AN AFTERNOON IN "HOLLY COTTAGE"
On January the 18th, 1976, Gary Parfitt had arranged an interview for me with Terence Fisher in his home. Being a great admirer of his films since the early sixties, I had meticulously prepared a line of questioning for this truly momentous event and one time occasion in my life. But it did not take Terence Fisher very long to break my system, in his subtle way, and turn the interview into a loose and lively conversation, sometimes even an amicable discussion, in which also Gary Parfitt and Alan Frank took part, and a few times Mrs. Fisher, who most of the time saw to the genuine English tea and to making us comfortable with great generosity. I have made this entire transcript of the afternoon available to LSoH, rather than a resystemized version, hoping it will then still reflect something of the truly remarkable genius and honesty of this very kind man, who would make anybody instantly feel totally at ease, whilst luring him into a gentle but profound argument, "to pick his mind" as he would have put it. The following is intended to contribute more to the image of the artistry and the personality of Terence Fisher, rather than to yet another analysis of his work, though quite a bit about the latter came out as well. A few relevant remarks made by Terence Fisher in later conversations I had with him, have been added to some of his comments. This complete transcript was first published in Little Shoppe of Horrors #19. (Jan Van Genechten)
JVG: What does film directing mean to you?
TF: What can one say to that? Film directing is transferring the written word of the script into visual images. You can follow the context of a filmscript but add things of your own to it. Sometimes, thank God, you can also leave out a few things that shouldn't be in, by underplaying them, always within the context of the story.
JVG: In your opinion, should a film director be in the first place an artist or more of a craftsman?
TF: I'd say that is complementary. He's got to be both, hasn't he. It's no good to have an artist trying to make a film without the knowledge of the abc of the mechanics of filmmaking. It's no good either to know the mechanics of film making, without having the artistic impulse. You must have both of them together. They're complementary. You can't say one is more important than the other. They're both essential.
JVG: But a director then, should always have that artistic impulse?
TF: Oh please, yes. His prime function is to catch the imagination of the audience. Film making is communication, isn't it? It's transferring the written word into a visual form to the audience.
JVG: You have always had to take the producers' wishes into consideration, you have never made a film of your own choice?
TF: I've never been able to make a film of my own choice. I've merely done as well as I can with what I have been offered.
JVG: Were you sometimes hindered by producers in trying to do things your way?
TF: No. I find I've been very fortunate in being left alone in the interpretation of the material I have worked on.
JVG: You don't have any complaints at all about producers in general?
TF: No, I don't.
JVG: How do you proceed on the set when you are directing?
TF: Again: what can one say to that...
JVG: What would you say is most important to you when you are directing a film?
TF: Well, I'd say this again is complementary. When you take a day's work you have to know the content of that day's work and where everything you are going to do, comes in the context of the script. It's like a jigsaw puzzle, isn't it. It all has to fit, every piece, into a complete emotional whole. Then, knowing what you are going to say - when I say "say", I mean "say" in a visual form to your audience - you have to know how you are going to interpret it, what the position of your camera will be, when to move the camera and so on. Camera movement is tremendously important in transferring the written word into a visual form. This is what you have to plan beforehand.
But again, it is a complementary thing.
JVG: When you're on the set, your prime concern are the actors?
TF: Of course...
JVG: The mechanics you discuss with your crew beforehand?
TF: Of course... Usually a lot of the ground work is done the previous day, but only in generalities, not in detail.
JVG: Would you say you are led by your emotions on the set?
TF: Very much so, yes. I've said this many times before, I'm afraid I'm now repeating myself. l don't call myself an intellectual director, I call myself an emotional director, an intuitive director if you like. I don't know where I got that word from. Thinking about this, I thought I can't say "inspirational". I started thinking about it as "inspirational", but I can't call myself "inspirational", can I? That doesn't apply to the mechanics of course, those can't come from the emotion or intuition, you have to know in advance exactly what you want and what you will be going to
do in that respect.
JVG: Do you allow your crew much liberty?
