18 January 2010

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Jimmy Sangster: The Man From Hammer

Cover of Cover of The Mummy
"Known the world over as 'The Studio that Dripped Blood', Hammer was the most successful British film production company ever, in terms of both output and box-office. Though their massive catalogue of films incorporated all manner of genres, it was for one particular type of film that they are best-remembered - horror."
In today's post, we have a look at one of those brilliant people who helped making Hammer so famous: Jimmy Sangster, Master of Horror.

If you're too young to remember the movies mentioned here, don't worry: you'll still be able to know what we're talking about as we've added the trailers for some of them at the end of the article.

If you are old enough to remember those movies then, hopefully, watching the trailers will be a nice trip down Memory Lane.


Loup Dargent

Jimmy Sangster: 
The Man From Hammer
Dracula: Prince of DarknessImage via Wikipedia

The Hammer Years
Though Jimmy Sangster has done other things since his involvement in the British horror movies making business, he is still continually remembered as one of the men (if not the man) behind the best horror movies made by the famous Hammer Studios. Even so he left for the USA in the 1970s...

His 'Hammer years' as a scriptwriter, assistant director, production manager, producer and director gave us a string of 'classic' horror films that definitely helped put Hammer on the horror films making map.

Among them are:
  • X The Unknown (1956): Script by Jimmy Sangster, directed by Leslie Norman and starring Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Leo McKern and William Lucas.
  • The Curse of Frankenstein (1957): Script by Jimmy Sangster (from the novel by Mary Shelley), directed by Terence Fisher and starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court and Robert Urquhart.
  • Dracula (1958): Script by Jimmy Sangster (from the novel by Bram Stoker), directed by Terence Fisher and starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling and Carol Marsh.
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958): Script by Jimmy Sangster (additional dialogue by H Hurford Janes), directed by Terence Fisher and starring Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews and Eunice Gayson.
  • The Mummy (1959): Script by Jimmy Sangster (from the original screenplay by John L Balderston), directed by Terence Fisher and starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Yvonne Furneaux.
  • The Brides of Dracula (1960): Script by Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan and Edward Percy, directed by Terence Fisher and starring Peter Cushing, David Peel, Marita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur and Freda Jackson.
  • Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966): Script by John Sansom (From an idea by Anthony Hinds), directed by Terence Fisher and starring Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Charles Tingwell, Thorley Walters and Philip Latham (John Sansom was Jimmy Sangster's pseudonym for this movie, as well as for Traitor's Gate and Face of a Stranger).
  • The Horror of Frankenstein (1970): Script by Jimmy Sangster and Jeremy Burnham, directed by Jimmy Sangster and starring Ralph Bates, Kate O'Mara, Veronica Carlson and Dennis Price.
  • Lust for a Vampire (1971): Script by Tudor Gates (from the story Carmilla by J Sheridan Le Fanu), directed by Jimmy Sangster and starring Barbara Jefford, Ralph Bates, Suzannah Leigh, Yutte Stensgaard and Michael Johnson.
Not bad at all for someone who began his film career at the studios as third assistant director...

It's Just A Craft
Jimmy Sangster still keeps dismissing the 'Master of Horror' title given to him by many fans though. According to him, if he had been asked to write scripts for the Carry On films instead, that what he would have done...

Fine, but, like for the comedy ones, writing by numbers is not enough for horror movies to be successful and Jimmy Sangster has definitely, by adding his own style (even if it was in small dose at times), contributed greatly to the success of the horror films he worked on.

