Christopher Lee in Hercules in the Haunted World


It is tempting to begin any discussion of Christopher Lee’s work with a summation of his British horror roles. But if Lee’s British roles resonate with every plateau of horror that can be hermeneutically incarnated within a character, his work in Italy between 1961 and 1964 evoke worlds of perversion, populated not purely with strange characters, but which function through paradigms of necrophilia, sadism, masochism, fetishism, autoerotica, torture, nazism, homosexuality, asphyxophilia and the pleasure both characters and viewer take in violence. It is key in this article however that the term perversion is understood as a creative term which points to revolutionary representations of desire in general rather than specific sexual pathologies. It is in no way disparaging or derogatory. Lee begins his journey into perversion (1) in Mario Bava’s 1961 peplum/horror Hercules in the Haunted World (Ercole al Centro Della Terra) as the evil Lico, Prince of the Underworld. In The Crypt and the Nightmare (La Crypta e L’Incubo, Camilo Mastrocinque, 1962), an adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s lesbian vampire novel Carmilla, Lee plays Count Karnstein, the father of Laura (Adriana Ambesi), who takes a suspiciously exerted interest in his daughter’s sexual appeal, especially as it becomes the victim of the perversion of lesbian vampirism. The following year Lee played Kurt Menliff in Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body (La Frusta e il Corpo, 1963) a contentious character, described by most critics as sadistic but more a slave to his lover Navenka’s (Dahlia Lavi) masochistic drives and to the sadism exhibited by his dead jilted lover. The same year Lee played the deformed and complicit loyal servant Erich, to skull faced torturer and ex-Nazi Punisher (Mirko Valentin), for whom he sacrifices his life, holding Punisher like a lover as he dies, in Antonio Margheriti’s The Virgin of Nuremberg (La Virgine di Norimberga). Lee’s final Italian horror is strangely the most old-fashioned and low budget (filmed in black and white), and perhaps the most peculiar both in Lee’s heavily made-up appearance and obsession with necrophilia as Count Drago. Castle of the Living Dead (Il Castello dei Morti Vivi, Luciano Ricci, 1964) was also Michael Reeves’ first taste of directing and Donald Sutherland’s first film acting role. It was filmed, like Crypt, Flesh for Frankenstein (Antonio Margheriti, 1973) and many other Italian horror films, in Bormazo Castle, near Viterbo. Unlike most of the other films however, Castle utilises the gardens, which include titanic carved statues designed to present a vision of hell – enormous fighting fantastical beasts, a life-sized elephant with soldier in trunk beating him to death on the ground, a screaming face cave, the entrance to which is through the gaping maw. This film palpably emphasises what the others evoke, in that perversion exceeds one character, orienting the entire landscape and hanging heavy in the air, not antagonising but consuming the ‘normal’ characters. In Lee’s own words, his most famous role of Dracula incarnates a “strange sexual manifestation. Maybe it’s because I tried to make Dracula a romantic figure. Someone you could feel sorry for.” (2) His roles in the five Italian movies with which this article deals present figures for which there is no sympathy. These Italian figures are instead seductive in the baroque sense of the word, presenting suffering and the various perverse contortions of human flesh as inextricable from desire, conflating the astonishingly beautiful with the deliriously horrific.

