Terence Fisher: Auteur


In creating this video essay, I sought to question the intersection of genre studies and auteur theory. In studying auteur theory, our book mentions Francois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, and Michelangelo Antonioni as the definition of an auteur, however this places several restrictions upon auteurship. With the exception of Hitchcock, all of the examples given create primarily arthouse films, “serious” films not meant for mainstream audiences. With the inclusion of Hitchcock, all the examples also received near critical acclaim for their work. However, this leaves out those films with a strong creative vision and lasting influence that did not receive critical acclaim or come from genres typically deemed “less worthy”. In this video essay, I argue for the widening of auteurship to include all filmmakers who satisfy those two requirements: a strong creative vision and lasting influence, regardless of genre or critical acclaim. To argue this point, I examine the vision and influence of the films of Terence Fisher, an English director who created incredibly popular horror films in the 50s and 60s, films that were critically reviled in their time. Our book defines genre studies as bringing order “to a group of texts sharing similar characteristics – including characters, plots, themes, and settings – so that these texts can be studied collectively and comparatively.” (Kackman 195). I take a genre studies approach to this argument by arguing Fisher’s influence by comparing his films to the horror films that came before him, and to those that followed.

The films I used that are directed by Terence Fisher are as follows: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Horror of Dracula (1958), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Stranglers of Bombay (1959), The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), and The Devil Rides Out (1968). The method of selecting these films was very straightforward, they are Terence Fisher’s most popular films, or in Stranglers of Bombay’s case, directly influenced another filmmaker (Steven Spielberg). There are a few prominent omissions that were cut due to time constraints preventing my review of content and a desire to focus specifically on three films from the Dracula and Frankenstein series, these omissions are The Mummy (1959), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Gorgon (1964), and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969). However, these omissions by no means detract from the argument that is being made in the video essay. Hammer also made countless horror films without Fisher’s involvement, however the first
Hammer horror film was Fisher’s Curse of Frankenstein, quickly followed by Fisher’s The Horror of Dracula, which jumpstarted the rest of the wave of films. These other films typically piggybacked off series Fisher started (The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) dir. Freddie Francis, Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) dir. Alan Gibson) or played up exploitative themes (Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971) dir. Roy Ward Baker, The Vampire Lovers (1970) dir. Roy Ward Baker) to varying degrees of success. None of these films were included in this video essay to maintain clarity and simplicity in the argument being made under the time constraints given. A whole other video essay could be made for Roy Ward Baker’s contribution to the genre as an auteur himself, but as Fisher was the first and most influential of these new horror directors of the 50s and 60s, he was given precedence in the argument.

The video essay begins with an overview of the classic Universal horror films, these are Dracula (1931) dir. Tod Browning, Frankenstein (1931) dir. James Whale, The Wolfman (1941) dir. George Waggner, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) dir. Charles Barton. These specific films were selected as they are the most popular of the Universal horror films and they demonstrate the same characters or monsters that were revamped in Terence Fisher’s films. The films and television series I use that were influenced by Fisher are as follows: Sleepy Hollow (1999) dir. Tim Burton, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) dir. Steven Spielberg, Star Wars (1977) dir. George Lucas, Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) dir. George Lucas, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) dir. Peter Jackson, Halloween (1978) dir. John Carpenter, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) dir. Wes Craven, Friday the 13th (1980) dir. Sean S. Cunningham, From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) dir. Robert Rodriguez, The Shape of Water (2017) dir. Guillermo Del Toro, Crimson Peak (2015) dir. Guillermo Del Toro, Don’t (2007) dir. Edgar Wright, Lifeforce (1985) dir. Tobe Hooper, True Blood (1992) dir. John Landis, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2016) created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and The Matrix Reloaded (2003) dir. Lilly and Lana Wachowski. These films were selected as a result of research into who has named Fisher as an influence, and where it shows in their filmography. The majority of this must be credited to an article on Hammer’s official website, “15 Famous Hammer Fans”, but great care was put into making sure the people listed in that article specifically call out a film directed by Terence Fisher, as a few mention another famous series from the studio, Quartermass, instead.

To demonstrate where the horror genre went after Fisher in the 1970s, I selected The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) dir. Roman Polanski to show the parody stage of the genre cycle repeating again, and the rebirth of the genre in Rosemary’s Baby (1968) dir. Roman Polanski, The Exorcist (1973) dir. William Friedkin, and The Omen (1976) dir. Richard Donner as these films are very clear departures from the previous cycle, and were huge hits. I began this project with the idea of simply demonstrating Fisher’s auteurship with a supercut of shots showing his style and the shared themes found in all his films, but it quickly became apparent that this would not be substantial enough to make this argument. As the video currently stands, it acts as a brief history lesson of the horror genre, beginning in the 1930s with the Universal horror films and ending in the 1970s with films like The Exorcist which completely reinvented the genre, with a focus on Terence Fisher’s films in the 50s and 60s. This focus is intended to prove Fisher’s auteurship by demonstrating his strong creative vision, drawing from his personal experiences, and the lasting influence he has had on the filmmakers who followed him, and the genre as a whole. As one viewer stated they wanted to watch all of Terence Fisher’s films upon the completion of the video essay, it is my belief that the video essay is successful in arguing this.