The great Christopher Lee lived ninety-three years, and in that time he starred in twice that number of movies. Add in television appearances, video game voice-overs, music videos, and more, and you have a memorable talent with an immense body of work. A filmography that size guarantees big swathes of lesser known fare, and it’s in that corner of Lee’s work where The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Collection comfortably sits.
Severin Films’ new box-set brings together five films and twenty-four episodes of a TV show that were all filmed during Lee’s European “vacation” — a span of years throughout the 60s where the actor called Europe home and found a steady stream of gigs. Unseen by many, including by most of the man’s fans, the set brings the works together via remastered Blu-rays complete with hours of bonus materials. Add in a 100-page booklet with writings and rare photos, and you have a beautifully-produced release for Lee aficionados.
Keep reading for a closer look at The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Collection.
Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962)
A famed necklace, reportedly once worn by Cleopatra herself, has gone missing, and the great Sherlock Holmes is on the case. He and his sidekick, Doctor John Watson, suspect that their nemesis — the dastardly Professor Moriarty — is behind the theft. Of course, no one believes that such a respected fellow would do such a thing meaning the master detective has his work cut out for him.
Three years after co-starring in another Holmes adaptation, 1959’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Christopher Lee finally gets to play the famed detective himself. The result is… well, underwhelming. Lee is quite good, and that’s despite being dubbed over both in the German version and the English one, and his respect for the character is very clear. Instead, it’s the film itself which feels fairly bland in the pantheon of Sherlock Holmes features. He employs disguises and is a cantankerous bastard, but the mystery and narrative fail to grab hold.
Severin’s new Blu-ray is the first fully authorized disc release in the U.S. and features a new 2K of the German negative. Its looks fairly spectacular, and its black & white cinematography impresses for a film that is far from widely seen or appreciated. The disc is light on extras and includes only a trailer and the following:
- *NEW* Commentary by film journalists Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw
- Tony Dalton Interviews Terence Fisher [12:35] – An audio interview with the legendary filmmaker looking back across his genre efforts
- Tony Dalton on Terence Fisher [26:48] – A Zoom interview with the film journalist on the late filmmaker
Challenge the Devil (1963)
Crime, hijinks, and satan collide when a group of rowdy friends visit a trippy Gothic castle for some kicks. It’s a drunken party until a strange, sad old man with white hair appears to bring down the mood with a somber tale. Soon the hard-partying hippies find themselves trapped in the castle’s maze-like interior with little hope of finding a way out.
What an odd mish mash of genres, tones, and character this is. The only film by director Giuseppe Veggezzi, for understandable reasons, it’s a weird one. It opens with an attempted murder, moves on to a confession, spends what seems like hours in a cabaret club filling time with singing and dancing, and eventually sends the beatniks to the castle for fun. Reportedly two films fused together, it’s both oddly compelling and wholly uninteresting. Christopher Lee is the biggest pull here, but he’s a minor player with only minimal screen time.
This new Blu-ray features a new 2K scan of the Italian negative and once again looks quite sharp. This is especially the case in Lee’s scenes as his scenes before a fireplace see some fantastic lighting and shadows at play. The disc includes a trailer and the following:
- *NEW* Dance with the Devil [35:33] – An interview with Roberto Curti, author of Mavericks of Italian Cinema
- *NEW* The Importance of Being Giorgio [16:21] – Interview with Giorgio Ardisson consisting of two separate conversations over two decades before his death in 2014
A second disc titled Relics from the Crypt features several random interviews and featurettes involving Lee from over the years.
- Horror!!! [16:29] – A Swiss documentary short by Pierre Koralnik featuring interviews with Lee, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, and others
- Behind the Mask: Christopher Lee Remembers Boris Karloff [35:05] – Shot in 1991 but only recently edited together, this piece sees Lee recalling memories of Karloff
- Cinescope 1976 Belgian TV Interview with Sélim Sasson [54:38] – Lee speaks French!
- Colin Grimshaw Interviews Christopher Lee in 1975 [16:23]
- 1985 Audio Interview with Christopher Lee [27:16] – David Del Valle introduces an interview he conducted with Christopher Lee years after first meeting him, Del Valle offers some interesting observations on the legend
- Monsters & Vampires: The Film Books of Alan Frank [18:11] – An interview with pioneering horror movie historian Alan Frank discussing his time covering horror films and getting into the business
- *NEW* The Crypt Keepers [35:01] – A making-of featurette on Crypt of the Vampire (that presumably was left off that film’s disc for some reason)
- “O Sole Mio / It’s Now or Never” [3:52] – Lee sings Italian!
- “She’ll Fall for Me” [4:31] – Another duet featuring Lee belting out a tune!