The Movies That (Allegedly) Didn't Make It

Sadly, and through no fault of his own, four of the movies penned by Jimmy Sangster for Hammer had to be eventually shelved:
  • The Revenge Of Dracula (1959): No Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) in this one, as the emphasis was going to be on Dracula, but the refusal from Christopher Lee to play the Prince of Darkness again halted the production and The Brides of Dracula was made instead...
  • The Secret Of Frankenstein (1960): Unfortunately shelved due to a certain American pharmaceutical company having threatened to sue and it resulted in a highly potential 'no-no' from the American distributors. A shame really, as it was a very promising horror movie with an innovative twist and Peter Cushing was in it...
  • Scourge Of The Vampires (1961): Written after The Brides Of Dracula, it was going to have Christopher Lee back as Dracula. It didn't work out as planned though as Jimmy Sangster's attempt to give Lee and Peel both equal time didn't pleased either of them...
  • The Edge Of Midnight (1969): An interesting plot where Dr Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) and his creature fight Dracula (Christopher Lee) and the Werewolf (Oliver Reed). Unfortunately, it seems that Cushing, Lee and Reed didn't take it seriously enough...

The American Years
Just after his productive 'Hammer Years', Jimmy Sangster left for the USA and soon had a quite productive time as well writing for popular American TV series such as:

'McCloud' (starring Dennis Weaver)
'A Deputy Marshal is sent to the 21st Precinct of the NYPD to study local police methods...'
  • A Cowboy In Paradise (1974): Chief Clifford goes to Hawaii for a police conference but finds himself set up on a murder charge...
  • The Concrete Jungle Caper (1974): A look-alike drug dealer plus an international chase get McCloud in prison...
'The Six Million Dollar Man' (starring Lee Majors)
'Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive... Gentlemen, we can rebuild him... We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.'
  • Doomsday, And Counting (1974): Steve Austin helps a Russian cosmonaut friend rescuing his fiancée from a doomsday device... 
'Ironside' (starring Raymond Burr)
'A single bullet was all that was needed to confine Robert T Ironside to a wheelchair for life and end his career as Chief of Detectives. He went back to work though, as a consultant to the police department...'
  • Raise The Devil - part one and two (1974): A woman is killed in a locked room and her daughter who confesses to the murder is apparently possessed by the spirit of her long-dead younger brother... 
    A psychiatrist turns out to be a psychopath with a passion for brainwashing and the Chief is programmed to kill Ironside...
  • The Visiting Fireman (1974): A British police inspector assists Ironside with an awkward investigation... 
'Kolchak: The Night Stalker' (starring Darren McGavin)
'A Chicago reporter investigates the paranormal...
The TV series that influenced the X-Files big time...'
  • Horror In The Heights (1974): Elderly citizens are found dead: stripped to the bone, apparently by rats. 
    Kolchak discovers that a rakshasa (a Hindu demon) is behind those deaths... 
(More details regarding Kolchak and this episode are now available in our post Jimmy Sangster: That Kolchak Episode)
'Wonder Woman' (starring Linda Carter)
'American war hero Steve Trevor is downed over the Bermuda Triangle and lands on "Paradise Island", home of the Amazons. Wonder Woman leaves the island to go with him to America and fight the Nazi threat...'
  • The Feminine Mystique - part one and two (1976): A two-part espionage tale in which the Nazis kidnap Wonder Woman's sister and capture Paradise Island...
  • Wonder Woman In Hollywood (1977):  Wonder Woman goes to Hollywood... 
He also worked as a script editor for two other series including 'Moving On', a TV show for which he penned 18 of its 22 episodes.

Though writing for these shows meant that he had to follow the approved formulas and could not be too creative in his work, it was financially worth it: he was getting a regular wage on top of being paid for every script he wrote.

Read All About It
'Who better to write about Jimmy Sangster's life and career than Jimmy Sangster himself?'
We could write pages after pages about him and his work as a scriptwriter, assistant director, production manager, producer and director as well as a writer but still never really manage to do the 'Man From Hammer' and his talents justice.

Fortunately for us, he did eventually write his autobiography...

It is titled 'Do You Want It Good Or Tuesday?', published by Midnight Marquee Press in 1997, and is an amusing and witty account of his life's journey from Hammer to Hollywood.

Definitely worth checking it at your local library.

Hammer Horror Movies Trailers

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