Exclusions and Exchanges in the History of European Horror Cinema
British horror cinema is often excluded from critical work dealing with European
horror cinema or, as it is frequently referred to, Eurohorror. This article argues
that such exclusion is unwarranted. From the 1950s onwards there have been many
exchanges between British and continental European-based horror production. These
have involved not just international co-production deals but also creative per-
sonnel moving from country to country. In addition, British horror films have exerted
influence on European horror cinema and vice versa. At the same time, the exclusion
of British horror from the Eurohorror category reveals limitations in that category,
particularly its idealisation of continental European horror production.
This book is about the British film director Terence Fisher. It begins by setting the context by detailing Fisher's directorial debut to Hammer's horror production and the importance of the Hammer horror to Fisher's career. Hammer's horror production represents one of the striking developments in post-war British cinema. The book explains some professional and industrial contexts in which Fisher operated and shows how these relate both to the films he made and the way in which these films have been judged and valued. It presents a detailed account of The Astonished Heart, Fisher's sixth film as director, highlighting the benefits and some of the problems involved in thinking about Fisher's career generally in its pre-horror phase. The successful Hammer film, The Curse of Frankenstein, both inaugurated the British horror boom and established Fisher as a film-maker whose name was known to critics as someone who specialised in the despised horror genre. After The Curse of Frankenstein, Fisher became primarily a horror director. The book presents an account of the highs and lows Fisher faced in his directorial career, highlighting his significant achievements and his box-office failures. It also shows Fisher as a director dependent on and at ease with the industrial and collaborative nature of film-making. In a fundamental sense, what value there is in Terence Fisher's work exists because of the British film industry and the opportunities it afforded Fisher, not despite the industry.
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.
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.