Willy Wonka, played by Johnny Depp, in the Tim Burton film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).

On 16th June 2001, he was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his services to drama. He was created a Knight Bachelor on 13 June 2009 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his services to drama and charity. In addition he was made a Commander of the Order of St John on 16 January 1997.

Christopher Lee died of heart failure on 7th June 2015 shortly after his 93rd birthday.

Interesting Facts:
A distant cousin and frequent golfing partner of Bond creator Ian Fleming. He turned down Donald Pleasence’s role as Dr. Sam Loomis in Halloween (1978) (as did Peter Cushing). Lee later remarked that this was his biggest mistake in acting).

He turned down Donald Pleasence’s role as Dr. Sam Loomis in Halloween (1978) (as did Peter Cushing). Lee later remarked that this was his biggest mistake in acting).

Some notable horror roles include:
Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch (1985)
Dracula and Son (1976)
Dracula (1976)
To the Devil a Daughter (1976)
The Wicker Man (1973)
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
The Creeping Flesh (1973)
Horror Express (1972)
Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)
The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
Scars of Dracula (1970)
Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
Count Dracula (1970)
Sax Rohmer’s The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)
The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968)
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Theatre of Death (1967)
The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967)
The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966)
Circus of Fear (1966)
Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)
The Gorgon (1964)
The Castle of the Living Dead (1964)
Crypt of Horror (1964)
The Hands of Orlac (1960)
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)
Uncle Was a Vampire (1959)
The Mummy (1959)
Dracula (1958)

Image Credit: IMDb – www.imdb.com

Vincent Price
Vincent Price is best known as an actor but the man was also a raconteur, art collector and connoisseur of fine food.

He was born of Welsh heritage to affluent parents on 27th May 1911 in St Louis, USA.

His hallmark cultivated voice and refined persona were the result of an education which began with him being sent on a tour of the culteral centres of Europe. His education reached it’s peak with a B.A. in English from Yale University and a degree in art history from London’s Courtauld Institute. A heady mix for any student.

Initially a fine stage and radio actor Price eventually became linked with Gothic horror on screen.

His first gothic horror outing was Dragonwyck (1946), His first charcter in horror was actually the early stirrings of the character he would make his own in later movies for years to come.

In the successful movie House of Wax (1953), he further developed and honed his style with the role of crazed sculptor Henry Jarrod. This role waould establish Vincent Price in the horror genre for the rest of his career and beyond.

It has to be said that a list of lower quality roles followed. They may have been more lightweight but his appearance as the star lifted them to greater heights than they otherwise would have reached. Titles in this phase include; The Mad Magician (1954), The Fly (1958), Return of the Fly (1959) House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Bat (1959).

Then came the period many though was Price’s hatday when he acted in The Fall of the House of Usher. This movie prompted the begining of a flirtation with the short stories by Edgar Allen Poe.

Around this time he would deliver trademark and successful performances, successful in the box office at least, in other films such as Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962) and The Raven (1963).

In the movie, The Comedy of Terrors (1963), Price joined the wonderfully strange Peter Lorre. They played murderous undertakes but despite the morbid subject matter, the film was played strictly for laughs

By the end of the 1960s Price had produced an impressive body of work including the fine Witchfinder General (1968) in which he gave a rich portrayal of Matthew Hopkins. While enjoyable to watch, none of these films really really stretched him but such an on-screen persona requires little stretching to produce engaging results. Even when the script or story was lackluster, a Vincent Price performanance could sometimes make it seem like Shakespeare – if it only be for a short while.

For me, one of his most iconic roles was in the titular role of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) as well as the sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972). In my mind these two movies together with the terrifically indulgent Theatre of Blood (1973) make up the perfect Vincent Price movie trilogy. This choice says more about my mind than the merits of each movie. Incedentally, Price expressed a wish to play Shakespeare and this is why Theatre of Blood was one of his favourite roles.

During the 1970s and 1980s he produced mainly to voice work and special appearances on TV.

His final movie of any note was as the inventor in Edward Scissorhands (1990). This role was written specifically for him and he played the part with typical gusto despite his advancing years.

All good things must come to an end and Vincent Price died in October 25th 1993 in Los Angeles at the grand old age of 82.

Interesting fact:
Vincent Price provided the poetic rap style voice-over for Michael Jackson’s song Thriller.
Price accepted the job and did the recording in only two takes.

He later divulged to Johnny Carson that he was offered a one-time fee of $20,000, or a percentage of the album proceeds. He decided to choose the first offer, admitting that he had been quite foolish as Thriller spent more weeks at number one on the Billboard 200 than any other album in history.

Some notable horror roles include:
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Michael Jackson: Thriller (Video short) (1983)
House of the Long Shadows (1983)
The Monster Club (1981)
Theatre of Blood (1973)
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Cry of the Banshee (1971)
Scream and Scream Again (1970)
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
The Haunted Palace (1963)
Diary of a Madman (1963)
The Raven (1963)
Tower of London (1962)
Tales of Terror (1962)
Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)
The Bat (1959)
Return of the Fly (1959)
The Tingler (1959)
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
The Fly (1958)
Dragonwyck (1946)

Image Credit: IMDb – www.imdb.co

Boris Karloff
Boris Karloff (real name: William Henry Pratt) was born on November 23rd 1887, in Camberwell, London, England. His perents were Edward John Pratt Jr., the Deputy Commissioner of Customs Salt and Opium, Northern Division, Indian Salt Revenue Service and his third wife, Eliza Sarah Millard.

