Halloween Countdown – the great directors: Terence Fisher
Terence Fisher is the most famous of the Hammer films directors – he started off directing low budget thrillers such as Colonel Bogey, Stolen Face and Four Sided Triangle and it wasn’t until he helmed Hammer’s first full colour gothic horror, The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 that he became a superstar. The movie starred Peter Cushing as the devious Baron Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the sympathetic though horrifying creature. Fisher collaborated with screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster and with producer, Anthony Hinds they became a team that would go onto rule horror cinema for a great many years. They followed up Frankenstein with the even more successful, The Horror of Dracula (1958) which gave is arguably the finest ever screen Dracula.
Fisher’s style can be traced back to the old Saturday Morning cliffhangers that were so popular in the cinema when he was growing up – his sense of pacing is legendary and his films, particularly those done for Hammer, are provide real edge of the seat viewing. In the same year as Horror of Dracula, Fisher also directed The Revenge of Frankenstein which saw Cushing return as the baron and this time he is a true evil character, driven by his own selfish needs. And then in 1960 Fisher returned to Dracula, this time without Lee for The Brides of Dracula – this time the film made the eroticism, which was evident in The Horror of Dracula, much more explicit. Again the movie is an energetic romp with a widely inventive climax in which Cushing, bitten by a vampire, cauterizes the wound himself before tackling the vampire. The film remains great fun but suffered without Lee as Fisher was pleased when Lee returned as Dracula for Dracula: Prince of Darkness.
Given their subject matter and lurid approach, Fisher’s films, though commercially successful, were largely dismissed by critics during his career. It is only in recent years that Fisher has become recognised as an auter in his own right. His films are characterised by a blend of fairy-tale, myth and sexuality. They may have drawn heavily on Christian themes, and there is usually a hero who defeats the powers of darkness by a combination of faith and reason.
Fisher worked on a production line basis, often directing three films in a year, but no matter how flimsy the material his sense of style, pacing and use of bold saturated colours always resulted in an enjoyable picture. Many of the Fisher directed Hammer movies are classics – The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy, The Curse of the Werewolf are all movies that feature the Fisher trademarks. During the mid-Sixties Fisher was offered directing duties on the James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice but he refused and instead remained with Hammer Pictures. And although he continued to work solidly for the rest of the decade he would never recapture the glory of the early films he made for Hammer.