If Dracula evinces a polar and oscillating binary of seduction and sympathy, Lee’s Italian characters inflect elements of seduction and sadism within rather than opposed to each other, while simultaneously internally incarnating a drive toward self-suffering and pleasure in the suffering of others that aligns and involutes others with himself rather than positioning others as objects of violent will. Because binary desires and drives band in a Moëbian rather than a polar configuration this article will suggest that Lee’s Italian roles challenge not only traditional horror paradigms but seduce the viewer into worlds in which they must become perverse in order to find pleasure. In the worlds of Lee’s Italian horrors normalised heterosexual desire is beyond the limits of acceptability. Representations of heterosexual love, even when they resolve the narrative, range from the brutish (Whip) to the mythically archetypical (Hercules), and the deceptive (Virgin) to the nauseatingly predictable (Castle and Crypt). But I wish to avoid focussing my analysis of perversion on characters or inter-character relationships. These Italian worlds present three-dimensional grids of perversion, punctuated with assemblages of bizarre drive and forming unique combinations of aberrant desire. Both characters and viewers range within this grid, orienting along certain trajectories of perversion that temporally transform throughout the film, pervading sets, landscapes, bodies, actual locations, actions and cinematography. Thus Lee’s journey into perversion is precisely that – a journey and not the genesis of specific ontological pathology. Desire in these films is a series of phylic molecules, which distributes bodies and environments into clusters of intensities that continually metamorphose through new molecular formations as soon as they are formed. Desire is duration, a texture of both space and time. Although the films are punctuated with symbols – the bursting red flowers in Navenka’s bedroom suggesting the beauty of wounds for example – to read the perversion in terms of transcribable psychoanalytic signifiers returns the desire found in these films to pathology. It would be easy to name Lee’s sexual pathologies – homosexual in Virgin, sadist in Whip, necrophiliac in Castle, incestuous father in Crypt and satanic megalomaniac in Hercules – but these definitions fail to address that it is the worlds of the films that are perverse, not Lee juxtaposed against these worlds, and circumvent the affect of these worlds on us as disciples of such films. We, like the normal heterosexual characters, enter the perverse worlds, the pervert does not enter our worlds. Thus it is no accident that all the films are set in castles with the exception of Hercules, set in an underworld equivalent.

Cinema as Perverse Plateau

Although issues of pathologised perversion will inform this article, they should not be understood as ceasing the intensities of the films but rather they will be used tactically to describe certain plateaus of intensity upon which the films, and we, range. The pathologised pervert isomorphically defined through Oedipality cannot nomenclature the flows and force of unbound molecular desire found in these delirious worlds. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari emphasise

Never has delirium oscillated more between its two poles. But through the impasses and the triangles [of Oedipality] a schizophrenic flow moves, irresistibly; sperm, river, drainage, inflamed genital mucus, (3) or a stream of words that do not let themselves be coded, a libido that is too fluid, too viscous: a violence against syntax, a concerted destruction of the signifier, non-sense erected as a flow, polyvocity that returns to haunt all relations. (1996: 133)

Libidinality is found in oscillation, not exchange, of terms. The fissure between and beyond signification of the worlds of perverse desire consumes the poles of perversion, violence and pleasure within the screen but also between screen and viewing flesh. The image, its shadows, the complexity of the characters beyond good and evil, sadism and seduction, exceed both any possibility to linguistically enclose them, neither through written nor cinematic language, and demarcate intent, meaning or often even outline. Lee’s molecular belonging to his environment is evinced corporeally in Castle. His face is interspersed with deep shadows, invaginated eye-sockets, gaunt cheekbones and pale disappearing lips. It literally flattens into the background, forming a nodule of intensity, a force dependent on light and aspect rather than a character form. His environment forces in upon his docile flesh as he shifts the volume of the landscape with his form – a relational series of forces rather than a solid (character, foreground) within a space (background) or a visible (character) within an invisible (atmosphere). We cannot signify or analyse pathology if we are unable to demarcate form. Lee isn’t in the environment, he is the environment, in the same ways that bodies do not exist in the world but involute in a great libidinal band, to paraphrase Jean Françoise Lyotard. This heterotopic world of Italian gothic landscape mirrors, though does not oppose nor exist external to, describes Michel Foucault’s analysis of the ways in which intensities are distributed. If the function of watching horror is to be pleasurably horrified and positioned before the grotesque and gory made aesthetic, a certain system of distribution must be in place. Such a system does not direct the ebbs and flows of the intensities, but makes our bodies receptive to them. This expectation can both fulfil, as in normative routine satisfaction of desire, but it can also be the catalyst for shock, transformation and innovation, as our bodies are receptive but not altogether sentient toward what those intensities will be. “Discipline sometimes requires enclosure, the specification of a place heterogeneous to all others and closed in upon itself. It is the protected place of disciplinary monotony.” (Foucault, 1991: 141) The act of viewing, especially one viewing body positioned toward a video screen (considering these films are now more likely to be seen on video than at the cinema) is one of these heterogeneous spaces, where our bodies become docile to certain affects. The monotony Foucault describes should not be understood as necessarily uncreative. Monotony broadly describes the parameters of genre. If the monotony of horror is the presentation of perverse worlds, where the entrance of ‘normal’ persons into the literal heterotopia of claustrophobic castles heralds our entrance into perverse horror worlds, then it also marks our exit from the social world of normalised heterosexuality and sexuality for other persons in general, exchanged for cinesexuality – desire for and of cinematic images.

