Peter Cushing and the Skull in THE SKULL (1965), a horror film in which Cushing did not play a doctor.
Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, that column where we look at lists of odds and ends pertaining to horror movies.
Up today, my all time favorite horror movie actor, Peter Cushing.
When you think of Peter Cushing, his two most famous roles immediately come to mind, Baron Frankenstein and Dr. Van Helsing, two characters who were also both doctors. In fact, a lot of Cushing’s roles in horror movies were of medical doctors, professors, or scientists. So much so, that I thought: when did he not play a doctor?
Turns out— many times.
Here’s a look at those roles, the times Peter Cushing starred in a horror or science fiction film but did not play a doctor or scientist.
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) – Sherlock Holmes. Technically not a horror film, but that being said, Hammer Films added plenty of horror elements to their rendition of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tale. Directed by Terence Fisher, with Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville. Superior little movie, atmospheric and full of thrills, with Cushing’s energetic Holmes leading the way.
Cushing as Holmes in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959).
NIGHT CREATURES (1962) – Rev. Dr. Blyss – even though the character is identified in the credits as “Dr. Blyss” he’s really the vicar of the small village of Dymchurch— check that, he’s actually the infamous pirate Captain Clegg, hiding out, posing as the vicar, while secretly smuggling rum in this rousing adventure/horror tale by Hammer Films. Cushing at his energetic best.
Peter Cushing delivers one of his best performances, as Captain Clegg/Dr. Blyss in NIGHT CREATURES (1962).
SHE (1965) – Major Holly – lost cities, a supernatural woman, and lots of action in this fantasy adventure by Hammer Films.
THE SKULL (1965) – Christopher Maitland – plays a private collector interested in the occult who purchases the skull of the Marquis de Sade with deadly results. Christopher Lee co-stars as Cushing’s rival in this fine horror film by Hammer’s rival, Amicus Productions.
TORTURE GARDEN (1967) – Lancelot Canning – another film by Amicus, this one an anthology film featuring five horror stories based on the works of Robert Bloch. Cushing appears in the fourth segment, “The Man Who Collected Poe,” once more playing a collector of the macabre. Jack Palance co-stars with Cushing in this segment.
THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968) – Inspector Quennell- One of Peter Cushing’s worst movies. In fact, Cushing himself considered it his worst. Produced by Tigon Films, a company that tried to join Hammer and Amicus as a voice in British horror but ultimately failed. The monster is a woman who turns into a giant moth that preys on men’s blood, and Cushing plays the police inspector (in a role originally written for Basil Rathbone) who tries to stop her.
SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970) – Major Heinrich Benedek – pretty much just a cameo in this film, famous for being the first time Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price all starred together in the same movie. A bizarre flick, perfect for 1970, but ultimately a disappointment as Cushing and Lee only appear briefly, while Price gets a bit more screen time.
THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) – General von Spielsdorf – Cushing finally appears in a vampire movie where he’s not a doctor or a professor! This time he’s a general, but he’s still hunting vampires in this atmospheric and very sensual vampire film from Hammer, starring Ingrid Pitt as the vampire Carmilla. The first of Hammer’s “Karnstein” vampire trilogy.
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971) – Philip Grayson – Another anthology film by Amicus. Cushing stars in the second segment “Waxworks” and plays a retired stockbroker who runs afoul of a nefarious wax museum. Director Peter Duffell once said in an interview that Peter Cushing’s entire segment in this film was simply a contrivance to place his head on a platter, which remains one of the more shocking images from the film.
TWINS OF EVIL (1971) – Gustav Weil – Cushing is excellent (as he always is) in this vampire film from Hammer, playing a different kind of vampire hunter. He leads the Brotherhood, a fanatical group of men seeking out witches in the countryside, a group that is every bit as deadly as the vampires. As such, when the vampire threat becomes known, and the Brotherhood turn their attention to the undead, it makes for a much more interesting dynamic than the typical vampire vs. heroes. It’s one of Cushing’s most conflicted roles. There’s a scene where he laments that he only wanted to do the right thing, that really resonates, because for most of the film, he’s been doing the very worst things. The third “Karnstein” vampire film.
Peter Cushing as the fanatical Gustav Weil in TWINS OF EVIL (1971).
I, MONSTER (1971) – Utterson – plays a lawyer in this version of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale by Amicus, which changed the names of Jekyll and Hyde to Marlowe and Blake, played here by Christopher Lee.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) – Arthur Edward Grimsdyke – famous Cushing role in yet another anthology film by Amicus. Cushing appears in the third segment, “Poetic Justice” where he plays an elderly junk dealer who is terrorized into suicide by his neighbors, but a year later, and this is why the role is famous, he returns from the grave.
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972) – Captain – cameo in this Vincent Price sequel. Blink and you’ll miss him.
ASYLUM (1972) – Smith – appears in the segment “The Weird Tailor” in this anthology film by Amicus.
FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1972) – The Headmaster – plays a sinister headmaster, in this thriller written and directed by Jimmy Sangster, and also starring Joan Collins and Ralph Bates.
FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974) – The Proprietor – plays the owner of an antique shop, and the man in the wraparound story in this Amicus anthology horror vehicle.
MADHOUSE (1974) – Herbert Flay – plays a screenwriter in this one, and best friend to Vincent Price’s horror actor Paul Toombes. Toombes is having a rough go of it, as the character he played in the movies- Dr. Death – seems to be committing murders in real life. A really interesting movie, not a total success, but definitely worth a look, mostly because Price and Cushing share equal and ample screen time in this one.
TENDRE DRACULA – Macgregor – bizarre ill-conceived French horror comedy, notable for featuring Cushing’s one and only performance as a vampire.
LAND OF THE MINOTAUR (1976) – Baron Corofax – plays the villain to Donald Pleasence’s heroic priest in this tale of devil worship and demons.
STAR WARS (1977) – Grand Moff Tarkin – aside from his work in Hammer Films, the role which Cushing is most known for. As Tarkin, he’s the one character in the STAR WARS universe who bossed Darth Vader around and lived to tell about it.
Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS (1977).
SHOCK WAVES (1977) – SS Commander – Nazi zombies attack! Nuff said. With John Carradine.
THE UNCANNY (1977) – Wilbur – Cushing plays a writer who learns that cats are a little more “active” than he first imagined in yet another horror anthology film.
MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND (1981) – William T. Kolderup – plays the “richest man in America” in this bizarre horror comedy.
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983) – Sebastian Grisbane – famous teaming of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, and John Carradine in the same movie for the first (and only) time ever, this really isn’t a very good movie. It tries hard, and ultimately isn’t all bad, but could have been so much better. Price and Lee fare the best.
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE MASKS OF DEATH (1984) – Sherlock Holmes – Holmes comes out of retirement to solve a case. Again, not horror, per se, but since this film was directed by Roy Ward Baker, written by Anthony Hinds, and of course starred Peter Cushing, there is a definite Hammer Films feel about this movie. John Mills plays Dr. Watson.
There you have it. A list of genre films starring Peter Cushing where he did not play a doctor, scientist or professor. Perhaps next time we’ll have a look at those films where he did don a lab coat or carry a medical bag.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading!