Baker, Roy Ward

Baker, Roy Ward (1916–)

(pop culture)

Roy Ward Baker, a director of vampire movies for Hammer Films in the 1970s, was born in London In 1934, he joined Gainsborough Studios as an assistant director. He worked at Gainsborough through the decade, but left in 1940 to become an officer in the British army. While in the service, he directed films for the Army Kinematograph Service. After the war he returned to directing for various studios including 20th Century Fox, where he directed four films in the early 1950s.

In the late 1960s, Baker began to work for Hammer Films, where he directed The Anniversary, Quartermass and the Pit (1969), one of the studio’s very successful Quartermass series. In 1971, he was assigned the first of several vampire movies that Hammer Films became so well-known for during the 1960s. The Vampire Lovers (1970) was the first of the Hammer productions based on Sheridan Le Fanu‘s story of a female vampire, “Carmilla”. Starring Ingrid Pitt, it was one of the best of the Hammer productions. Baker was then immediately put to work on the next Christopher Lee Dracula movie, The Scars of Dracula (1970). It was an original story involving a young man who wandered into Castle Dracula only to meet disaster. The man was avenged by his girlfriend and brother, and Dracula was finally killed by a bolt of lightning. The film was a commercial success in both England and America and Baker continued to work on other Hammer horror movies such as Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971).

Baker’s last vampire film for Hammer came at a crucial point in the studio’s life. The company was in financial trouble and gambled on a project in cooperation with Shaw Brothers, a film company in Hong Kong. The project was a movie that mixed the vampire horror genre with the martial arts movie. Baker was chosen to direct the film variously known as The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires and The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula. In the story Abraham Van Helsing (played by Peter Cushing) traveled to China in search of the elusive Dracula. The crusade to destroy Dracula and his new Chinese vampire allies frequently turned into a martial arts demonstration. Even the combination of Cushing’s serious performance and Baker’s mature direction could not rescue the unbelievable plot. Rather than saving Hammer, the film helped seal its fate. Warner Bros. refused to release the film to its potential major market in America, and Hammer went into bankruptcy in 1975.

In his post-Hammer period, Baker was called on to direct at least one other vampire/horror movie, The Monster Club (1981). The movie, which starred an aging John Carradine as author Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes, featured several episodes based on Chetwynd-Hayes’s short stories, including one vampire tale. Veteran actor Vincent Price helped Carradine introduce the film’s distinct episodes and provided a transition between each. Price played Eramus, one of the few times he played a vampire.

Since retiring in the early 1990s, Baker published his memoirs and has appeared in a number of documentaries discussing his Hammer years, including The Vampire Interviews (1994), 100 Years of Horror (1996), Inside the Fear Factory (2003), and most recently Hammer Horror: A Fan’s Guide (2008).

Sources:

Baker, Roy Ward. Director’s Cut: A Memoir of 60 Years in Film and Television. London: Reynolds and Hearn, 2000.
Flynn, John L. Cinematic Vampires. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 1992. 320 pp.
Smith, John M., and Tim Caldwell. The World Encyclopedia of Film. New York: Galahad Books, 1972. 444 pp.