Sadism and Masochism

The Whip and the Body

Sadism and masochism are neither opposed, nor do they belong to the same libidinal system. In both, the participant, willing or unwilling, is empty in order to define the proponent of the act of either the pleasure of infliction or reception of suffering. To say they are complementary would defeat this basic requirement. In these perversions there is not two people, there is one. Popularly in horror films sadism is aligned with masculinity and the pleasure of female suffering and masochism is rarely mentioned, despite the fact that the desire to watch horrific images places the viewer in a masochistic position. Lee’s Kurt in Whip has most frequently been described as sadistic. As one example of many Troy Howarth claims “Kurt is a sadist who gets sexual gratification from whipping his lovers”. (90) Strangely Howarth prefixes his chapter on Whip with Kurt’s claim to Navenka that “You have always loved violence”. Howarth, like many horror critics, exchanges mediation with the possibilities of desire for desire subjugated to simple, predictable binaries of male/female, sadism/masochism, and good/bad. This claim annexes thinking all desire in the film only through the primary male figure and more rudimentarily forgets that Kurt only has Navenka as his lover in the film. Howarth begins his analysis stitched up by an expectation of a result – the act of male beating female equals sadism, which always means a man beating a woman for pleasure. Although Howarth rightly sees sadism as dividuated from masochism (he does not describe Navenka as masochist) it is strange he prefers the male to the female perspective through which to define the paradigm of desire. Foucault points out that “Literature is not language approaching itself until it reaches the point of its fiery manifestation; it is, rather, language getting as far away from itself as possible.” (1987: 12) Film as a form of literature should be viewed with an openness to the pure potentials of images and cinematic intensities exceeding that which they signify. By claiming Kurt as a sadist, the meaning and hence affects of the film are established before the film unfolds. Kurt never manifests sadism, he navigates sadistic systems to show that sexual perversion cannot help but exceed its signification. Here Kurt becomes fetishised, both absent and present (discussed below) and can barely be described as a male character, let alone transcendental signifier of ‘sadist’. More problematic is that Howarth fails to address the continual feminisation of Kurt, as Navenka and we negotiate him only through his potential to please. Navenka’s docile body demands Kurt whip her. She is first whipped after pleadingly running her whip over his shoes. Kurt refers to Navenka early in the film as his master and she is first to whip him. Lee is, far from sadistic, repetitively victimised. He is defined purely though Navenka’s use of him. Deleuze claims

[In masochism] the process of turning around upon the self may be regarded as a reflexive stage, as in obsessional neurosis (‘I punish myself’), but since masochism implies a passive stage (‘I am punished, I am beaten’) we must infer the existence in masochism of a particular mechanism of projection through which an external agent is made to assume the role of the subject. (1991: 105-6)

Kurt is the mechanism by which Navenka defines herself, his function is to realise her erotic agency. Kurt is killed when his ex-lover Tanya’s ghost, dead from suicide, wraps curtains around his neck and strangles him. Because the ghost is invisible the scene could be described as autoerotically asphyxophilic, or as a death presented purely as a spectacle for our pleasure. Thus we use Kurt also. Going beyond the issue of watching Lee films because we do want to use him for our pleasure, he is wrapped in heavy velvet curtain in the same way that Sacher Von-Masoch’s punishing Venus is wrapped in furs. He exists for our pleasure and his suffering, unlike Navenka’s, is non-consensual, unwilling and pierced with screams rather than with the moans of ecstasy which accompany Navenka’s ‘pain’. Later Navenka crawls on Kurt’s tomb and both she and the camera, and hence we, fetishise his cadaverous, pale and beautiful face, reminiscent of Ricardo Freda’s fetishisation of Barbara Steele in her coffin in The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (Il Terrible Segreto dei Dr. Hichcock, 1962). Kurt’s status as living or dead informs the second half of the film. We, and Navenka, never know whether Kurt has returned from the dead or whether the film is a manifestation of Navenka’s libidinal phantasies, which ends up being so. This revelation emphasises Kurt’s role as, not character, but phantasmatic plateau of Navenka’s and our pleasure. It is Navenka who brings meaning to the paradigms of desire in the film. But in order to proliferate pleasure beyond descriptions of desire, we can use Lee, as Navenka uses him, to elaborate various forms of perverse flow, schizophrenic because Lee encourages a cornucopia of perversion – fetishism, necrophilia, masochism, but also for the viewer the pleasure of frame, movement or saturation of the almost cartoonishly coloured film. Lee is not figure or object of desire for Navenka or us but a constellation of various molecules of perversion of light, sound, colour, action, obedience, life, death, absence and presence. “It is not the figures that depend on the signifier and its effects [from narrative to pathology]” claim Deleuze and Guattari,