TF: No, I don't. Let's take the actors for instance. I love milking their brains and their emotions and their ideas. But if somebody's got to say "yes" or "no", in the end that'll have to be me. We can't have anarchy gone mad in this business. But this again is compromising between your own emotions, your own thinking about the interpretation of a certain scene and what the actor gives you. If you disagree you can usually persuade him in a discussion that your idea is better.
JVG: Do you think a good script is indispensable to make a good film?
TF: A fundamentally good script, yes... I don't think you can make a good film out of a fundamentally bad script, but you could make a good film out of a bad script with a very good idea. If a script is fundamentally good in story and emotional content, and in the emotional relationship of the characters, then one could make a good film out of it, yes. But one is also so much dependent on time and budget.
JVG: Did you like to work with the scripts of Jimmy Sangster?
TF: Very much. They were good scripts. He implied very much in the story line that could be drawn out without altering the original idea. His scripts allowed one to play with the content, without really changing it in any shape or form, but adding your own personal interpretations to it.
JVG: His scripts weren't very descriptive?
TF: Yes, that's correct. You could play it several different ways and still remain true to the story.
I never yet had a script to work on that was fully descriptive, a script that would not allow a director to bring his own ideas and interpretations into it. In that respect I think I've been very fortunate.
JVG: Do you know why Jimmy Sangster, at a certain moment, stopped writing scripts for gothic films?
TF: I don't know. You'll have to ask Jimmy about that. Maybe they didn't give him any fun anymore, or maybe he could make more money doing something else, I don't know. That would be fair enough though, because no matter how well we do it, we are doing it for the dough after all, aren't we. We all work to live, don't we. But we can combine that with inspiration and with a search of self-expression. This combination, this compromise, is not easy sometimes, but necessary.
JVG: Later you worked with the scripts of Anthony Hinds. Were they very different from Jimmy Sangster's?
TF: A little deeper. This is only a personal point of view and Jimmy wrote excellent scripts. But I do think that Tony Hinds went a little deeper in character relationships and the emotions of the characters. He really got involved in his situations. Jimmy didn't develop those in the same way, but his story line was first class. So was Tony Hinds', but I think he went a little deeper. I think Jimmy would probably agree with me.
JVG: Did the different writers make you change your own approach to the subjectmatter in any way?
TF: No. It didn't make me change my line of thinking, not a bit. A director can always underplay some things he doesn't like, but which may have been developed in the script. On the other hand, if he likes a certain thing very much, he can add to it, accentuate it by giving it greater emphasis.
JVG: Before you became a director, you've worked as an editor for quite some time. You have often said that the cutting of a film is very important. Were you yourself deeply involved in the cutting of your own films?
TF: I've always worked closely with the editor after the film was finished. But I don't think I gave him as much material as most directors do. When I was working in the cutting room as an editor, I learned to cut in the camera. I was a good film editor and consequently I don't have to waste time on shooting extraneous cover shots which I wouldn't need in the end anyway. The film always jigsawed together without any pieces left over. We were never left at the end with one picture and three bits, or even more than three. I shoot to an average of footage of 3½-4 to 1. If you're working on a moderate budget, anything counts that appears to be a waste. Every shot I ever did was used. Unless of course one ran over the maximum length of the film and wanted to reduce the time by cutting a whole scene, or a sequence, or half a sequence. But in the first complete edition of the film everything we had shot on the floor was in the film.
JVG: Your editors had an easy job then, they were just continuity editors.
