‘The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection’ Volume 2

by Rachel Bellwoar

The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Collection Volume 2 might not be the best showing of Christopher Lee as an actor (if only because his roles are pretty minor in most of them), but it does show how international his career was and there isn’t a dud in the bunch (which is somewhat unusual for boxsets).

Stenos Uncle Was A Vampire (1959)

When it comes to killing vampires, stakes are usually the weapon of choice. In Uncle Was A Vampire, it’s sunshine that feels the most lethal, which probably has to do with the film taking place in Italy.

Baron Roderico (Lee) is homeless. As a vampire, he’s also scarce on living relatives, so when his castle gets chosen to be the site for a new power plant, the Baron decides to move in with his nephew, Count Osvaldo (Renato Rascel),

What the Baron doesn’t realize is Osvaldo’s recently out of a castle too – he had to sell his to pay off his debts. Now’s he’s a bellhop at the hotel his castle was transformed into, being visited by an uncle he has to kill to protect the guests.

Uncle Was A Vampire isn’t laugh out loud funny, but it is a pleasant horror comedy. Rascel gives off Lou Costello vibes (Lee and Rascel also have the height difference Abbott and Costello had). The way vampirism works in this movie is more Jekyll and Hyde, too, than I’m just a vampire all the time now. This means Rascel gets the chance to do some split-personality scenes (a la Gollum), as well as a successful transformation sequence.

Other pluses include:

  • Osvaldo’s genuine concern that his crush, Liliana (Susanne Loret), will be bitten by his uncle (also, while there are fleeting moments where he gets a haughty tone, Osvaldo former wealth doesn’t save him from doing his job)
  • The backstories for Dracula’s would-be-brides are slight but they’re not nameless victims (and they’re not gullible either, like female characters are sometimes portrayed in sex comedies)
  • How quickly the locals are onboard with the existence of vampires. In fact, they don’t need convincing at all. As soon as people start showing up with bite marks, they believe.

Edoardo Anton, Sandro Continenza, Dino Verdi, and Steno’s screenplay could’ve done a lot more with Lee. There’s an idea that the film proposes, for example, that a vampire can pass on vampirism. In other words, by turning someone, it’s almost implied that the Baron is cured (or at least able to rest in peace). Instead of exploring this further, though, Lee’s Baron disappears for a while and it’s a major missed opportunity.

Bonus Features: Lee biographer, Jonathan Rigby, and Hammer historian, Kevin Lyons, provide a commentary where they point out how early it was for a parody (Lee had only done one Dracula movie before Uncle). Also included is an interview with European film scholar, Dr. Pasquale Iannone.

Helmuth Ashley’s The Secret of the Red Orchid (1962)

The Secret of the Red Orchid has more to offer Klaus Kinski fans than Lee fans (Lee’s scenes as an FBI agent are brief) but it’s one of (if not) the best films in this box set. There’s a little bit of culture shock in the beginning where you have to wrap your head around why Chicago gangsters are in London, and everyone speaks German (Lee included). Once that’s accomplished, though, it’s full steam ahead, as Inspector Weston (Adrian Hoven) of Scotland Yard tries to put an end to an extortion racket, whereby rich people are being asked to pay for protection and then getting killed off when they don’t comply. Kinski and Eric Pohlmann are the leaders of rival gangs who run these extortion rings and to say this film has some colorful characters is an understatement. More cartoon antics than serious noir, The Secret of the Red Orchid is actually the first of the krimi films from the Rialto cycle to be released on Blu-Ray in the US according to Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson and author, Troy Howarth. Their commentary is the one to listen to for more about krimi films, as well as what sets them apart from giallos. The short definition is that krimi films are crime films based on the works of Edgar Wallace. Film scholars, Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw, go more into Wallace’s output, as well as Red Orchid’s dubious sense of geography, in their commentary, but while it sounds like Lee didn’t get along with Ashley, this film is a delight (and Thompson and Howarth couldn’t be more right about the need for a US krimi box set).