but the signifying chain that depends on the figural effects – this chain itself being composed of asignifying signs – crushing the signifiers as well as the signifieds, treating words as things, fabricating new unities, creating from non-figurative figures configurations of image that form and then disintegrate. The sole unity without identity is that of the flux-schiz or the break-flow. The pure figural element – the ‘figure matrix’ – Lyotard correctly names desire. (1993: 244)

In Castle Drago exists through the corpses he preserves, where living people are desirable insofar as they can be killed and conflate life (his beautiful wife will live forever because she can no longer age) with death (he had to kill her to preserve her), beauty and abject horror (corpses) and stillness and movement, (Drago freezes the corpses in mid-movement, conflating time and space). One could argue Drago is sadist not because he kills people, but because he can only exist through them. He socially describes the occupants of his castle through manipulating their flesh, yet does not exist as one of the occupants within this world. Deleuze writes, “The sadist’s superego is so strong that he [sic] has become identified with it; he is his own superego and can only find an ego in the external world. His ego exists only in the external world: this is the fundamental significance of sadistic apathy. The sadist has no other ego than that of his victims.” (1991: 124, original emphasis). Once again the form of character disappears into the environment to form a texture of sadism rather than dividuated pathology. The viewer is not only complicit with Drago, desiring and being disgusted by these beautiful figures, but also desires Drago visually and through the infinity of his possibility. The puzzle of Drago’s madness is never resolved so the viewer is seduced into the ultimate catalyst of desire, which is not found in understanding and hence knowing someone but the lack of knowledge of what will happen next, not why but what? How? Knowing systematises desire and sacrifices desire as pulsion for desire as that which fulfils an expectation. So if Drago is a sadist, or a necrophiliac, we are masochist to the permanent expectation of what he will do next and necrophiliac for desiring this shadowy, not-quite-alive and not-quite there character. Our masochism defies traditional masochism however because our expectation does not have a pre-established form, it is the expectation of we know not what. Can we say our necrophilic desire for Drago itself reflexes his sadism toward his victims to become our sadism toward him? Due to his make-up his face is cut-up, decomposed by camera and eye. But here we find the difference between sadism as clinical nomenclature and cinematic desire for redistributed flesh as image. Drago’s face is less cut-up face than series of shadows and highlights that make us visually navigate, and take pleasure, from a body organised differently as itself and a body as differently organised in relation to space. The dissecting camera is not sadistic but concerned with presenting different possibilities of desiring flesh in the world. “What seems new in the cinema is the discovery-exploration of the body by means of the camera. It’s an encounter at once calculated and aleatory between the bodies and the camera,” states Foucault,

Discovering something, breaking up an angle, a volume, a curve, following a trace, a line, possibly a ripple. And then suddenly the body derails itself, becomes a landscape, a caravan, a storm, a mountain of sand. It’s the contrary of sadism, which cuts up unity. What the camera does…is not to detail the body for desire but to knead the body like dough out of which images are born. (1994: 255)

Desire as polyphonous flow cuts up the unity of pathology similar to the camera’s destruction of the unity of the body. Both destroy hermeneutic unities to encourage multiple proliferations of desire and the body. Foucault’s description of the body refers in this article to bodies of both actors and viewers, as the camera cuts the actor’s body its effect reorganises the viewing body into new configurations of desire and pleasure.