TF: That is exaggerating it a little bit of course. You still have to intercut and cut in close shots and so on. Their choice comes in when they have to intercut a conversation between different characters. You are never quite sure in that situation, but you do know how you build up to that situation and how you come out of it. I didn't supply the cutting room with a lot of wasted material. I cut quite largely in the camera. Basically I cut in the shape of a scene, but when one gets into close shots, showing the emotional reactions of the characters involved in a certain situation, one has to get the full emotional impact of that situation. The whole basis for cutting emotional scenes is reaction rather than action. Generally speaking it is more important to see the effect of a particular spoken word upon the person who's listening, rather than upon the person who is expressing. If you sit in a theater and see a stage play in whole - in one long shot, to use the film expression - the audience's attention is more fixed upon one person than another person and another person and another person, according to the development of the scene and what is said. I don't think the audience is hypnotized by the person who is speaking. I think they automatically go to see the reaction of the character who is listening. I've tried to analyze this after I'd been to the theater occasionally, how my attention switched in that respect in certain scenes. But it is too difficult to remember afterwards, because one gets emotionally carried away and your emotion shows you what it wants you to see. You can't remember afterwards which person caught your eye's attention, the person who's speaking or the person who's listening. Maybe different people have different reactions. This is interesting to analyze. Maybe some people will always be more interested in and fascinated by the person who's speaking, I don't know. This may also vary according to the make-up the person is wearing. What is your opinion about this?
JVG: I don't know, really... I think it will largely depend on the situation...
TF: This is the whole basis of cutting, whether it concerns close-ups in conversation or highly dramatic action scenes.
AF: It's what you say and what's been said to you, what makes the reactions rather than the words themselves.
TF: Yes, that's right.
JVG: You have often worked with Bernard Robinson. He designed most of your Hammer films. You liked him very much...
TF: Tremendously! I liked him very much personally and professionally. He had a great feel for the emotional impact of a subject. One always knew in his sets what was going to happen. He was uncanny in knowing that you would need a certain kind of window design or wall or something at a particular place. He would know exactly where a certain action would take place, and he would give you a background which went well with the emotional impact of that scene. He had a great feeling for his work.
AF: Would you say that his use of the twisted pillars, which appear in most of his sets, were really designed to make you feel uneasy?
TF: Yes. I think so. because he used them right from the start. They gave a peculiar effect.
GP: Roger Corman also used them in some of his later films...
TF: I should think Bernie started the fashion. I'm sure he did.
JVG: The lighting and photography are of course also very important in your films... What exactly is everybody's function in that respect when you are directing? Of the camera operator, the director of photography, you yourself...
TF: In England directors of photography don't want to interfere with their operators, as they do on the continent. Continental directors of photography want to have more control over their operators than they do in England. It can work both ways, but I think it's easier for a film director to work with the camera operator, without actually interfering. But let's take the director of photography, or let's call him lighting camera man. You've got to leave his style to him. Different lighting camera men have different styles of working. Within each one's style you can get a certain type of mood if you tell him what you're aiming at. If you want for instance an actor not to be seen in features but in silhouette, you tell him so. In the first rehearsal he will work from that. Then again it is a co-operative thing between the director and the lighting camera man. But you can't tell him to change his style. Each lighting camera man has his own individual style. Jack Asher, who did the early Hammer ones, had a very distinctive style of lighting, which was quite different to Arthur Grant's. He had a more realistic approach to the situation. Jack Asher's was almost theatrical lighting with little tricks, like color slides placed over the lights and so on.
JVG: I think Jack Asher was also very emotional...
TF: Oh indeed he was. Indeed...
JVG: Much more so than Arthur Grant...
TF: Arthur Grant approached it with a more realistic interpretation. But Arthur would give you a good job if you told him what you were aiming at. If you asked him not to see people's features and to do it with back-lighting, which is very important at certain moments within the field, he could give you almost theatrical lighting like Jack Asher did. Which of the two is the best I don't know. I don't know exactly how audiences react to this.
AF: They shouldn't react at all on a conscious level.
TF: No, but it must be affecting them, one way or another, although they wouldn't know why.
AF: The use of your exteriors was totally against the norms of the time. That was very much your own personal signature rather than say Jack Asher's or Arthur Grant's.
TF: Yes, that is correct.
JVG: Do you work close to the camera operator?
TF: Yes, very closely, shot by shot, where the camera should be at any given moment, when and how it should be moved. All this we work out together. The camera is the instrument for translating the script into a visual form.
