Of all the British ﬁlm companies that sought to emulate Hammer’s success in the horror genre throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Amicus was one of the most proliﬁc and distinctive. Between 1964 and 1974 it produced fourteen horror ﬁlms; these included both portmanteau/anthology films and single-plot dramas. The predominantly British casts and settings of Amicus horrors, the presence in many of them of the British horror stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and the fact that they were all directed by British directors working with British crews in British studios suggest that Amicus should be seen as an integral part of the British horror movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Despite this, Amicus horror ﬁlms have not played any signiﬁcant role in the critical re-evaluation of British horror that was inaugurated by David Pirie’s groundbreaking book A Heritage of Horror in 1973. In particular, the Amicus ﬁlms do not sit easily with those critical accounts that have sought to identify British horror as a purely indigenous cultural phenomenon. This chapter is therefore interested instead in the precise nature of the company’s dependence on American-sourced material and the extent to which this material is reworked within a British context of production. Such an approach can potentially highlight aspects of British horror that are obscured by those accounts which have centred on Hammer.
Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and Hammer’s The Night Creatures
In 1957 Hammer commissioned American author Richard Matheson to write a screenplay based on his vampire novella, I Am Legend. The screenplay (retitling the story as The Night Creatures), however, went unmade. This chapter examines the project in relation to the following questions. Why was Hammer interested in the I Am Legend project in the first place? Why did it go to the trouble of bringing Matheson over from the United States? What does this suggest about the pattern of production in the company during the late 1950s and, more broadly, about the relation between British and American models of horror and indeed between horror literature and horror cinema? Such questions direct us to I Am Legend as a commercial property as well as an innovative horror text, and a consideration of the circumstances of its acquisition and development by Hammer can enhance our understanding of the relation between these two distinct aspects of its existence.
Exclusions and exchanges in the history of European horror
This chapter seeks to identify and characterise the relationship between British horror cinema and European horror cinema. In so doing it also explores a particular and influential critical understanding of European horror: ‘Eurohorror’, from which British horror films are typically excluded. It argues that the complexities associated with this relationship, such as it was in the past or is now, connect not just to the historical development of various national horror cinemas in Europe but also, perhaps more importantly, to how European horror cinema has been discussed, defined and discursively shaped since the 1980s. Throughout this period, the ways in which a wide range of European horror films have been circulated, received, interpreted and valued have undergone significant transformation.
This chapter identifies some of the cinematic strategies for the visual presentation of the female werewolf. It considers the issue of female violence as it relates to this particular horror monster in terms both of agency and of representation. The chapter focuses on some basic, even mundane, questions that often get overlooked in more straightforwardly ideological analysis, namely 'what does a female werewolf look like?' and 'what does it do?' It is the chapter's contention that a film's posing of, and attempts to answer, such questions informs and shapes both narration and style, and an appreciation of such elements can feed back into and ultimately bring nuance to more ideology-based readings. Horror cinema's female werewolf emerges from this as both more complex and more variegated in her various manifestations than has sometimes been allowed by horror criticism.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book is about the British film director Terence Fisher. It demonstrates that an appreciation of Fisher's films is aided by thinking about them in terms of that British accent. Ultimately, perhaps, this provides the best way of trying to understand what it is about Fisher's films that makes them so distinctive. It takes us closer to explaining why some of these films have captured the imagination of so many for so long. A way of establishing Fisher's work as significantly British is through locating it in relation to an indigenous gothic tradition. A revealing exchange of views about 'Britishness' and one especially pertinent to an understanding of Fisher's work occurred during the pre-production of The Curse of Frankenstein, Fisher's first horror film.
Terence Fisher was always something of a latecomer, so far as his career in cinema was concerned. However, there was something about Fisher's career in what might be termed his 'wilderness years' that, while of no apparent importance at the time, would in retrospect become significant. Of the nineteen low-budget films directed by Fisher up until 1957, eleven were for a small, up-and-coming independent production company called Hammer. Hammer's horror production represents one of the most striking developments in post-war British cinema. Particular genres can be seen as organising both an audience's belief and interactions between realism and fantasy within films. A neglect of the collaborative contexts within which film production takes place, and a reliance on what might be termed 'elitist' concepts of artistic value. Both these factors seem seriously to undermine the credibility of looking at film in terms of directors.
In thematic terms, a sense of desire as a dangerously uncontrollable force can be seen to inform Terence Fisher's later films. In the horror work, the powerful and effective heroes tend to be celibate while those individuals who succumb to desire usually end badly. In the pre-horror work discussed in this chapter, one gains a sense that Fisher is more engaged in those scenarios which afford him the possibility of exploring or commenting upon the perils of desire. Possible traces of Fisher's input are minimal, as one might expect from a project in which Noel Coward was so obviously the leading light. Most of the films he directed at Highbury and Gainsborough were thoroughly conventional, both generically and in broader aesthetic terms, and rarely went beyond the norms and types that characterise British cinema at this time.
The 1957-1962 period was crucial for Terence Fisher. This chapter argues that it was a period of considerable achievement for the director. If one discounts Hammer's The Terror of the Tongs, Fisher was actually responsible for all of Hammer's costume horror films in the 1957-1962 period. Later, from 1962 onwards, Fisher's relationship with Hammer would become more sporadic, but during Hammer's initial burst of horror-related activity, Fisher was, even by his standards, astonishingly prolific on behalf of the company. The authority-subjection nexus around which Fisher's Dracula had been structured was carried over into The Revenge of Frankenstein, with a strict division observed between strong and weak men. Fisher's The Stranglers of Bombay offers a half-hearted, qualified and somewhat confused defence of certain aspects of British rule in India while the more interesting The Mummy traces the collapse of British authority.
Terence Fisher offered much more complex and less moralistic treatments of the independent women in his post-1962 work for Hammer, but Night of the Big Heat is interesting precisely because of its difference from that Hammer work. Between 1964 and 1967 Fisher directed three science fiction films, The Earth Dies Screaming, Island of Terror and The Night of the Big Heat. A shift of focus is certainly evident in The Gorgon, Fisher's 'come-back' film for Hammer. Scripted by John Gilling from a story by John Llewellyn Devine, it was the first Hammer horror to centre on a female monster. Given that Fisher's first horror film was about Frankenstein, it seems appropriate that his final horror film should deal with the Baron. The Devil Rides Out turns out to be one of Fisher's most impressive films so far as its mise-en-scene is concerned.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in this book. The book examines Terence Fisher as a director dependent on and at ease with the industrial and collaborative nature of film-making. Praised by David Pirie in the early 1970s as a Gothic auteur, he has since come to be seen as the reactionary face of British horror against which more radical and innovative approaches can be defined. The book presents Fisher as a more complex figure than this, as not entirely the auteur identified by Pirie but neither the wholly reactionary film-maker imagined by others. Isabel Cristina Pinedo has suggested that Hammer horror forms a transitional stage between 'classical horror' and more modern forms of horror. Fisher's horror films perhaps represent more clearly than other Hammer horrors some of the tensions and uncertainties involved in this transition.