Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee entered this veil of mere mortals on May 27, 1922 and departed on June 7, 2015. News hit the world a few days later and fans of horror films, heavy metal, and all-around excellence in general will mourn this loss forever.
Christopher Lee would not have us mope over him, though. Instead, this British icon, World War II hero, and descendent of Charlemagne who was fluent in seven languages (and “conversational” in Mandarin Chinese) would no doubt prefer that we joyfully celebrate his life and work that continued up to the moment of his passing at age 93.
A metal god from the very first moment he donned a Dracula cape, Christopher Lee hurled himself explicitly and with brilliant enthusiasm into the genre as the last great act of his great, great life. He collaborated with metal bands and even created and performed his own series of symphonic metal recordings. This came, of course, after an electrifying movie career in which Christopher Lee portrayed cinema’s most searing villains—and, thereby, heavy metal’s most towering heroes—as only he could.
So spill a swallow of blood from your skull chalice today in Christopher Lee’s honor and join Heavy Metal Movies author Mike McPadden on a tour of Sir Christopher’s 15 most heavy metal moments.
Making Christmas Metal
Christopher Lee on “Jingle Hell”
Beginning in 2012 with “Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing,” Lee put the Christopher in Christmas by releasing a series of heavy metal holiday songs. “I do not know how long I am going to be around,” Lee said of this recent tradition, “so every day is a celebration and I want to share it with my fans.”
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
Christopher Lee: Memories of World War II
Eager to lay his entire being on the line for a righteous cause, seventeen-year-old Christopher Lee hightailed it to Finland in 1939 to fight Soviet communists. A year later, he returned home to England to contend with Nazis. Lee battled against the Third Reich first as a solider in the Royal Air Force, and then as a member Winston Churchill’s elite, top-secret special operations force with the most British-heavy-metal-sounding name of all time: The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.
While rightly honored to fight the good fight, Christopher Lee took no pleasure in the agonies of combat. “I’ve seen many men die right in front of me,” he once said, “so many in fact that I’ve become almost hardened to it. Having seen the worst that human beings can do to each other, the results of torture, mutilation and seeing someone blown to pieces by a bomb, you develop a kind of shell. But you had to. You had to. Otherwise we would never have won.”
Blood of Fu Manchu (1968)
Fu Manchu is a Chinese crime-lord turned almost supernatural evil genius created by British author Sax Rohmer in a succession of popular early twentieth century novels that have been turned into numerous films. Many actors of various racial and ethnic backgrounds have played Fu Manchu; one did so perfectly: Christopher Lee.
Forgetting today’s political correctness, consider how actually correct it was for Hammer Films to cast their biggest star in this notorious role by referring to Rohmer’s original character description: “Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan… one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present … Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu.” You also have an exact picture of Christopher Lee.
Lee played the Asian antihero with full heavy metal overkill in the varyingly gory but always gruesome The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968), and The Castle of Fu Manchu.
A couple of decades later, a Southern California stoner metal squad would continue what Lee made so hard and heavy by calling themselves Fu Manchu.
Rhapsody of Fire
“Magic of Wizard’s Dream” – Rhapsody of Fire
Italian symphonic power metal outfit Rhapsody of Fire added unholy royalty to its lineup by having Christopher Lee narrate their two-part fantasy opus, The Dark Secret (2004) and Symphony of Enchanted Lands (2006). Elevating the entire endeavor from sanguine to sublime is that Lee actually sings with the group on “The Magic of the Wizard’s Dream.”
Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966)
Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916) is himself so metal an icon that he’s inspired everything from the goth group Rasputina to a long-in-gestation Broadway rock opera being forever worked on by Ozzy Osbourne.
Cinema’s defining version of pre-Soviet Russia’s spooky visionary, black magic faith healer, sexual libertine, and Svengali-like counsel to the Tsarina is, of course, played by Christopher Lee in Hammer Film’s Rasputin, the Mad Monk.
The Man With the Golden Gun
“The Man With the Golden Gun” – Alice Cooper
Playing a Bond villain is virtually a requirement among the big screen’s most deliciously diabolical bad guys and Christopher Lee more than proves up to the task as the titular malefactor in The Man With the Golden Gun. In real life, Christopher Lee was the cousin of James Bond creator Ian Fleming and the two often played golf together.
In Golden Gun, Lee plays Francisco Scaramanga, a world-domination-seeker who possesses a weapon that can harness the power of the sun to wreak global havoc and, to help him pull it off, a colorful little person henchman named Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize). Roger Moore, in his second outing as James Bond, goes up against Scaramanga to save the world.
Lee’s presence prompted Alice Cooper to compose a theme song for The Man With the Golden Gun. Producers unwisely instead opted to go with one by pop songbird Lulu, leaving Alice to include his own kickass composition on the 1973 album, Muscle of Love. Lulu’s version was not a hit.
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
British horror author Dennis Wheatley captivated readers worldwide with a series of occult thrillers following the adventures Satanism investigator Duc de Richelieu. In 1968, England’s premiere horror studio Hammer Films turned Wheatley’s 1934 breakthrough, The Devil Rides Out, into a first class production, and forever rendered horror more metal.
Christopher Lee stars in Devil as de Richelieu and Charles Grey (the criminologist from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Mocata, a brilliantly evil and refined sorcerer based on heavy metal’s all-time most incandescent dark spiritual leader, Aleister Crowley.