Of the Refrain of Flesh: Necrophilia, Torture, Incest and Deformity

The Virgin of Nuremberg

I have already discussed necrophilia as a key theme in Whip and Castle. If Foucault’s claim that the camera cuts the body, then the filmed body as already ‘cut’, deformed and in disarray, is another form of the cinematic body’s becoming-multiple and pliable both in appearance and effect. If cinesexuality is about desire, then Virgin mediates our desire with that of Lee’s Erich. Erich appears as a series of contradictions. He is introduced as threatening because he is, firstly, played by Lee and secondly, deeply scarred and thus his face is twisted from eye to lip. Immediately after this introduction he is described as “one of the best people in the world” by his employer Max Hunter. Although we discover Max admires Erich purely for concealing the crimes of Max’s father the Punisher, Erich’s motives are never confessed. Yet his fidelity to the Punisher may vindicate, though not explain, ours. The Punisher is a torturer; he has been tortured by Nazis and is a peeled-skinned skull faced maniac. Nonetheless it is clear Margheriti wants the audience to find the Punisher more interesting than any other character and the ‘normal’ characters in the film are insipid at best and, within the heterosexual paradigm of Max and his wife, condescending. We mirror Erich in our fascination with Punisher. We are fascinated with his look, thrilled at the possibility of what he will do to us, both in the effect of his tortures on our sensibilities and his incapacity to conform to characteristic behaviour. The relationship between Punisher and Erich is the only interesting one in the film. It is heady with fetishism, Erich wears a militaryesque uniform, reminding the Punisher of his punishers and hence presenting desire as a mix of fear and tenderness. Both are deformed and the final death scene, although resembling Romeo and Juliet’s demise, is a convolution of flesh living (Erich) and dead (skull-face), of erotics of homosexuality and torture, and sound and image. Erich’s desire for Punisher is at once homoerotic and necrophiliac, but if these forms of desire are perverse then the primary flesh that desires is also perverse. The twists of sutured flesh in Erich’s face and the lack of skin on Punisher’s form a plateau of flesh that sutures the two together and includes flesh as external (skin) and internal (bone), proliferating also plateaus of corporeal sound as Punisher’s breathing whistles and rattles while Erich, defined through his silence in the film, speaks soft words of redeeming love. This particular libidinal banding is a ‘refrain’ of flesh. These are not two deformed bodies in space but a rhythm of sound, flesh and desire drifting along affective membranes of terror and love, suture and smoothness, velvet timbre and hiss, living and dead, one-sided homoerotics and indivisible flesh. To be seduced by this image is to attempt an improvised desire; “But to improvise is to join with the World, or meld with it,” write Deleuze and Guattari.

One ventures from home on the thread of a tune. Along sonorous, gestural motor lines that mark the customary path of a child and graft themselves onto or begin to bud ‘lines of drift’ with different loops, knots, speeds, movements, gestures and sonorities…then the point jumps over itself and radiates a space with horizontal layers, vertical cross sections, unwritten customary lines, a whole terrestrial interior force (this force also appears at a more relaxed pace, in the atmosphere…). (1987: 312-13)

Erich and Punisher’s death-love scene seduces us into an unpredictable and hence improvised refrain of perversion. Because in film sound comes from everywhere, not from the mouth as in real-life speech, the image radiates with sound. The various perverse intensities of the film also radiate within the frame so it is not simply Punisher that represents potential torture and fascination but the atmosphere of baroque castle and previously seduced affects of fear and desire merge into the borders of these baroque bodies, so that the bodies are baroque in their different tempo of speed and force rather than purely intelligible as spatialised phenomenon. Beyond but including the refrain of sound Deleuze and Guattari describe, there are refrains of colour, shadow, expectation, emotion, affect, form and action. If this scene presents a rhythm of fascinating perversion, however, its affect of the viewer should not be seen as transcribably equivalent. When Deleuze and Guattari claim “rhythm is never on the same plane as that which has rhythm” (1987: 313) they describe the affect of refrains as non-dialectic. The perversions of the image are not the same as their reaching out toward the receptive flesh of the viewer. The rhythm creates a new and unique refrain at each point of viewing and alters with each moment so that rhythm extends at a right angle with the viewer forming a different milieu than that on-screen. Here we return to the failure of describing perversion through established or even new modes of linguistic signification. We may be able to tactically describe representations of perversion that seem different to the repetitive rhythms of desire found in many films, but we can never describe the refrains formed by their affect. The refrain on-screen forms beautiful and strange lines of sound, visceral flesh, colour saturation and overwhelming intensities of contradictory moments of profane and affectionate desire.

