Fisher, Terence

Fisher, Terence (1904–1980)

(pop culture)

Terence Fisher directed the majority of the classic horror motion pictures produced by Hammer Films in the 1950s and 1960s, including three important vampire films. Apprenticed aboard the training ship H.M.S. Conway during the late 1920s, he later left the sea and held different jobs until 1930 when he went to work at Shepard’s Bush Studios. Because there were no schools to learn the film business at that time, he mastered his chosen trade on the job through the 1930s, primarily as a film editor. It was not until 1948 that he directed his first picture, A Song for Tomorrow. As early as 1953 Fisher worked at Hammer Films on its early science fiction productions, Four-Sided Triangle and Spaceways. In 1957 he was paired with screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee to do a remake of the classic Universal Pictures’ film Frankenstein. The film was a success, and the four men assembled the next year to do Dracula. This film became the most memorable of Fisher’s career. Through it and others to follow, Fisher—more than any single person—created the distinctive Hammer style with horror movies in general, and the Dracula/vampire movie in particular. The Horror of Dracula, the title by which his first Dracula movie is best known, became spectacularly successful. It put Hammer’s films on the map as the premier successor to the Universal horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Before turning his task over to a new wave of Hammer directors, Fisher would make more than ten additional Hammer horrors, including The Mummy (1959) and The Curse of the Werewolf, (1961), and significant sequels to both the Frankenstein and Dracula features. Other Dracula movies by Fisher included The Brides of Dracula (1960) and Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1965).

Fisher has been hailed for his genuine contributions to the horror genre. He not only brought Technicolor to the horror movie, but presented the evil deeds of Frankenstein and Dracula and other classic monsters directly to the audience, rather than leaving viewers to imagine the action. Although Fisher put the horrid acts on the screen, he also imposed a moral order that opposed evil and eventually defeated it. Technically, such films as The Horror of Dracula did not necessarily break new ground as Fisher developed his new versions of the pre-war black and white movies. He merely used the state of the art technology of the late 1950s and the openings provided by the changing social standards concerning what could be presented to film audiences. Most importantly, Fisher’s movies appealed to a new generation of horror fans, and his success seemed to reflect the uniqueness of his subject rather than originality or outstanding directing talent on his part. Fisher is thus remembered as a competent director—but not a great one. In judging Fisher, however, one must also take into account the severe budget constraints that Hammer imposed on him; these included, for example, limiting the lines spoken by Christopher Lee after he became a star (largely because of The Horror of Dracula) as a means of reducing what would have been Lee’s high salary demands. Fisher retired in 1973 and died of cancer in 1980.

Sources:

Bourgoin, Stephane. Terence Fisher. Paris: Edilig, 1984. 127 pp.
Glut, Donald G. The Dracula Book. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1975. 388 pp.
Hutchings, Peter. “Terence Fisher.” In Nicolas Thomas, ed. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. Vol. 2: Directors. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991.
———. Terence Fisher. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002. 224 pp.
Leggett, Paul. Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth and Religion. Jeffersonville, NC: McFarland & Company, 2002. 216 pp.
Pirie, David. Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema, 1946–1972. New York: Avon, 1973. 192 pp.
Quinlan, David. The Illustrated Guide to Film Directors. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books, 1984. 334 pp.