Battle Hymns MMXI – Manowar “Dark Avenger”
For their eleventh studio album, Battle Hymns MMXI, power metal’s burliest, brawniest, and most brazen cabal, Manowar, tapped Christopher Lee to provide narration about a skirmish at the gates of Hades itself.
To hear the record is to be ready to march into battle with these brawlers, anywhere, any time. Imagining that Christopher Lee will provide the play-by-play is more than enough motivation.
Count Dooku vs. Yoda
Many Star Wars fans (and non-fans) have complained about the series’ three prequel films. No one, however, utters a peep of protest about Christopher Lee as Count Dooku—aka Darth Tyranus or Lord Tyranus—in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005).
Lee is not only a flawless embodiment of cosmic reprehensibleness, his presence continues a tradition laid out in the original Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), wherein Lee’s dear friend and most frequent Hammer Films co-star Peter Cushing portrayed the Empire’s villainous Grand Moff Tarkin.
Metal Knight is Christopher Lee’s 2014 EP of traditional songs reinterpreted as fiery heavy metal anthems. Backed by his past collaborators Rhapsody of Fire, Lee roars new molten life into standards such as “The Impossible Dream,” “The Toreador March,” and the Frank Sinatra staple, “My Way.”
The Wicker Man
The Wicker Man is a terrifying cinematic masterwork so metal it transcends individual genres to become an even harder and heavier sum of its already headbanging and (literally) face-melting parts.
The plot starts out as a an occult metal mystery with Scotland Yard detective Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) traveling off the English coast to Summerisle so he can investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl. In short order, Howie gets swept up in the Renaissance free love and nude maypole dancing of every pagan metal practitioner’s truest incantations. As suspense mounts, The Wicker Man builds to a power metal peak and then pays off with the ultimate doom metal moment in all movie history (you won’t get burned by a spoiler here).
Lording over it all, in a very direct sense, is Christopher Lee as, indeed, Lord Summerisle. He portrays the locals’ political leader and spiritual guru and, by the end, you’d follow him anywhere (or lead a Christian virgin someplace considerably uncomfortable if he so much as asked). Just ask Bruce Dickinson, who composed the great Iron Maiden anthem “The Wicker Man” in honor of the movie.
The Ring Poem, read by Christopher Lee
Numerous filmmakers attempted to translate J.R.R. Tolkien’s profoundly metal fantasy saga The Lord of the Rings to the big screen, from the Beatles to animator Ralph Bakshi, each meeting with various degrees on non-success.
Along the way the original author is said to have placed little faith in anyone having a cinematic go at the LOTR, but Tolkien did explicitly approve one prospect: he said that Christopher Lee could and should play heroic wizard Gandalf the Grey (a character immortalized in heavy metal song by Black Sabbath via “The Wizard”).
When director Peter Jackson finally figured out how to properly realize the LOTR movies, he invited Lee to portray Gandalf. Lee, instead, asked for the role of Saruman, a wizard of pure evil who is, in fact, Gandalf’s sworn nemesis. Upon his first appearance on-camera, it is clear that only Christopher Lee could have played Saruman and that, in a cosmic sense, it even feels as though perhaps Saruman came to be expressly so that Christopher Lee could bring him so fully to life.
The importance of The Lord of the Rings to heavy metal can no more be overstated than a Hobbit could successfully mate with an Orc. From Sabbath and Led Zeppelin onward, the story has populated metal lyrics and, in some frightening cases, pockets of black metal extremists have even claimed to worship Saruman and commit dastardly deeds in his honor. The rest of us can just enjoy the books and the films and, in particular, Christopher Lee raining down hell on Middle Earth.
Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross
“The Bloody Verdict of Verden (The Blood of the Saxon Men)”
At age 88, a point where men with only a fraction of Christopher Lee’s accomplishments behind them might be ready to ease up on any new undertakings, our hero reinvented himself as a heavy metal artist.
Of course, as pointed out here repeatedly, Christopher Lee’s life and work inherently captured and conveyed the spirit of heavy metal, but Lee made it official in 2010 by conceiving, recording, and releasing his own metal concept LP, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross.
A 2013 sequel followed, Charlemagne: The Omens of Death, and Lee, who was actually related by blood to the Holy Roman Emperor of the title, remained an active metal artist right up to a few months before he passed into the next realm.
Accepting the 2010 “Spirit of Metal Award” From Tony Iommi
In the wake of Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, Metal Hammer magazine awarded Christopher Lee the “Spirit of Metal” at the 2010 Golden God Awards.
Accepting the trophy from Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and gazing in wonder at the arena full of metal fans howling sheer love for him, Christopher Lee said: “This is remarkable, incredible, amazing. It’s one of the nicest images I’ve ever had. I’d like to apologize to the band Saxon for the song ‘Blood of the Saxon Men’… I’d also like to thank Yamaha for sponsoring this event. I’ll be leaving on my motorbike with a case of Jagermeister and several dozen copies of Metal Hammer!”
Bela Lugosi invented the movies’ concept of Dracula and then Christopher Lee, beginning in 1958 with Horror of Dracula, made the Count his own.
Working primarily with Hammer Films, the world’s premiere horror studio from the 1950s to the 1970s, Lee donned the cape and sharpened his fangs as Dracula ten times, in projects ranging from the increasingly shocking Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) through the kinky Count Dracula (1970) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) to the vampire-versus-hippies sagas Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).
Tall, powerful, irresistible to women, admired by men, and utterly mesmerizing to all who gazed on him as the Transylvanian ghoul, Christopher Lee imbued humanity’s most infamous undead bloodsucker with a blackened soul of pure heavy metal. Long may he reign!