Lists like this – no matter the subject – always seem to leave something out. How do you pick the “best” of someone who has a body of work like Peter Cushing and be fair to him? Viewing the works from North America, I was only accessing versions of films whose titles may be different; or not have seen them at all in spite of DVD releases and streaming media.
Distinctly British pictures like Captain Clegg (1962) or Night Creatures would have their significance lost on the audience through limited release. I also confined the choices to film work, leaving out television. I did not count the entire Dracula series as I felt that Cushing’s work was the voice of reason and authority in the series, not the protagonist. The storm is at its height now. Let us see what I have made:
1): Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969)
The ruthless Baron at his best and worst. The charm of hatching the plot of Karl’s drug troubles, therefor blackmailing him to work on the latest round of creation is top notch in its ruthlessness. This is a man driven to do whatever is necessary to continue his work, including killing in a public place in a not so subtle way. The picture also included the infamous assault scene between Anna and the Baron, making his character even more despicable.
2): Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
The first inklings of the Baron who will do anything to achieve his dream. The pursuit of the non-cobbled creature to achieve this dream, plus not caring who he involves, indicates a true monster who possesses both charm and tact. Here is a man who will think nothing of having someone die in his place and then hide under an assumed name
3):Tales from the Crypt (1972) Segment 3: “Poetic Justice”
The obvious horrible corpse rising to seek revenge aside, this was an actor deep in torment. Cushing was grieving over the loss of his wife yet he still gave an effective if not clichéd performance. His thin appearance and weak voice perhaps not a result of vocalizing adds to the starkness.
4) Island of Terror (1966)
Cushing as Dr.Brian Stanley battling those alien, spaghetti leaking silicate creatures. Stanley doesn’t menace people but pays a price of getting close. The ‘chopping scene’ with Cushing’s large eyes and frantic pleas stayed with me when I first saw the picture in the theatre.
5) Dr. Terrors House of Horrors (1966)
‘Dr. Terror’ / Dr. W. R. Schreck as played by Cushing makes the film move. Sitting with each person on the train and calmly and sadistically dealing the cards to tell each of their stories is wonderful. The chemistry between Schreck and a particularly acidic Christopher Lee as art critic Franklyn Marsh is delicious.
6) Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
One of my favorites of the series in spite of the poor press and the feeling of some fans. Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein is now more relaxed while remaining driven. He has memorable lines such as “Why can’t they leave me alone?” when he sees his effigy hanging in his chateau. The Baron relates the story of the creation night from the past with sadness to his assistant Hans who cares for or him like a “Mother Hen.” The Baron physically pushes a generator when the wheel is stuck with frantic purpose. He is a beaten man till he finds the creature encased in ice then explodes with joy and purpose. The result is a Baron with a dimension of experience and an actor comfortable in his work.
7) Horror Express (1972)
Peter Cushing as Dr Wells trapped on a train with Christopher Lee on a trans- Siberian express and a murderous creature coming to life is a recipe for interesting times. Cushing doesn’t menace, yet his single minded determination causes event to happen. His Dr Wells is cold blooded enough to bring the entity back at all costs. The work with Christopher Lee is masterful again as they play off each other well.
8) Beyond the Grave (1974)
Peter Cushing as the antique shop proprietor again makes the film move. Herein is the more robust but still soft spoken version of Grimsdyke from Tales from the Crypt (1972). Cushing has a twinkle in his eye despite being quite thin. There is a kindly menace to this man who is full of subtlety, especially when he notices little things about his shop such as merchandise moving.
9) She (1965)
Cushing as Major Holly in the H Rider Haggard adventure story is a delight. This is an old world colonialist man delighting in the pleasures of the dance in another country. He has great glee, succumbs to alcohol in the celebration then goes off and faces the infamous “She” who must be obeyed. Immortality for his young friend is the only thing at stake.
10) Cash on Demand (1961)
Cushing’s “Harry Fordyce” bank manager that gets robbed is a non-horror role. However, the actor gives Fordyce a cold bloodiness that is frightening in its own right. The way he rules the bank, treats employees; even ones with long service, like dirt is menacing. Everything changes when the robbers (who themselves are every bit as cold as Fordyce) spring their trap.