JVG: In the early reviews of your films, you were very wrongfully criticized for not moving your camera often, for being "static" or even "pedestrian", while on the contrary your plenty camera movements are very intricate and laborious, but probably so much in accordance with the action, that they remain unnoticed by the audience and the critics.
TF: I strongly believe that there always has to be a reason for moving your camera, or for changing an angle. You can't move or change, just because you are bored with your angle. But I do move my camera! People who say that are maybe not conscious of it being moved all the time. If they would take the trouble to sit down and count how many times the camera moves, they'd be staggered. In a straight viewing you would not, and you should not be conscious of that movement. Unless I want you to be conscious of it, when it has a dramatic impact. A lot of people have misguided ideas in that respect. For me there has to be a definite reason, a logical or emotional and dramatic reason, for changing the position of your camera or for moving it. It could even be a movement for the sake of convenience, provided the audience is not conscious of it, if it does not intrude into the dramatic content of what you are showing. You can find all sorts of tricks for moving your camera. One of the simplest tricks in the world is to follow a side character. Take for instance a night club or a restaurant scene, where you want to show the whole thing and end up at a particular table with people in conversation. The simplest way to give a reason for moving your camera is by having a waiter enter from anywhere with a serving tray. He is moving towards the table you want to get into the frame. The camera goes round with him, showing the interior, and will end up precisely where you want to have it. The audience will accept this movement of the camera as natural, because it has been taken there by the waiter, for a reason. It's a simple trick. And there are many ways of doing it.
JVG: Do you look through the view-finder yourself?
TF: I know lenses pretty well. I used to look a lot through the view-finder in the early days, but only very quickly, just to see the effect. After a short time one gets to know the different distances and all other things.
JVG: Did you use many trick lenses?
TF: I didn't. Only when there was a definite reason to use one.
JVG: In THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, you used the zoom lens for the first time. Later you said you weren't too happy with the result.
TF: When the zoom lens first came into use, people were mesmerized by it and misused it completely. The zoom is very useful and can get you out of an awful lot of tracking. Instead of tracking you can use a slow zoom, which is the same thing, but you avoid having to lay tracks on exteriors and sometimes even on interiors, which is very expensive. You can also combine a tracking with a zoom and make the camera move physically in a way you couldn't possibly do on tracks alone. [Many marvellous examples of this technique became one of Terence Fisher's trademarks.] These are ways to use the zoom intelligently. Today's zoom lenses are perfected up to the point where you have full control over the speed. In the early days you didn't have that control, it was a somewhat haphazard thing technically. If it is under control, however, it can give you a tremendous advantage, provided it is used properly. It is far less expensive than a travelling. There still is a slight difference between a zoom and a travelling because with a travelling you move your camera towards the subject and with a zoom you pull the subject towards your camera. It gives a different psychological effect, but the distinction is very subtle.
JVG: In fact, you don't hold anything really against the way you used the zoom lens in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, as one could conclude from the interview you gave to "Midi-Minuit Fantastique" about ten years ago?
TF: No, certainly not. Those people must have misinterpreted a lot of what I said in those interviews. I was not abusing the zoom lens but the misuse of it. I think it is a wonderful technical achievement. To misuse it, like the misuse of any other technical aid, is foolish. But you use anything technically that will help dramatically and if there is a reason for it.
JVG: When you discuss a film with your actors, do you seriously consider their suggestions?
TF: Of course, very much so. They are vital to consult. Many things come out of what we call the first rehearsal, the rough run-through. That is when you find out what the actors are going to bring to the film. Although you will also discuss the content and the line of direction on the set, that first rehearsal is the most exciting thing. Little twists and variations come in which no director could think of, but which an actor, who is really living the character he is to play, will bring in. Like how the characters will react under certain circumstances... how he reacts, what he does, what he says. You would never have thought of these things yourself, no director would. Many directors are rather definite about what they expect, they lay down the rules before the first rehearsal. I think that is ridiculous, because it is then when those impromptu things come from an actor who is really living the character he is supposed to portray. No director could think of these things. He could think of something else of course, but it wouldn't be nearly as good or in the wrong place. I love that first run-through, the spontaneous expression of what the actor feels without too many preconceived ideas. And here we come again to this question of the intuitiveness of filmmaking...
