With his prominent cheekbones, searching big blue eyes and aquiline nose, Peter Cushing is undoubtedly one of the most striking and iconic faces in the history of horror films. He has often been described as “the gentleman of horror”, and as a lifelong Peter Cushing fan, I would certainly echo that description.
My earliest recollections of watching a Peter Cushing movie go back to the late sixties, when I first saw him in the Hammer horror movies. Staying up late to watch them every Monday evening, I was instantly captivated and enthralled by this wonderful, quietly spoken, dapper actor with the prominent face, a man who could play either Baron Frankenstein or Dracula’s arch nemesis, Dr Van Helsing, with equal skill.
It wasn’t just the Hammer movies that I loved Mr Cushing in, for he did make some excellent appearances in the Amicus films too. My favourite Cushing role in these portmanteau films was that of the tragic ex-garbage man Arthur Grimsdyke in Tales From The Crypt (1972), who is driven to committing suicide by the heartless actions of a disapproving neighbour, who hates the way Grimsdyke befriends local children and has dogs in his house, picking dirt out of what is, after all, just a simple case of a lonely, harmless old man playing the kindly uncle to the local kids. This is one of Cushing greatest roles, and I really felt sorry for Mr Grimsdyke when his tormentor finally drives the poor old man to hang himself.
However, this being a Cushing horror movie, and one where the character has been tampering with a Ouija board, it didn’t all end there, for one year later, the rotting corpse of Grimsdyke rises from the grave to exact a grisly revenge on his ruthless neighbour, ripping out his heart and leaving it for his shocked father to find the next morning, wrapped up in a blood-soaked cloth bearing a Valentine’s poem written in blood. Classic Amicus stuff! I still get goosebumps whenever I watch the part where Grimsdyke’s reanimated corpse slowly shambles out of the shadows of the neighbour’s study at the dead of night. Marvellous stuff!
Very rarely did Peter Cushing play a baddie, but when he did, he could really impress, just as unforgettably as he could when he played the kindly gentleman roles. The movie that sees Mr Cushing at his most ruthless and nasty is, for me, the 1969 classic Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. In fact, of all the Frankenstein films he starred in, this is the one that really portrays the Baron at his darkest, stooping to such shocking acts as rape and murder. He blackmails a young couple to assist him with his ever-fanatical experiments, and when the girl, Anna (played by the lovely Veronica Carlson), inadvertently sets the monster free, he viciously stabs her to death with his scalpel
In regard to Peter Cushing’s TV roles, my all time favourite has to be the one where he played the ex-Nazi-turned-pet shop-owner in the Hammer House of Horror episode The Silent Scream, which was first screened in 1980. I now have this wonderful series in my DVD collection, and I especially never get tired of watching the Cushing episode. The part where he imprisons the husband and wife down in the electrified room still gives me goosebumps whenever I watch it! Another brilliant performance from the great Peter Cushing.
Of course, Peter Cushing did play many other roles outside the horror genre, and has appeared in countless stage productions, portraying such characters as Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. However, it is for his awesome performances as Baron Frankenstein and Abraham Van Helsing, along with all his other horror roles, that I shall mostly remember him. He made those parts his own – just as his great friend Christopher Lee did with Dracula and Boris Karloff did with the Frankenstein Monster – and nobody could fill his shoes in that respect.
When Peter Cushing sadly passed away in 1994, he left a big gap in the horror movie world – and, indeed, in the movie world in general – which, in my opinion, will always be hard to fill. God bless you, Peter Cushing, for giving us so many years of wonderful entertainment. You will never ever be forgotten.