Whether he was battling James Bond, Yoda, Gandalf or Van Helsing, Christopher Lee will always be remembered as an immaculate onscreen villain. Offscreen he was one of the most honored and respected British actors in the industry, who continued to work as a consummate professional until his death in June at the age of 93.
In honor of the late Christopher Lee’s vocal performance narrating the Edgar Allan Poe story “The Fall of the House of Usher” in the new animated film
, we’re running down ten extraordinary actors who proved life after death is possible in the world of horror cinema. Like any solid working actor Lee had a few roles banked before he passed away, although readers of this site will always remember him most fondly for his run as Count Dracula in nine films, seven for famed Hammer Studios. His vocal performance in Extraordinary Tales is, like all of his work, singular and brilliant. Extraordinary Tales opens in theaters and on iTunes today. It also features a posthumous role for the first horror icon in our list, so read on in the gallery below! Extraordinary Tales
(Photo Credit: WENN)
The 10 Most Haunting Posthumous Performances in Horror
MOVIE: "Plan 9 From Outer Space" (1959)
As depicted in Tim Burton's loving 1994 biopic
Ed Wood, Dracula star Bela Lugosi was in the final throes of ill health exacerbated by an addiction to Demerol. Upon leaving rehab his pal director Ed Wood ( Bride of the Monster) shot impromptu footage of him in front of Tor Johnson's house, and these small snippets of footage were ultimately incorporated into Wood's immortal disasterpiece Plan 9 From Outer Space. To compensate for Lugosi's absence, and about 50-years shy of decent digital doubles, Wood substituted his wife's chiropractor (who looked nothing like Lugosi) to unintentionally hilarious effect. Martin Landau would win an Oscar for portraying Lugosi in Burton's film.
MOVIE: "Manos: The Hands of Fate" (1966)
Although "Mystery Science Theater 3000" turned it into a punchline as one of the certifiably worst films ever made,
Manos was no laughing matter as far as John Reynolds was concerned. The actor who became an icon for his knobby-kneed, off-kilter performance as the manservant Torgo was, not surprisingly, high-as-a-kite throughout most of the no-budget cult movie's production. Not just on pot, either. Jackey Neyman, who played the little girl Debbie, described Reynolds as a kind but withdrawn method actor who found solace in community theater but remained deeply troubled, with the terrible experience of making Manos only exacerbating his depression. John Reynolds shot himself a month before the film's premiere at age 25.
MOVIE: "Isle of the Snake People" (1971)
Karloff, along with Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, was one of the original Kings of Horror. He had made an icon out of Mary Shelly's creature in James Whale's
Frankenstein, and in his later years worked with directors like Mario Bava, Roger Corman and Peter Bogdanovich. Unfortunately his final picture (or pictures, as it were) came in the form of Mexican producer Luis Enrique Vergara, who paid the actor $100,000 per-movie to shoot footage for four B-films: The Incredible Invasion, Fear Chamber, House of Evil and Snake People. Karloff wisely insisted that all his scenes were to be rewritten and directed by cult fav Jack Hill ( Spider Baby), with the rest of the scenes shot in Mexico with a stand-in and different director. Not the most dignified way for an actor of Karloff's legendary stature to go out on, especially in Snake People where he looks like an unhealthy version of Colonel Sanders. Vergara's sudden demise would throw the four slapped-together productions into limbo, which is why they weren't released until three years after Karloff's death at age 81 in 1969.
MOVIE: "Psychomania" (1973)
Some movies are so bad they make you lose the will to live. Although he was suffering from the debilitating effects of dementia at the time he made it,
Psychomania was clearly a project not worthy of George Sanders. It's downright sad seeing the legendary Englishman, who had been in the business for four decades and won an Oscar for All About Eve, reduced to playing a butler in a cheap (albeit campy as hell) horror flick about a biker gang who kill themselves in order to become invincible zombies. In his own suicide note Sanders wrote, "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck."
MOVIE: "Twilight Zone: The Movie" (1983)
On July 23, 1982 the actor Vic Morrow (
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, "Combat") and two and two child actors named Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (who were working under illegal conditions) were killed at Indian Dunes in California when a stunt helicopter crashed on top of them as a result of special effects pyrotechnics. The ensuing trial and legacy of the death was a black mark on director John Landis's career, and although he would go on to make great films ( Trading Places, Coming to America, the "Thriller" video) his work would never have the same manic energy it once had. As for the segment in the film itself, in which Morrow plays a bigot transported to different points of racial intolerance throughout history (Nazi Germany, Vietnam, the deep south), it stands as an interesting tribute to Rod Serling that is ultimately haunted by the specter of the three deaths.
MOVIE: "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" (1986)
The gaunt and imposing appearance of actor Julian Beck (
The Cotton Club, Nine 1/2 Weeks) in this film has made his mere 11-minutes of screentime iconic among film fans, but there is a darker element underneath that appearance: The man was dying of stomach cancer. Many people see his taunting the family with warnings that they are going to die as foreshadowing his own imminent death at age 60. In fact, his death came before all his scenes as the evil preacher Kane were complete, so several prosthetic monsters resembling the actor had to be created.
MOVIE: "Poltergeist III" (1988)
Julian Beck wasn't the only
Poltergeist alum to be claimed by the grim reaper. Shortly after the release of the first movie actress Dominique Dunne (sister of American Werewolf in London's Griffin Dunne) was murdered by her boyfriend, and child actress Heather O'Rourke died at the age of 12 due to cardiac arrest and septic shock caused by a misdiagnosed intestinal stenosis. O'Rourke's death came on the heels of completing the third Poltergeist film, although reshoots to up the intensity of the film's ending took place without her. The film was a critical and box office failure, and led many to believe that there was a curse on the cast of this franchise.
MOVIE: "The Crow" (1994)
On March 31, 1993 at a studio in Wilmington, North Carolina one of the most heinous accidents in film history occurred when rising star Brandon Lee (
Rapid Fire), the son of famed martial artist Bruce Lee, was shot and killed during a scene due to prop department negligence. A .44 Magnum loaded with improperly-treated dummy rounds fired a bullet into Lee's abdomen, which traumatized actor Michael Massee ( The Amazing Spider-Man) who fired the shot. Director Alex Proyas was able to complete the remaining eight days of shooting on The Crow with stunt man Chad Stahelski, who later co-directed John Wick. The comic book adaptation was a tremendous success.
MOVIE: "The Devil's Rejects" (2005)
At 7-foot 6-inches McGrory was the textbook definition of the gentle giant. Like many extraordinarily tall people before him –such as Andre the Giant, whose biopic he'd started filming- he was drawn to the film industry, where he thrived in movies like Tim Burton's
Big Fish or as the gigantic burn victim Tiny Firefly in Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses. Two weeks after Zombie's sequel The Devil's Rejects debuted in theaters McGrory died tragically of heart failure, and all subsequent releases of the film are dedicated to his memory.
Sara Anne Jones
MOVIE: "Toad Road" (2012)
This indie film, a semi-improvised "Dante's Inferno" by way of Harmony Korine, ends with the protagonist James (James Davidson) waking up in the middle of the woods unable to comprehend what has happened to his girlfriend Sara (Sara Anne Jones). It cuts to black and reads, "Dedicated to the Memory of Sara Anne Jones." This is where the barely-veiled fiction of non-actors doing real drugs on camera blurs with reality, as the real Sara died of a heroin overdose in September 2012, a little over a month after
Toad Road's premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival. A model and aspiring poet, Sara gives a remarkably natural performance in the film as an ethereal beauty slowly losing her grip on herself. She was 24 when she passed away.