AF: From what you say now, an actor is probably the least obvious person to direct a film...
TF: Indeed. I don't think that any actor is, with that one great exception. Orson Welles is a tremendous actor and a tremendous director as well.
JVG: Do you think a film could be ruined by an actor who is miscast or who is not giving his best.
TF: Yes, in various degrees...
JVG: Don't you think a director could still make something out of it?
TF: Well, he could make something out of it, but not what he should make out of it. Please. Bad casting is a tragedy, isn't it.
JVG: Yes... On the contrary, do you think that when you have a bad script but a very good cast, you could still make a good film.
TF: No... One could make a better film, yes, but not a good one.
JVG: But better because of the actors?
TF: Yes, because of the actors. In what degree the actor will affect the film, for better or worse, is very hard to tell. That depends so much on the size of that actor's talent and on the content. You can't sit on the back of his neck all of the time, can you. You have to believe, with the actor, in the particular part he is portraying. It's a bit of life, isn't it. He's got to emotionally portray to the audience. That's communication again. The audience has got to believe in him as long as they're looking. I don't care much for what they say afterwards, but during those two hours they got to believe the whole thing. It's like hypnotism really. They got to believe what they see, they got to move emotionally into the action.
JVG: You have worked with an incredible number of famous actors in your carreer. I've got an impressive list here of actors you worked with. It includes Dirk Bogarde, Mai Zetterling, Noel Coward, Oliver Reed, Jean Simmons, Eva Bartok, and so on and on, too many to name. You must have been directing every good actor in this country at one time or another...
TF: Yes... I hadn't realized it so much until Alan here reminded me the other day and started reading all the names of the people I worked with. That's a lovely thing, isn't it.
JVG: Yes, indeed it is.
TF: It's a most exciting idea...
AF: Can an actor extend the director's range, as a director can extend an actor's?
TF: No... A good director can accept ideas. Yes indeed, please. These will come out in discussion. This applies very much to when I'm working with Peter Cushing. It's wonderful to discuss the film and the part with him. He brings a tremendous amount to it. One doesn't always agree with an actor, mind you, but... With Peter you have to convince him he is wrong, which is a proper and right attitude. On the other hand, he can sometimes convince you that you are wrong. That is a wonderful thing, that is filmmaking... or should be.
GP: I think Peter is an actor who goes really deep. He wants to get everything out of his characterization. He goes into minute detail, which is the mark of the true professional.
TF: Yes he does. Peter is one hundred percent a professional. His handling of small but important things, like his handling of medical instruments, is meticulously thought out. He's gone to real doctors to find out how they handle it. Everything he does is meticulously thought out, it's right emotionally and right practically.
AF: He's one of the very few British actors who's good on all levels, and a swashbuckler as well...
TF: Yes indeed.
GP: Do you think an actor could get so deeply involved into a particular role that he lets it enter into his personal life?
TF: No, not with a professional actor. The great thing about a professional actor is that he will study and adopt the character he is to portray. He will know exactly what the character will do and say under certain circumstances. On the set he will be that character. But a professional actor can drop it afterwards, please.
AF: Don't you think a great director should be able to overcome the obvious defects in the material given to him, within the limits of time and budget and the material itself?
TF: The whole approach of a good director is to find the best way of translating the written word into a visual form within the material he has and, if possible, to add to it, and make what is already good even better. If he doesn't think it's good, he has to try to make it a little less bad.
GP: When John Van Eyssen meets Dracula in your first DRACULA, the tension came very much from the lighting...