He was educated at London University and emigrated to Canada in 1909 and joined a touring company based out of Ontario, it was here he took the stage name of Boris Karloff.

After touring around the USA with the stage company he ultimately set down roots in Hollywood as an almost pennyless out of work actor.

To put food on his table and a roof oveer his head he found occasional film work in the silent film industry but he had to supplement this movie work with more reliable work as a truck driver in Los Angeles.

In 1931 his big Hollywood breakthrough cam wehn he was cast as ‘the monster’in the Universal production of Frankenstein (1931).

Frankenstein was a success with the public and crtitics alike making Boris Karloff and instant major player in Hollywood.

This lead him to appeared in several other scary roles, including The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), as Im-Ho-Tep in The Mummy (1932) and Proffesor Morlant in The Ghoul (1933).

He once again played Frankenstein’s monster in the much loved Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and the best forgotten Son of Frankenstein (1939).

While Karloff continued making movies but the standard began to drop, this included appearing in the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello monster movies.

in The 1960s he had a quite successful TV career while hosting his own TV anthology series called, Boris Karloff Presents (1960). This was around the time he produced some of his finest work movies such as The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), Black Sabbath (1963) and the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Monster of Terror (1965).

Strangely enough his career’s final last hoorah was ensuring his eternal link with Christmas TV as the narrator of the much loved Chuck Jones’s cartoon, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966).

Boris Karloff passed away on February 2nd 1969 from emphysema.

Interesting Fact:
To add to the sense of mystique around Boris Karloff in the opening credits of his first big break, Frankenstein (1931), his name was replaced simply with a question mark.

Some notable horror roles include:
Alien Terror (1971)
Isle of the Snake People (1971)
Cauldron of Blood (1970)
Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)
House of Evil (1968)
The Snake People (1968)
The Sorcerers (1967)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (TV Short) (1966)
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)
1965Monster of Terror (1965)
The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
Black Sabbath (1963)
The Terror (1963)
The Raven (1963)
Corridors of Blood (1958)
Frankenstein 1970 (1958)
Grip of the Strangler (1958)
Voodoo Island (1957)
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)
The Black Castle (1952)
Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)
Bedlam (1946)
Isle of the Dead (1945)
The Body Snatcher (1945)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
The Climax (1944)
The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)
The Devil Commands (1941)
The Ape (1940)
Before I Hang (1940)
Black Friday (1940)
The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
The Walking Dead (1936)
The Black Room Mystery (1935)
The Raven (1935)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The Black Cat (1934)
The Mummy (1932)
The Old Dark House (1932)
Frankenstein (1931)

Image Credit: IMDb – www.imdb.com ©1931 – Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.

Bela Lugosi
Bela Lugosi, real name Béla Ferenc Dezsö Blaskó, was born on October 20th 1882 in Hungary, Austria-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania), the youngest of four children.

Starting his acting career in 1901 Lugosi became a well known stage actor in his native Hungary and appeared in films durring World War one.

He was forced to escape to Germany 1919 due to his left-wing political activity while organsing an actors’ union. In 1920 he emigrated to the US and made a living acting. He soon found fame playing Dracula in a 1927 Broadway stage production of Bram Stoker’s novel. It was committed to film in 1931 (the same year Lugosi became a US citizen) making Lugosi the template of the evil Count on the silver screen and one actors have been compared to ever since.

Sadly, his reputation and career sharply declined son after. This was mainly due to Lugosi falling our of favour with studio bosses. This spat with the studios resulted in him accepting any role that would come his way, no matter how poort the script.

Bela Lugosi’s career fizzled out like a slowly dying ember seeing him resort to working with the imfamously bad director Edward D. Wood Junior.

Bela Lugosi suffered a heart attack and died on August 16th 1956. He was buried wearing a Dracula costume consisting of a Dracula cape and ring.

Interesting Fact:
Bela Lugosi and Colin Lawson both share October the 20th as their birthday, but Lugosi was born first, by almost 90 years.

Some notable horror roles include:
The Black Sleep (1956)
Bride of the Monster (1955)
Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)
Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1952)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Zombies on Broadway (1945)
The Body Snatcher (1945)
One Body Too Many (1944)
Return of the Ape Man (1944)
Voodoo Man (1944)
The Return of the Vampire (1943)
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
The Ape Man (1943)
Night Monster (1942)
The Case of the Missing Brides (1942)
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
The Wolf Man (1941)
Spooks Run Wild (1941)
The Black Cat (1941)
Invisible Ghost (1941)
You’ll Find Out (1940)
The Devil Bat (1940)
Black Friday (1940)
The Dark Eyes of London (1939)
The Gorilla (1939)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
The Phantom Creeps (1939)
The Raven (1935)
Mark of the Vampire (1935)
The Black Cat (1934)
Night of Terror (1933)
The Whispering Shadow (1933)
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
White Zombie (1932)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
Dracula (1931)
The Last Performance (1929)

DISCLAIMER: I’m sure if I asked 100 people to write their own list we would get 100 different lists with only one or two names being common throughout. I in no way claim this list to be definitive. It’s purely names that instantly spring to mind when I think of horror’s leading men.

Credit: Some portions of text and images from the Internet Movie Database and remain the property of their original owners.

© Colin Lawson Books


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