The Mondo Esoterica Guide to:

Peter Cushing

  About Peter Cushing:

Born 26th May 1913 in Surrey, Peter Cushing considered himself film-bound from a very young age. After some early theatrical sucesses he travelled to Hollywood in 1939 and was quickly playing bit parts, including A Chump at Oxford (1940) alongside Laurel and Hardy, before returning to England in 1942. A series of radio plays for the BBC were followed by his return to cinema in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948) as Osric. Cushing worked in television almost exclusively for the next few years, a highlight being his leading role in the BBC's 1984 (1954). Despite his popularity on television, he was still almost unknown outside of England, this was to change in 1956 when he was hired by Hammer Films for the lead role in Curse of Frankenstein (1957). Teamed onscreen for the first time with his future partner-in-horror Christopher Lee, the film was a massive global sucess, far above anything Hammer had anticipated. The studio acted quickly to take advantage of their new star and Cushing was cast alongside Lee another three times in sucession with Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959) and Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) and he played his Frankenstein and Van Helsing characters again in Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) and Brides of Dracula (1960). He shot a few more non-horror films for Hammer, including the titular role in Captain Clegg (1962), before he chose to retire from the horror scene and move into other acting fields.

However, British cinema and television was experiencing a slump, and Cushing was able to find only limited work and ended up returning to Hammer to star in sub-par sequel Evil of Frankenstein (1964) and was re-united with Terence Fisher and Christopher Lee for The Gorgon (1964) and with Lee again in fantasy epic She (1965). Cushing's continuing position as master of horror led to him being poached by Hammer's rival British Horror producers Amicus Films. After appearing in their first of many portmanteau films, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) Cushing went on to play Doctor Who in Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965), the film adaptation of the second story from the popular TV serial, he appeared again in the sequel, Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966) before appearing in another portmanteau production for the studio - Torture Garden (1967). A double bill of independent horror films; Island of Terror (1966) and Night of the Big Heat (1967) preceeded Cushing's return to Hammer in the less than impressive Frankenstein Created Woman (1967).

Although it was clear by the mid-1960s that 'Peter Cushing' would be a name permanently synonymous with horror, with his wife's unfortunate and disabling illness, Cushing was forced to accept every role that came his way. Despite his global fame, and unlike co-star Christopher Lee, he was unable to travel outside the country to make films. More poor quality horror films for Amicus and Tigon pictures followed, broken up by a run as Sherlock Holmes on the BBC, and Hammer's impressive Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969). Hammer answered the exploitation era with a series of sexy vampire films, and cast Cushing in The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Twins of Evil (1971). Van Helsing came back in Hammer's final two Dracula films and unsucessful Oriental/Vampire fusion Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974) while Baron Frankenstein gave his last outing in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), just two years later the studio ceased film production, and Amicus would follow the next year. With less work in Britain, Cushing now sadly a widower, ended up travelling around, with shoots in Greece on Land of the Minotaur (1976) and in America on the Nazi-Zombie film Shock Waves (1977), however his next role, although short, was to be the most remembered of his career - under George Lucas he played Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977). Despite this renewal of his global fame, the aged Cushing was offered little work. He played a sinister shop keeper in The Silent Scream - an episode of the Hammer House of Horror (1980) TV series, and starred alongside Christopher Lee and Vincent Price in House of Long Shadows (1983) before officially retiring in June 1987. Although continuing to do some light television work, Peter developed prostate cancer and died on 11th August 1994 in Canterbury.

Peter Cushing will probably never be as well known as long time friend Christopher Lee, his wife's unfortunate illness and his impressive devotion to her care limited him to British films, and throughout the 1960s and 70s, this meant low budget horror. Despite this, Cushing rarely gave a bad performance, and put effort into even the worst films he appeared in, many directors amazed by his attention to detail for his roles. For Curse of Frankenstein (1957) he briefly studied anatomy, and for Captain Clegg (1962) he took lessons from a Vicar on reading a marriage ceremony correctly. Apart from his short, but key and even scene stealing role in Star Wars (1977), Cushing is likely to remain known only to cult cinema fans, but his distinctive performances that lift so many films are likely to remain cult favourites for as long as people can watch them.
 DVD Reviews: Films starring Peter Cushing