- Outtakes from To the Devil… a Daughter and Theatre of Death [19:16] – Interview outtakes from earlier Severin featurettes
- University College Dublin 2011 Q&A with Sir Christopher Lee [18:19]
Crypt of the Vampire (1964)
Laura has seen better days, but it’s the nights that are killing her. She comes to believe she’s fallen under the spell of a deadly relative, a long-dead relative, and must now feast on blood to survive. When a young woman arrives due to an accident, Laura falls for her in ways frowned upon by society of the time. Worse, the spirit haunting her nights may be targeting the woman too.
A riff of sorts on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, this is a pretty solid little Gothic chiller. It never shies away from the gay themes of the central relationship, and while it’s far from explicit the tenderness between the women is clear in its intended message. Christopher Lee plays Laura’s father, a good man concerned and confused by what’s transpiring beneath his roof, and it all builds to a collision of magic, mystery, and mayhem of the heart. It’s not necessarily an exciting collision, but the character work and drama ensure an engaging conclusion.
Severin’s disc is the first official Blu-ray in the U.S. and is newly scanned from a fine-grain 35mm master. There are no extras beyond a trailer, but a detailed featurette on the film can be found on the Relics from the Crypt disc above.
Castle of the Living Dead (1964)
Count Drago is an odd man with an appetite for death in the form of taxidermy. Animals are his obvious target, but he’s not against capturing the occasional human being too. When he invites a theatrical troupe to perform in his castle, though, the tides turn as people fight for their life.
This is almost a horror/comedy and feels akin to the various versions of House of Wax as Lee’s Drago litters his gorgeous castle with human corpses while silliness abounds. That goofiness comes in large part courtesy of a young Donald Sutherland in his first feature film role — dual roles at that — who’s quite funny. The horror elements work too blending Gothic thrills with engaging character turns and outlandish violence. Christopher Lee’s presence is subdued but menacing, and he creates a villain who’s denser than a mere madman. It’s an interesting film, and while the comedy occasionally feels at odds with the rest it all makes for a memorable whole.
The new Blu-ray disc is the first authorized release of the uncut version and has been scanned in 4K from the Italian negative. As with the films above, the black & white cinematography is given a new lease on life and looks quite good. The disc includes a trailer and the following:
- *NEW* Commentary by Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson and film journalist Troy Howarth
- *NEW* Commentary by film journalist Kat Ellinger
- *NEW* From the Castle to the Academy [51:58] – Career interview with producer Paul Maslansky covering his time as a musician to his entrance into the world of film production
- The Castle of the Mystery Man [13:26] – Roberto Curti, author of Mavericks of Italian Cinema on writer/director Warren Kiefer
This release also includes a CD featuring the film’s score by Angelo F. Lavagnino
The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967)
Count Regula, no relation to Dracula or Dragula, is a man with refined tastes. Unfortunately for those around him, that includes young virgins. After killing twelve young women he’s finally captured and killed, but years later he’s brought back to finish off his baker’s dozen. Now the only hope of stopping his devilish scheme rests in the hands of descendants of people he once terrorized.
Both the title and poster art for this late 60s flick are overly lascivious, but that same tone is absent from the film itself. It’s not needed, of course, to make a great or fun film, but it would have at least given the movie the injection of life it needs, As it stands the film rests only on the shoulders of Christopher Lee’s performance and some attractive visuals in the form of Gothic architecture, vibrant cinematography, and creepy sets. As an admittedly loose adaptation of Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, it’s missing the menace and personality the story otherwise provides. It’s not quite the bad film that some have decried, but it doesn’t feel as if it wants to be a good film quite enough.
Severin’s new disc includes trailers, galleries, and the following:
- *NEW* Commentary by Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson and film journalist Troy Howarth
- *NEW* Audio Interview with Karin Dor [25:22]
- Location Featurette [7:41]
- Die Schlangengrub-Die Burg Des Grauens – German Super 8 Digest Short
- Die Schlangengrube des Grafin Dracula – German Super 8 Digest Short
Christopher Lee Presents Theatre Macabre
Anthology TV shows were all the rage for a while, and their reach extended to Poland where this short-lived series was produced. Christopher Lee introduces each episode and does the expected good job — he balances the old-school creepy vibe and the cheeky humor well — and then each episode offers a single tale. Only twenty-four eps remain while a handful have gone missing, and Severin has restored them for inclusion here. The tales feature adaptations of literary greats including Ambrose Bierce, Alexandre Dumas, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, and others, and while the onscreen talents are far less recognizable the eps are handsomely produced affairs. Period elements of the stories are maintained which adds to both the dated feel and the classical nature of it all. The disc is devoid of extras outside of a series introduction which is worth a watch for Lee’s zinger with the adding machine.