Recently Rated Movies: Catching Up with Christopher Lee (the actor, not my brother…) Pt. 7

After a solid month of Halloween-oriented posts, it is time to return to the regular departments on The Cinema 4 Pylon. This time, we have three more wildly diverse films featuring the late, great Christopher Lee, as I attempt to see as many titles in his filmography as possible. 

Sherlock Holmes and the Incident at Victoria Falls (1992)
Dir: Bill Corcoran
TC4P Rating: 5

Over 25 years after his first effort to portray the famed Sherlock Holmes on screen was basically squandered by a German movie studio, Christopher Lee got a second (and third) shot at wearing the deerstalker cap in a pair of films that played as television movies and then went straight to video. The first film, Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady, reintroduces Lee as the detective and Patrick Macnee as his Watson, both in their older years. Macnee was also getting another shot at his role after previously playing the good doctor in Sherlock Holmes in New York, opposite a fairly miscast Roger Moore.

In the second film in this pair, Holmes and Watson take to the Dark Continent under the orders of King Edward (Joss Ackland) to secure the Star of Africa diamond. On this adventure, they will end up cavorting with the likes of Theodore Roosevelt (a pretty good Claude Akins). The film makes an attempt at incorporating a storyline involving the making of the footage that Roosevelt shot on his journeys through Africa in the early days of cinema. Naturally, the diamond gets stolen, and as bodies start piling up, Holmes and Watson need to come to the rescue (with just a little bit of help of ol' Teddy himself).

While Lee and Macnee are pretty decent in their roles as the aging heroes, and Incident at Victoria Falls is nowhere near as bad as Lee's first Holmes attempt (1962's Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, discussed briefly here), the direction by Bill Corcoran is fairly by the book and a little dull, and it is not surprising to learn that the series of films was stopped after this one. It's a shame they didn't attempt a regular TV series instead, with briefer episodes, so we might have gotten a little bit more of this combo and let them stretch into the roles a little bit. It's a shame we never got a good Holmes film with Lee in his prime, as he may have been terrific in the original stories. Sadly, we will never know for sure.

Mask of Murder (1985)
Dir: Arne Mattsson
TC4P Rating: 4

"Psychiatrists have already taken a good look at him, and they can't make up their minds whether his problem is in his head or his balls." - Chief Superintendent Jonathan Rich (Christopher Lee)

Some creep wearing a sack with holes cut in it and a lipstick mouth commits a series of grisly straight razor murders of female victims one day, but is soon trapped by the police, led by Christopher Lee and Rod Taylor. Holed up on a snowy farm, the killer injures Lee, but is shot to pieces and dies. And with his death goes the string of murders. Or does it? 

Mask of Murder is directed by Swedish film veteran Arne Mattsson, and was filmed in Uppsala, Sweden rather than the "small town in Canada - Nelson" it purports to be via a brief subtitle at the beginning of the film. If you are unaware (or don't care), Uppsala is the hometown of film giant Ingmar Bergman, though there is absolutely no relationship between his justly revered oeuvre and this cheap, savage film to have been made there. (A trivial note, and nothing more.)

The series of murders pick up again not long after, and the film goes to no real great lengths at all to hide who is behind them. I will leave that to the viewer to discover, but when you watch the film, there can be no other choice. In the meantime, we get a lot of relationship/adultery drama between Taylor and Valerie Perrine, who plays his wife. Perrine has the best role in the film, and while I am not really a fan of hers, I did enjoy her in this one. She and Lee seem to be the only ones really engaged in their roles.

Mask of Murder has some gory parts (and not really all that well turned) and it also features the requisite '80s softcore nudity and strip club scenes. The winter backdrop of the town is a nice change from most films of this type, and lends an extra layer of atmosphere, even if the actors need to wear an extra layer or two of clothing. The vibe in the murder scenes is a bit eerie, and from the opening sequence of murders we can tell this is not going to go the normal slasher movie route. But that doesn't mean it goes anywhere really remarkable either. It looks like a horror film, but actually gets bogged down in the sort of territory that you would have seen Andrew Stevens directing and starring in at the beginning of the '90s. (There is even cheesy synthesizer music playing over the love scenes.) If only Shannon Tweed would show up to make it all look a little nicer.

The Keeper (1976)
Dir: T.Y. Drake
TC4P Rating: 4

"Now, whatever you do, don't let him hypnotize you!"

The Keeper is by far the most interesting film of the three I am including in this post, and that is by a long shot. Let me warn you at the outset, it's not good -- in fact, it's the worst film of the three -- but also the most interesting and least dull of the lot.

Written and directed by T.Y. Drake (who used to perform on The Andy Williams Show as a Good Time Singer), this low-budget Canadian effort stars Christopher Lee as The Keeper, a mysterious figure who runs a mental institution in what we are told is British Columbia in 1947. There are half-hearted attempts to convince us that the film takes place 29 years before it was filmed: jazz on the soundtrack, a tough guy detective in a trenchcoat (believe it or not, the dick's name really is Dick, as in Richard "Dick" Driver), fast-paced tough guy talk, period cars, and most hilarious of all, a totally out-of-place shoeshine boy working on a mostly barren, leaf-strewn avenue who dispenses helpful advice (this kid seems to shine shoes all hours). But none of it works at all to take us out of whatever present we are in when we watch it.

Dick Driver is trying to get to the bottom of a mystery involving the wealthy patients being "kept" in the Keeper's asylum. "I'm only a custodial physician. Patients here call me the Keeper," insists the crippled, older man Lee portrays, but there is clearly something else at play here. His obsession with hypnotherapy may provide a clue, since he seems to be able to trick any visitors to the institution into being hypnotized before they leave. When visitors leave the institution, they seem to bite the dust, leaving large inheritances directly to their relatives inside the Keeper's institution.

And so we get wild, psychedelic scenes of never-ending spirals, flashing lights, and images of attacking dogs, spinning watches, and subliminal spiders, as the Keeper tries to control his subjects to his truly undisguised nefarious ends. Practically everyone in the film undergoes hypnosis at some point, and with everybody under his influence, it would take a major misstep for the Keeper to be brought down. Hmmm... I wonder what it will be?

We also get the bumbling interference of a police inspector, who besides getting tripped up by some mild slapstick, also gets hypnotized into thinking he is a choo-choo train, which is the most over-the-top sequence in the film (at least until the final shot of Lee at film's end). Though the actor (his name is unimportant) looks more like Harold Peary, who played the Great Gildersleeve, the police inspector kept reminding me of classic porn star John Leslie throughout the film. It was probably the weird mustache he wears that did it, as it is similar to the one that Leslie wore in a number of films. It's strange that I made this connection, because my mind created another link to '70s porn when I heard the private eye's name was Dick Driver. I could not help thinking that with a slight change in location, this script, inane as it is, could have been used in a Johnny Wadd film.

Now there's a job offer Christopher Lee probably would not have accepted in his very prolific decade of the 1970s.


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