Life and Death

Hercules in the Haunted World

The one element which all of Lee’s Italian horrors have in common is their resonance around the uncertainty of a division between life and death. Far from the stereotype of horror where death is the only certainty and encloses the meta-narratives within cathartic situations (particularly in slasher films) these films use death not to resolve but to extend the films into multiple directions. Punisher’s obsession with death and occupation of a life/death space, Kurt’s existence as living-dead phantasy and Drago’s desire for lifelike dead bodies make death a point of confusion more than conclusion. Hercules presents death as something which can be entered and exited by being set in the underworld. As Lico, King of the Underworld Lee belongs, not to the living or dead but the fissure between the two. This is emphasised in his ability, as a character amongst other characters within the underworld, the realm of the dead, to reanimate the dead, who must therefore be deader-than-dead. Degree of death is measured in the film by its own corporeal refrain; we can tell the dead and the deader-than-dead primarily through the duration band formed between viewer and speed and slowness of the movement of the on-screen bodies. That Lico proximates himself with bodies in degrees of death, thus also with measures of violence, decay and desire (many of the zombies are beautiful people but also Bava’s filming of their movement is mesmerising) sets him apart from Hercules (Reg Park). Lico’s environment is the world of death; his grid of reference negotiates faith in the possibilities of dead bodies rather than concurring to the horror of their redundancy. Lico is skinny, scary and altogether repudiates normalised referents of reproductive desire. He may be mean but he is deliberately more fascinating than Hercules. The viewer’s fascination goes beyond the image to the systems that Lico disrupts. If critics are tempted to dismiss these films because, whether or not they revolutionise representations of desire, they offer them within impossible or ridiculous world, these worlds force a negotiation with how we come to film through established systems of possibility. Laplanche points out “the impression of reality is not attained by approximations; reality is not learned or verified by trial and error; it is either given or not, entirely or not at all, according to whether or not the index affecting it is present or absent.” (61) This is why the arrival of ‘normal’ people into these worlds is important. Otherwise our impression of reality as viewer is suspended. We enter into these strange worlds and do not begin within them hence our, not expectation, but affirmed truth of reality is exploded when we enter into the jarring and delicious rhythms of the impossible with(in) which we are force to navigated. In Hercules not only does the narrative introduce us into an impossible world, but importantly the hero is designed to save us from this world. Similarly in Crypt the function of the male characters, specifically Lee’s Count Karnstein and the young male hero Friedrich (José Campos), is to save Laura from the impossible world of lesbian vampirism. Like the doubling of death in Hercules from dead to deader than dead, Crypt’s perversion is doubled from vampirism to lesbian vampirism, deflecting the focus away from Lee’s patent incestuous desire for his daughter. After Laura, and we, are saved from the world of incest, lesbianism, vampirism and death, we a returned to heterosexual normality as Count Karnstein defers his blessing on the blossoming romance between Laura and Friedrich. But Hercules’ and Friedrich’s flaccid deliverance of the female characters and us from these impossible worlds is also our, and the female characters’, saviour from plateaus of innovation, revolution and the possibility of an alteration in the rhythms of representations of desire that create unique rhythms between viewer and screen. This returns the affect of representation from the realm of the unthought, or the yet-to-be-thought, where perversion is a series of unique involutions that do not exclude any form of desire, heterosexual desire included, to the world of knowledge where desire is strictly epistemologised and reduced from force and form to sign. We could say that, more than heterosexual resolution, resonance of already presented systems is the death of desire in these films – the ‘yuk’ factor every viewer feels when they come up against a happy ending that blocks the flow of intensities and redirects the viewer onto a customary path.