The Abominable Snowman (1957)
UK DD-Video Region 0 DVD
Cushing goes in search of the Yeti in this rather over-written film that at least avoids becoming a mere monster movie.
Partly recommended.
And Now the Screaming Starts (1973)
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
Amicus' straight forward ghost story manages to be very scary and effective thanks to superb acting and direction.
Highly recommended.
Asylum (1972)
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
One of the lesser Amicus anthology films, with no particularly outstanding stories and only a brief Cushing role.
Only for fans of the studio.
At the Earth's Core (1976)
UK Cinema Club Region 2 DVD
A highly entertaining family adventure movie with a superb performance from Cushing as an eccentric inventor.
Recommended viewing.
The Beast Must Die (1974)
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
The last Amicus horror, an entertaining if rather daft werewolf film, although Cushing is saddled with a poor accent.
Partly recommended.
The Blood Beast Terror (1968)
UK DD-Video Region 0 DVD
Cushing gives a decent performance in one of the worst movies ever made.
A woeful film and not at all recommended.
Brides of Dracula (1960)
US Universal Region 1 DVD (Hammer Horror Series Boxset)
The least of Hammer's early gothics, Peter Cushing's strong performance is let down by a flawed script.
Not recommended.
Captain Clegg (1962)
US Universal Region 1 DVD (Hammer Horror Series Boxset)
One of Hammer's best adventure films of the early 1960s, Cushing gives a great performance as a vicar.
Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
UK Warner Brothers Region 2 DVD
Hammer's first horror film with impressive production and a fantastic leading duo. A very important film.
A strong, highly recommended film to alll viewers.
Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966)
Optimum UK Region 2 DVD (Dalek Collection Boxset)
Cushing returns as the Doctor in this much better sequel with a good plot and action.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
MGM Region 1 DVD
Cushing gets a throw-away two minute cameo in this very poor sequel.
Not recommended.
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
The first Amicus anthology horror films is quite hit and miss, but always enjoyable, with a good cast.
Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965)
Optimum UK Region 2 DVD (Dalek Collection Boxset)
Cushing plays Doctor Who in this entertaining but rather undetailed film.
Partly recommended.
Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
US Universal Region 1 DVD (Hammer Horror Series Boxset)
Suffers from a bad looking monster, and relatively average performances, even from Cushing - but the plot is okay.
Watchable but not recommended.
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)
German E-M-S Region 2 DVD
A a very good film with a great script, a wonderfully dark, atmospheric setting, and a sinister lead performance.
A recommended film to all Hammer fans.
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
UK Warner Brothers Region 2 DVD
An interesting concept, Cushing plays his role well but gets less screentime than usual and it is an unexciting film.
Partially recommended to Hammer fans.
Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969)
UK Warner Brothers Region 2 DVD
A strong, near-perfect script combine with top notch performances and great production.
Highly recommended to all.
Fury at Smugger's Bay (1961)
UK Cinema Club Region 2 DVD
A highly unimpressive film, as well as a confused plot, Cushing gives a restrained performance that cannot lift the picture.
Not recommended.
Horror Express (1973)
German VZ-Handels Region 1 DVD
Cushing and Lee team up against a million year old monster on the Tran-Siberian Express in this classic gothic style horror.
Very entertaining and highly recommended.
The House that Dripped Blood (1970)
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
Probably the strongest overall Amicus anthology, with their best comic story, and three good horror tales.
Island of Terror (1966)
UK DD-Video Region 0 DVD
An entertaining, although un-original horror/sci-fi film with a good Peter Cushing performance.
Madhouse (1974)
US MGM Region 1 DVD
Cushing co-stars with Vincent Price in this interesting but poorly written Amicus/AIP horror.
Not recommended.
The Mummy (1959)
UK Warner Brothers Region 2 DVD
An impressive film from the beginning of Hammer's gothic cycle. All the ingredients come together effectively.
Recommended to all.
Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
UK Columbia Region 2 DVD
Solid direction and acting combine with a story that takes a dark new twist to the traditional story.
Recommended to Hammer fans.
She (1965)
US Warner Brothers Region 2 DVD
Hammer's adventure epic suffers from the low budget, but still boasts good looking sets and Peter Cushing plays the lead.
Partially recommended.
Shock Waves (1977)
US Blue Underground Region 0 DVD
More atmosphere than gore makes this Nazi zombie film genuinely creepy. Cushing gets a short but key role.
Tales from the Crypt (1972)
US Fox Region 1 DVD
A rather weak Amicus anthology horror, made watchable by a superbly tear-jerking performance from Cushing.
Worth watching for Cushing's chapter alone.
Torture Garden (1967)
UK Sony Region 2 DVD
A standard Amicus anthology horror film, Cushing stars alongside Jack Palance in the best of four short stories.
Partially recommended.
Twins of Evil (1971)
UK Network Region 2 DVD
A mixed up, but daftly entertaining film with a strong Cushing performance in an unusually dark role.
Vampire Lovers (1970)
Alan Young ITA Region 2 DVD
Cushing gets a small but key role in this erotically charged and well made Hammer film based on the classic novel Carmilla.


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All text in this site written by Timothy Young - March 2006.
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