Don Sharp’s Dark Places (1974)

Lee is the first actor on screen in this film. He also has top billing, but his part is only slightly more substantive than German FBI agent, and less substantive than Italian vampire.

Indeed, Dark Places is about Edward (Robert Hardy), who recently inherited a house that the rest of Marr’s Grove is happy to avoid. The only reason Dr. Mandaville (Lee) and his sister, Sarah (Joan Collins), want in is because they think there’s money hidden inside. That’s why Sarah agrees to be Edward’s housekeeper, but when Edward starts to be possessed by the house’s former owner it doesn’t go so well for any of them.

Having the house get to Edward should’ve been enough, but the film also insists on revealing a secret about Edward’s past that’s completely unnecessary. Other than that, it’s not a bad movie, if one that’s not exactly memorable for Lee’s role in it. There are hints that Mandaville and his sister might have an incestuous relationship but that’s as hot as it gets. Doctor Who fans might get a kick out of seeing John Levene (Benton) in a small role.

Bonus Features: Thompson and Howarth team-up again for the commentary. There’s also an interview with Rigby that isn’t specific to Dark Places but gives Rigby a chance to share stories about working with Lee on Lee’s authorized biography.

Édouard Molinaro‘s Dracula and Son (1976)

Another vampire film where sunlight seems like a bigger threat than stakes. This time, though, Lee gets to smile, speak French, and has a title role worthy of his stature (though, as Rigby explains in his commentary with Lyons, Lee wasn’t under the impression that he was playing Dracula and would’ve strongly opposed the title).

Starting in the 18th century, Dracula and Son jumps around in time to follow the birth of Dracula’s son, Ferdinand (Bernard Menez). Ferdinand is half-human, half-vampire, and completely anti-blood, which irritates his father to no end. The fact that vampires can age in this movie is never addressed, but basically (like in Uncle Was a Vampire) Ferdinand and his dad lose their home and end up getting separated.

For vampire film traditionalists who like their gothic trimmings, Dracula and Son definitely starts out gothic before moving to the (then) present day. The film also has a surprisingly dark sense of humor. It’s very cut to the chase, no take backs humor, like when Ferdinand locks his vampire nanny outside and she dies. There’s no punchline. Young Ferdinand really killed her.

It’s the final third of the movie that falls apart — or maybe not if you’re a fan of sex comedies. A new character is introduced in Nicole (Marie-Hélêne Breillat), who looks like Ferdinand’s mother, but her character has no agency and she’s treated bad.

Bonus Features: Besides the commentary with Rigby and Lyons, other highlights include a new interview with Menez (who considers Ferdinand one of his best performances), and a second commentary by author, Kat Ellinger, that’s the most Lee-centric of the commentaries on this box set. Ellinger looks at how gender plays into how vampires are depicted and draws comparisons between Ferdinand and Renfield. There’s also a CD with the soundtrack and a second disc with the US version of the film.

Eddie Arno and Markus Innocenti’s Murder Story (1989)

The premise of this movie is solid. Lee plays a mystery writer who meets a young fan (Angel’s Alexis Denisof) and ends up agreeing to help him with some research. In the process, though, they end up running afoul of some shady characters. Stasia Burton does a great job in what IMDB lists as her only film role. She’s the love interest who’s way too good for Denisof’s Tony. It’s Burton, however, who gets the best line in the movie and saves the day (if she doesn’t get much credit for it). Unfortunately, the film doesn’t live up to its premise, and the music is atrocious.

Bonus Features: Severin’s David Gregory moderates a commentary between Arno and Innocenti (who also co-wrote the picture together). There’s also a second feature film as a bonus feature. Arne Mattsson‘s Mask of Murder (1988) is a Swedish Canadian slasher that starts out pretty normal, but then leaves room for multiple interpretations — like is the killer being controlled by the mask he wears or is there nothing supernatural going on? Lee’s Chief Superintendent isn’t in the film much, but he does appear more towards the end.

The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Collection Volume 2 is available on Blu-Ray now from Severin Films. The set also includes an almost 100-page booklet written by Rigby on Lee’s career (and why he leaned more towards screen acting than theater).

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