Film involutes our relationship with our own capacity to enter into improvised and innovative directive flows of desire, not that replicates on-screen perversion but that simply frees corporeal thought to feel pleasure as a series of differential relations with screen, self and desire rather than re-constitution of established libidinal patterns. Lee’s Italian films present perversion both in format and image, presenting traditional sexual and film patterns perversely. I do not wish to legitimate his Italian films as better than or exchangeable for his Hammer or other films. This article has simply attempted to encourage cinephiles to seek out these beautiful films and to write about Lee from a perspective that has not been addressed in depth. Ultimately however Lee’s performances and image is not a privileged site of perversion of the viewer, but a particular merging of two particular film textures – Lee and Italian baroque horror – to suggest a potential catalyst for new viewing configurations of film folding with viewing flesh. All cinema and viewers are capable of banding innovatively with film. Innovation here comes from openness to thinking such, rather than from a series of strategic rules or examples of kinds of representation. “This derivative or differentiation must be understood in the sense in which the relation to oneself assumes an independent status. It is as if the relation of the outside folded back to create a doubling, allow a relation to oneself to emerge, and constitute an inside which is hollowed out and develops its own unique dimension” writes Deleuze. (1988: 100) This dimension, unique in time and space, is differentiated between moments in film (thus explaining my focus on small moments and rudimentary themes of the films rather than their entirety) and between persons as well as dependent on one’s relation to self and thought. Certainly though viewing constitutes a unique dimension, and these Italian films offer a unique dimension of Lee, potentials of desire and forms of aesthetic and horrific beauty.

Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles. Foucault. London: The Athlone Press. 1988.

Deleuze, Gilles. Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty Trans. not given. New York: Zone Books. 1991.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia II Trans. Brian Massumi. London: The Athlone Press. 1987.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1993.

Foucault, Michel. ‘Maurice Blanchot: Thought from the Outside.’ Trans. Brian Massumi. In Foucault and Blanchot. Foucault/Blanchot. New York: Zone Books. 1987.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Penguin. 1991.

Foucault, Michel. ‘Sade: Sargeant of Sex’. Trans. John Johnston. In Foucault, Aesthetics: Essential Works 1954-1984. Edited by James D. Faubion. London: Penguin. 1994

Howarth, Troy. The Haunted World of Mario Bava. London: FAB Press. 2002.

Laplanche, Jean. Life and Death in Psychoanalysis. Trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins. 1993.

Lee, Christopher. Tall Dark and Gruesome: An Autobiography. London: Mayflower/Granada. 1977.

Rigby, Jonathan. Christopher Lee: The Authorised Screen History. London: Reynolds & Hearn. 2001.


  1. Lee of course also made many Spanish horror films around this time, particularly with Jesús Franco, a later example of which is where the title of this article comes from – Eugénie: The Story of her Journey into Perversion (DeSade 70, 1969). He also made many German films, some of which, particularly Castle of the Walking Dead (Die Schlangengrube und das Pendul, Harald Reinl, 1967) are clearly inspired by Lee’s Italian roles rather than his Hammer roles. Lee’s first horror adventure in Italy was a pastiche of his Dracula role in Steno’s comedy Uncle was a Vampire (Tempi Duri per i Vampiri, 1959). Lee’s role in Faust (Katarsis, Guiseppe Veggezzi, 1963), although Italian, is not included in this article as it does not contain the gothic or baroque elements so emphasised in the five films discussed. It deals with modern issues and characters in a modern way, i.e. logically. Unlike Virgine, also set in present day, there are no fantastic characters like Punisher or themes like nazi-torture-living-death, and most importantly, no perverse desire.
  2. ‘Chillers a Menace? Rubbish, says Christopher Lee’. Interview with Sarah Stoddart. Picturegoer, 1 November 1958. Cited in Rigby, 60.
  3. Perhaps itself a perverse aside, in Lee’s autobiography he writes: “There was the wound in my rump which had festered and plagued me for three years, and had left each of my buttocks with more craters than the surface of the moon. I’d had a penicillin drip every three hours – very sore but effective. At the conclusion of the course, a doctor had shoved an excruciatingly painful glass contraption up me as a probe, and with the classic comment, ‘Perfectly normal mucosa’, passed me fit for civilian life.” (127). I will leave it up to the reader to make the Deleuzio-Guattarian connections.

About The Author

Patricia MacCormack is lecturer in Communication and Film at Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge. Her PhD was awarded the Mollie Holman doctorate medal for best thesis. She has published on perversion, Continental philosophy, French feminism and Italian horror film. Her most recent work is on Cinesexuality, masochism and Becoming-Monster in Alternative Europe, Thirdspace and Suture. She is currently writing on Blanchot, Bataille and Cinecstasy.

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