Led revival for Brit horror house Hammer Films

Don Sharp, an Australia-born film director who was brought in to revive Hammer Films’ sagging horror franchise in the mid-1960s — and succeeded — despite having no experience in the genre, died Dec. 14 in Cornwall, England. He was 90.

Though the names most closely associated with Hammer are Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it was director Terence Fisher who shaped the Gothic horror films that starred those actors. Fisher had directed films like “Horror of Dracula” and “The Revenge of Frankenstein” in the late 1950s, but the company lost its confidence in the helmer when his 1962 entry “The Phantom of the Opera,” later considered a cult classic, failed both at the box office and with critics.

Sharp had done his first directing work on children’s shows; had directed family films “The Stolen Airliner” and “The Adventures of Hal 5″ and the first English rock ‘n roll movie, “The Golden Disc”; had written the screenplays for several movies; and had even acted in a few. When he came aboard at Hammer, he was assigned first to “The Kiss of the Vampire.” Sharp, who had recently done some work in British television, hired TV actors, and despite the fact that Lee and Cushing were nowhere to be found, the inexpensive but stylish film was a B.O. winner and a favorite to this day. Memorably grandiose scenes included a sequence depicting a sumptuous ball.

For Hammer, Sharp also directed “The Devil-Ship Pirates” and “Rasputin: The Mad Monk,” the latter with Lee; for other companies, he made several films similar to his Hammer efforts: “Witchcraft,” with Lon Chaney Jr., and “The Face of Fu Manchu” and “The Brides of Fu Manchu,” both with Lee.

Sharp directed several episodes of classic British spy series “The Avengers” in the late 1960s and later directed thrillers including “Callan,” a bigscreen adaptation of the noted British series starring Edward Woodward; “Hennessy,” starring Rod Steiger and Lee Remick; a 1978 remake of “The Thirty-Nine Steps”; and the 1979 Alistair MacLean adaptation “Bear Island,” starring Donald Sutherland, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark and Lee.

In the 1980s he made the film “What Waits Below” but worked mostly in TV, directed the miniseries “A Woman of Substance,” based on a novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford.

Donald Herman Sharp was born in Tasmania and served in the Australian Air Force beginning in 1941. After the war, he performed onstage and on radio and then moved to England in 1949.

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