The passing of a 93-year-old is never a surprise; still, Thursday was a somber day for anyone who loves movies, particularly scary ones. I had cancelled my evening plans in order to participate in a memorial tweet-along of two of the horror legends best-loved films: HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) and THE WICKER MAN (1973). But John had another programming suggestion: the NBA playoffs.
“No Cleveland sports team has won a championship since the Browns in ’64!” he said, appalled by my apathy. “This is historic. People are in the streets!”
“Not as historic as the death of Dracula,” I replied, pointing to the posters from four Christopher Lee movies adorning the walls of the apartment I share with his sister.
Of course, anyone who’s seen the classics from Britain’s Hammer Films knows that Dracula dies frequently, sometimes multiple times in the same picture. But you get my meaning, and so did John. Still, he had a very good – and very depressing – point: death is a way of life for old movie buffs.
Last year was the biggest gut punch in recent memory, with Lauren Bacall, Shirley Temple, and Mickey Rooney all retiring to the great backlot in the sky. Even those of a subsequent generation (James Garner, Bob Hoskins, Polly Bergen) are dying off, and if your retro love extends to classic TV, the bad news comes even more frequently (worst of all if you’re a Golden Girls fan.)
I’m reminded that the health status of aging icons is a very touchy subject every time I mention a still-burning star on social media.
“You scared me!” somebody will scold. “I thought they died!”
“Sometimes I write about people who are still alive,” I reply, frustrated with the limitations of my chosen “beat.”
But I should be used to this by now.
When Zeppo Marx died on November 30, 1979 numerous members of my sixth grade class expressed their condolences to me as if a beloved family member had passed away. I hadn’t even heard about it, but somehow they all knew – and, more importantly, they knew how I’d feel about it. I remember that Friday morning 35 years ago like it were yesterday, but most memorable was the hug my teacher gave me as she handed me a present: a book called The Marx Bros: Their World of Comedy.
“To help you remember him,” said Miss Kruzoff (upon whom I had a huge crush, which only got bigger that day).
Zeppo was 79 when he died, and hadn’t made a movie in 46 years. But there I was, the only 11-year-old kid in America leading his Catholic school class in a memorial prayer for a dead Jewish actor who hadn’t made a movie since 1933.
Back in the present, John’s entreaties fell on deaf ears and the double feature live tweet proceeded as planned. He and his sister watched the Warriors defeat the Cavs at a local sports bar (tying up the series at 2-2), and when Maggie got home we continued the memorial with Freddie Francis’ THE SKULL (1965), in which Lee teams up with frequent partner-in-fright Peter Cushing. (Who is also dead. Of course.)
Within hours of Lee’s death, Turner Classic Movies began broadcasting their memorial montage (pre-cut, apparently, which makes sense). And they’re giving all of us an opportunity to grieve together on June 22 with an eight-film marathon, including five of the Hammer horrors that used to scare the Hell out of me during a period when I was not actually allowed to say “Hell” (because it’s not in the Bible).
Old Movie Weirdos of all ages are accustomed to going it alone; many of us have been doing it all our lives. But sometimes it’s nice to have a community to lead in prayer, even when you’re praying for the Prince of Darkness.
June 22, 2015 – TCM Remembers Christopher Lee
6:15 AM – THE MUMMY (1959)
8:00 AM – THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)
9:30 AM – HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)
11:00 AM – DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966)
12:45 PM – DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1969)
2:30 PM – HORROR EXPRESS (1972)
4:00 PM – THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1972)
6:00 PM – THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1975)