Brit penned Hammer horror classics
English screenwriter and director Jimmy Sangster, who penned some of the key pictures in the Hammer Films horror pantheon, including “The Curse of Frankenstein,” “Horror of Dracula” and “The Mummy,” died on Friday, Aug. 19. He was 83.
Sangster was an assistant director on more than 20 films and production manager on half a dozen at Hammer starting in 1949 when the company asked the initially reluctant Sangster to pen scripts. His first writing credit was the unimpressive 1955 Hammer short “A Man on the Beach,” directed by Joseph Losey. Next was Hammer’s “X: The Unknown,” about a radioactive monster terrorizing a village in Scotland; the film was one of the few British counterparts to the many atomic monster movies being made in the U.S. in the mid- to late 1950s.
Sangster’s next scripting efforts at Hammer were 1957’s “The Curse of Frankenstein,” with Peter Cushing as the mad scientist and Christopher Lee as the monster, and 1958’s “Horror of Dracula,” with Cushing as Van Helsing and Lee as the sexy bloodsucker. Despite excoriating reviews at the time, these films helped define what is now thought of as the Hammer style, with more gore and more sex than had ever before been seen in horror pics.
Other writing credits for Hammer over the next few years included “The Snorkel”; “The Mummy,” with Cushing and Lee; and “The Brides of Dracula,” with Cushing again as Van Helsing; and “Hysteria,” with Robert Webber.
Sangster was not, however, working exclusively for Hammer during this period. He penned episodes of the Brit TV thriller “Motive for Murder”; the 1958 thriller “Intent to Kill,” with Richard Todd; and horror pics for Hammer competitors, including “Blood of the Vampire,”
“The Crawling Eye” and “Jack the Ripper.” (He preferred working on psychological thrillers despite deriving his fame from Hammer’s violent, Gothic efforts.)
Sangster began producing films in 1961 with the Christopher Lee-Susan Strasberg starrer “Scream of Fear” — a psychological thriller for Columbia. He wrote and produced two films starring Bette Davis, “The Nanny” and “The Anniversary,” and the rather twisted, “Hansel and Gretel”-like “Whoever Slew Auntie Roo” (1972), starring Shelley Winters.
Sangster later directed a few horror features: “The Horror of Frankenstein” (1970), which he also penned; “Lust for a Vampire” (1971); and “Fear in the Night” (1972), and he also helmed episodes of the detective shows “Cannon” and Banacek” as part of a segue into American television in the early 1970s.
In the U.S. he penned episodes of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “McCloud,” “Ironside” and “The New Adventures of Wonder Woman.”
He also continued to work in horror on the big and smallscreen, writing scripts for “The Legacy,” director John Huston’s misbegotten “Phobia” (1980), as well as telepics “Good Against Evil” and “No Place to Hide.”
Nonhorror efforts included telepics “The Country Western Murders,” “Ebony, Ivory and Jade,” “The Billion Dollar Threat” and “Once Upon a Spy” (he also produced the first two) as well as Disney film “The Devil and Max Devlin” (1981).
He was a story consultant on the NBC horror series “Circle of Fear,” with Sebastian Cabot.
James Henry Kimmel Sangster was born in North Wales and started working in the film biz at 16.
He was honored in April 2008 with an evening devoted to his work at London’s National Film Theater.
Sangster’s survivors include his wife, actress Mary Peach, and a son.