Sangster, Jimmy

Sangster, Jimmy (1927–)

(pop culture)

Jimmy Sangster, a screenwriter for many of the Hammer Films’ horror movies of the 1950s and 1960s, was born in North Wales. He dropped out of school at the age of fifteen and after the war entered the movie world as a production manager. In 1956 he was given his first opportunity as a screenwriter for A Man on the Beach. Next he teamed with director Terence Fisher and actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing for the first of two trendsetting Hammer horror films, The Curse of Frankenstein. In 1958 the four reassembled for their most memorable effort: Dracula (released in America as The Horror of Dracula). Sangster’s screenplay for the The Horror of Dracula altered the story considerably from both the earlier Dracula (1931) movie with Bela Lugosi and the original book. It set vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing in a singular fight with Dracula. The story climaxed when Van Helsing killed Dracula by tearing the curtain from the wall and allowing the sun to burn the vampire to ashes.

The following year Sangster wrote the screenplay for Universal/Eros for the production of The Blood of the Vampire (also known as The Demon with the Bloody Hands). While he returned to Hammer to work on several scripts, it was not until 1960 that he worked again with Fisher and Cushing (minus Lee) to do The Brides of Dracula, Hammer’s sequel to the The Horror of Dracula. Like Lee, Dracula did not appear in The Brides of Dracula, a story concerning Baron Meinster, memorable for biting Cushing, who survived by cauterizing the wound.

Through the 1960s Sangster worked on a variety of films as the screenwriter, but also as the producer. He worked on The Nanny (1965) and The Anniversary (1968), two films starring Bette Davis in some of her most memorable macabre roles. In 1970 he emerged as the screenwriter, producer, and director of the Hammer production of The Horror of Frankenstein. Upon completion of Frankenstein, he assumed the role of director for the next horror/vampire effort, Lust for a Vampire, one of the Hammer Carmilla films. It would be his last vampire film.

Through the 1970s and 1980s Sangster continued to work on horror films. He came to the United States and participated in a number of television productions, including work with actor/host Jack Palance on the Ripley’s Believe It or Not series. While not wanting to be remembered only as a “Hammer writer,” he became best known for his efforts on the several Hammer vampire and Frankenstein movies. He effectively scripted the gothic mood by setting his scenes at nighttime, showing his characters in their steady degeneration, and building an atmosphere saturated with illusion and unexpected terror.

Sangster remained active through the 1990s, and co-wrote the screenplay for Flashback—Mörderische Ferien, a horror movie released in 2000.

Sources:

Ashley, Mike. Who’s Who in Horror and Fantasy Fiction. London: Elm Tree Books, 1977. 240 pp.
Vinson, James, ed. The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. Volume IV: Writers and Production Artists. Chicago: St. James Press, 1988.