Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Van Helsing A Day: Peter Cushing

For my money there is no greater Van Helsing than Peter Cushing, hands down, now and forever.  Peter Cushing played Van Helsing no less than 5 times for Hammer starting with 1958's Dracula (U.S. title Horror of Dracula) followed by Brides of Dracula in 1960, truly the defining film for Van Helsing's awesome vampire hunting skills and commitment.  It would be 12 years before Cushing would again take on the role, this time as a descendant of his previous character in Dracula AD 1972  which was followed by The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).  Peter returned to his original Van Helsing one final time in 1974 for a joint Hammer-Shaw Brothers kung fu horror picture The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.

While it is not established in the '58 Dracula nor in Brides, Peter Cushing's original Van Helsing is named Lawrence rather than Abraham and his descendant is Lorrimer, although a suggestion in Brides is that his name should be something beginning with "J".  Regardless, Peter Cushing is a Van Helsing's Van Helsing worthy of the name and character.

Three things really stand out about Cushing as Van Helsing.  The first is in Dracula where Van Helsing uses two candlesticks to make a cross to defeat Dracula.  Enterprising, brave, strong in his faith as a man fighting ultimate evil, this Van Helsing does what few others can pull off.  Others might attempt it, but success is by no means guaranteed.  The image of Peter Cushing with the candlesticks is iconic in the genre.
When a collectible bust is made of you featuring a single scene in a movie you are a bloody icon!
The second is how he dealt with the villain Baron Meinster (the ersatz Dracula) in Brides.  In Flesh and Blood the documentary about Hammer Peter Cushing commented that neither the budget nor his sense of the character (of Van Helsing) would allow for the originally scripted ending of Van Helsing summoning a horde of bats to destroy Baron Meinster but, as Peter said, "A splash of holy water and a jolly good fight" certainly did the trick.  Peter is really understating what happens.  Van Helsing and Meinster fight with Van Helsing using his holy water to hurt the vampire only to have Meinster kick over a brazier of coals setting the windmill where they are fighting ablaze.  Van Helsing then escapes the windmill and uses the sails to form a cross shadow and trap the bloodsucker inside the inferno.  Classic.
The third thing is the best of all.  Baron Meinster had bitten Van Helsing and left him to be turned into a vile undead.  Van Helsing awakes, discovers the puncture wounds and thinking quickly sets a piece of iron in a brazier to get it glowing hot then grasping a chain to support himself he PUTS THE GLOWING IRON ONTO HIS PUNCTURE WOUNDS!  Staggering with the pain, but conscious, he splashes holy water on the burns and is thus cleansed of the taint of vampirism.
This guy is beyond bad ass.

Although he would not fight Dracula again until 1972 in Dracula AD 1972 and would do so as Lawrence's descendant Lorrimer Van Helsing, he still cuts a fine figure as a determined warrior against the forces of darkness, despite health troubles and advancing age.  Peter Cushing always brings a slyness and cunning to the role but balances that with a paladin's devotion to good that might be surprising in a jaded culture that cannot fathom a character that is good for good's sake.

Might-6/10 in his youth
Tools of the Trade-Holy Water and Crosses, Stakes and even a Rosebush, used a Windmill as a weapon
Faith-10/10 (any two objects combined in his hands become a cross)
Cushing Score-Alpha Cushing
FttB-12 out of a possible 10 Foots to the Balls

Van Helsing as played by Peter Cushing is what all Van Helsings should aspire to be.  He does his homework, he can be cunning or forthright, he is clever and has the knack for improvising, that he can turn two candlesticks (or a windmill) into a cross shows extreme heart, and his primary solution for dealing with a foe is a foot to the balls and a stake to the heart.  Cushing Van Helsing fights against evil and to promote good not for some dark or tragic past but because it is the right thing to do.  This is a hero among lesser men.

Keep your pumpkins lit.

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