Hammer Films, arguably the most important studio in the history of Gothic horror films, and home to directors Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis, Val Guest and many others, has begun an ambitious plan to bring their many of the classic films in their archive into the Blu-ray era, working in conjunction with Studiocanal and others. As Nancy Tartaglione-Moore reports, “legendary horror studio Hammer has announced a global restoration project for its library of films. In partnership with Studiocanal, Pinewood and other international players, more than 30 films will be revamped in HD for Blu-ray and other new media supports. Hammer’s original U.S. production partners, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros and Paramount, are also participating in the project. The first title to be released is Dracula Prince Of Darkness, which will go out in March in the UK. The studio was founded in 1934 and went on to make such titles as The Plague Of The Zombies, Frankenstein Created Woman, The Witches and The Mummy. Since 2008, it’s been a division of the Exclusive Media Group. After ceasing production in the 1980s, Hammer returned to features in 2010 with Matt Reeves’ adaptation of Swedish hit Let Me In. This year, it will release Daniel Radcliffe-starrer The Woman In Black.”
Posts Tagged ‘Freddie Francis’
Don Sharp, director of a series of lavish and tastefully brutal horror films for Hammer Productions in the 1960s, has died at the age of 89. No cause for grief here; Sharp had a long and varied career. He worked with such actors as Deborah Kerr, Vanessa Redgrave, Donald Sutherland and Lee Remick on numerous projects, and was really a jack of all trades in the film business.
Still, as Dave Rattigan points out in the Gather website, “fans of Sharp’s era in British filmmaking, especially Hammer horror afficianados, will rue his passing as one more of the old school sadly dying off, leaving few stalwarts behind. Don Sharp belongs up there with names such as Terence Fisher (Dracula, Prince of Darkness), Freddie Francis (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) and Roy Ward Baker (Quatermass and the Pit) as one of the legends of the British Gothic horror genre.” Fisher, Francis — a dear friend of mine — and Baker are all gone now; if you click on the links above, you’ll see clips from some of their Hammer films.
The poster above is from Kiss of the Vampire, one of Sharp’s most accomplished films; click here, or on the image above to see a clip from the film itself, which was heavily censored upon its initial release, and still plays in cut form — in some cases — on television to this day.
Jennie Linden and Brenda Bruce (bottom frame) in Freddie Francis’s Nightmare (1963)
As Donald Guarisco writes, “This Hitchcock-inspired blend of mystery and thriller from Hammer Films is gimmicky in the extreme but that’s also part of its charm. Nightmare hinges upon a rather flamboyant narrative from house scripter Jimmy Sangster: some logic loopholes become apparent if you look at his wild plot too closely but he attacks his storyline with great gusto and pulls off a clever, Psycho-derived plot switcheroo that will throw the audience for a loop. It also helps that Nightmare is directed with great panache by Freddie Francis, who uses John Maxwell’s moody black-and-white photography to tremendously atmospheric effect. Francis creates a number of genuinely intense setpieces along the way, cleverly using his framing choices and editing to comment on the story’s events. Finally, Nightmare benefits from committed performances by a solid cast: Jennie Linden offers an intense turn as the film’s troubled young heroine and her work is supported nicely by strong turns from Brenda Bruce as a wise, sympathetic teacher and Moira Redmond as a mysterious nurse brought in to watch over Linden. To sum up, Nightmare is an effective little chiller that packs a surprising punch for a film of its age.”
Patrick Wymark and Peter Cushing contemplate The Skull
Those who are in the mood for an atmospheric and intelligent horror film could do much worse than checking out The Skull, a 1965 horror film directed by Freddie Francis from a script by Robert Bloch, based on his short story “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade.”
Recently released in an immaculate DVD in both regular and Blu-ray formats, in its original Techniscope / Technicolor aspect ratio, and boasting a cast that includes Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Patrick Magee, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green and Jill Bennett, with music by avant-garde symphonic composer Elisabeth Lutyens, The Skull is perhaps Francis’ masterpiece as a director, and if you haven’t seen it — well, what are you waiting for?
Those who are looking for gore will be disappointed, but those who can appreciate an intelligent and superbly photographed film — the last 30 minutes are absolutely wordless, consisting only of a series of ever more ominous images as the skull takes possession of those who would trifle with it — recall the best of Val Lewton’s 1940s films, and remain as arresting and evocative as when they were first presented on the screen.
Freddie Francis, the two time Academy Award winning director of cinematography — for Sons and Lovers (1960) and Glory (1989) — was a dear friend of mine, and I’ve watched him at work on the set many times, from his film The Doctor and The Devils (1985) through Her Alibi (1989) and finally The Straight Story (1999), which was shot in 23 days in Iowa. A director as well as a director of cinematography, Freddie had two distinct careers, although in his directorial efforts, he was early on “typed” as a Gothic director, much to his dismay, and never really got the chance to do a non-genre film.
The Straight Story tells of Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), who decides to make the long journey to visit his ailing brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton), but, being unable to drive a car because of his health, is forced to make the trip on a John Deere lawnmower, which takes him six weeks, until he finally arrives on Lyle’s doorstep in the film’s final sequence.
When the filming started, Freddie called me up and asked me if I wanted to come out and visit him; it was to be our last meeting. Since most of the film was shot in Iowa, it was an easy trip, and I set out to meet the crew on location. I was present during the last two or three days of filming, and watched in awe as Freddie knocked out one set-up after another, usually getting it done in one take or two, racing against the end of the day, when Harry Dean Stanton as Lyle, in for one day of shooting only, would have his penultimate meeting with Alvin. The scene was ultimately shot in near darkness, but Freddie flooded the porch set with so much light that it matched the daytime sequences perfectly, and the film came in on time and under budget.
Freddie was in ill health for much of the shoot for The Straight Story due to a gallstone attack, but he nevertheless kept up his usual whirlwind pace on the set, organizing not only the main unit, but several second unit crews to do pickup and background shots to get the filming completed all that much faster. He was, as always, absolutely in control.
The Straight Story is a gorgeous, deeply life affirming film, and contains Richard Farnsworth’s last performance, as well as Freddie’s final work as a cinematographer. Shot entirely on location, and based on a true story, the film is easily David Lynch’s most humane and accessible film, a tribute to the spirit of human determination in the face of seemingly nearly insurmountable odds. Freddie and David had worked before on The Elephant Man (1980) and Dune (1984), but in this, their final collaboration, I think they created their finest work as a team.
About the Author
Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or email@example.com.
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