Terence Fisher

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Date of Birth:
18 June 1904 London, England, UK
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Terence Fisher was born in Maida Vale, England, in 1904. Raised by his grandmother in a strict Christian Scientist environment. Fisher left school while still in his teens to join the Merchant Marine. By his own account, he soon discovered that a life at sea was not for him, so he left the service and tried his hand at various jobs landside. It was during this time that he discovered the cinema. Entering the film industry as "the oldest clapper boy in the business," he eventually worked his way up to film editor. Almost as a lark, he applied to Rank to become a film editor. Unexpectedly, he was accepted. In 1947, at the age of 43, he made his directorial debut with a supernatural comedy called Colonel Bogey--a foreshadwing of things to come. For the next few years, he vacilated between A-film assignments (Noel Coward's The Astonished Heart, So Long at the Fair with Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde, and The Girl in the Painting with Herbert Lom) and various B films which enabled him to support his wife and daughter. Typical of these programmers are Blood Orange and Spaceways: efficient, but uninspired films that show little in the way of personality. His break came in 1956 when, at the age of 52, he was asked to helm Hammer Studio's remake of Frankenstein. The Curse of Frankenstein broke box office receipts and enraged critics world wide who were unaccustomed to its brand of hearty blood letting. The Eastmancolor shocker set a new standard for horror films and helped to make Fisher, Hammer, and stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee into bankable commodities. Wits its emphasis on realistic character interplay over melodramatic conventions, the film established Fisher's personal approach to horror, which stood in direct defiance to the old Universal films--in fact, Fisher flatly refused to watch James Whale's 1931 version for fear that it might influence his vision. More remakes soon followed. Fisher actively sought to remake Dracula, and the results proved to be both aesthetically and commercially superior to Curse of Frankenstein. Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula) proved to be universally popular and is commonly held as Fisher's--and Hammer's--finest work. It may or may not be, but it does remain the freshest and most vibrantbig screen reworking of the story; even Francis Ford Coppola failedto recapture its vigor and sense of urgency. Fishers subsequent films tended to plae less emphasis on shock effects, and more on complex emotional interplay. For eample, the titular characters of Curse of the Werewolf and Phantom of the Opera (1962) are more sympathetic than the so-called "normal" characters, while Fisher's fascinating Freudian take on the Dr. Jekyll story--The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll--offers a homely old Dr. Jekyll who transforms into a virile man about town named Edward Hyde. Similarly, The Gorgon disappointed schlock fans by offering a haunting story of doomed love in place of the conventional Hammer-style shocker. Following the commercial failure f Phantom--Hammer's most expensive film to that point--Fisher was booted out for a brief period. During this time lesser talents like Freddie Francis were entrusted with the franchises that Fisher had helped to establish. Invariably the results were inferior. Despite his hatred for sci-fi, which stood in contrast to his confessed love for horror, Fisher made good work of the Night of the Living Dead precursor The Earth Dies Screaming (with Dennis Price), while Night of the Big Heat (again with Lee and Cushing) benefitted from his ability o suggest pent-up passion and paranoia. Back at Hammer after this brief hiatus, Fisher resurrected Christopher Lee's count in the under-rated, poetic Dracula--Prince of Darkness, before detailing the further adventures of Baron Frankenstein in Frankenstein Created Woman, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, and, his last film, Frankestein and the Monster from Hell. All three films offer subtle variations on the character of the Baron, played by the impeccable Cushing, thus explicting Fisher's unique ability to lend complex, credible characterization to seemingy ormula-bound material. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, an unusually bitter film which mirror the nihilism of the late 1960s, remains Fisher's finest, most mult-layered work, despite its lack of pouplarity. At the center of Fisher's work is a fascinating moral dilemma: the seductive appeal of evil vs. the over-zealous, frequently close-minded representatives of good. The consistency of theme in Fisher's work, coupled with a distinctive style achieved through precise framing and a dynamic editing style, refutes the idea that he was merely a hack for hire, while lending his films a recognizable signaure. Best flms: So Long at the Fair, The Girl in the Painting, Dracula, Revenge of Frankenstein, The Mummy, Stranglers of Bombay, Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, Brides of Dracula, Curse of the Werewolf, Phantom of the Opera, The Gorgon, The Earth Dies Sceaming, Dracula--Prince of Darkness, and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Terence Fisher died in 1980, at the age of 76.
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