TF: Yes... That is correct. That is a case of lighting which is very interesting. It had to be that way and Jack Asher lit it for me that way. It was obvious that the audience was going to laugh when Dracula made his first appearance. So I showed him in silhouette. I didn't expose what he really looked like. I didn't show his features, only a silhouette. When he came down the stairs his features became visible and the laughter stopped. I loved going to the cinema to see their laughs stop. It's true. It was fascinating.
AF: I saw this happen for the first time among an intellectual audience in a midnight show of THE THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN at the National Film Theatre. It really worked. Ten minutes and they were bound, and they stayed bound.
TF: Yes, it happened with them all. The communication must have been successful in that respect, I hope.
GP: When you listen to the soundtrack of DRACULA, you don't hear Dracula's footsteps. Did they eliminate them to make him a more ghost-like character?
TF: Well, it brought out the supernatural. That is part of the superstition. His sudden appearances were largely unexplained. It never said he changed into a bat and flew over the country side and came back again and walked right in through the front door. That is a sad way of doing things I always felt. The sudden appearances underlined the supernatural, the overcoming of space
and time, because he is a supernatural character.
[Two years later, Anthony Hinds wrote to me about this : "Nobody seems to have noticed that the Count had no footsteps. We did this (and it made a great deal of extra work for my editor, James Needs) so that the audience would feel that there was something strange about the Count, but would not know quite what it was."]
GP: The first appearance of Dracula was very subtle and then his second appearance, when John Van Eyssen was with Valerie Gaunt in the library, was utterly shocking.
TF: Well, it should have been. That was the pure rage of the vampire.
AF: Showing the face behind the mask?
TF: That's right.
AF: It was very clever to have that remarkable scene with Cushing and his dictating machine, the man of science dismissing all the werewolves and the bats, all the phallacies of the vampire.
TF: That was Jimmy Sangster's idea.
AF: It was a cleverly played scene because it told you not to wonder how Dracula got around.
TF: Chris also caught the supernatural content tremendously well. His whole movement, his physical way of walking was just right. It was very interesting.
GP: You know I always come back to the scene in DRACULA nobody has ever seen. An American friend of mine has an original shooting script, and in it there are a couple of extras in a coach and a gendarme talking to them.
TF: I don't remember anything like that being in the script. I honestly can't remember.
GP: While I was in Belgium recently I found an old Italian filmbook of DRACULA, and the first frames in it show the coach in a scene which I don't remember having seen in the English prints. So it looks like there must have been something there. But of course, like you say, it is difficult to remember such tiny details after all those years.
TF: I wish I had my original shooting script. I gave it away... foolishly.
GP: It is very well possible that there was such a scene before John Van Eyssen got out to enter the castle.
TF: I can't tell you, I'm sorry.
[Strangely, also Anthony Hinds completely forgot, as he wrote to me : "The opening scene in the coach was written, but we did not have time to shoot it. Films are like that." In 1976, among film buffs, this coach ride had grown into a big mythical mystery. By now, everybody will have seen this rather trivial sequence, which was added again to the print for the 1990 video release of DRACULA. It was later also shown on British television. From then on, similar mythical missing footage was restored also in the video releases of the other early Hammer films.]
JVG: There are missing scenes like that in many of your and other Hammer films. There is for
instance Peter Cushing raping Veronica Carlson in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. I believe it wasn't shown in England, but it was left in, or added to the Belgian print.
TF: Yes, that was an afterthought. It was not in the original script at all. The censor did become more permissive in those days, but he eliminated that scene.
JVG: I didn't like it at all. It was gratuitous. It didn't fit in the story, nor did it match the personalities of the characters.
TF: Yes, I quite agree. It was an afterthought.
AF: This was at the time when Hammer began losing contact with the genre. They began to jazz it up, like their vampire films.
TF: Yes it had no part in the story. There was no built towards it and it showed it. When the girl has gone through it, the next thing you see, it's all forgotten and she never says anything about it to the young man...
AF: It doesn't fit in the characterizations.
TF: Not in the slightest. The only possible excuse for it could be: Peter Cushing doing it to increase his hold over the youngsters.
JVG: Do you think it is possible that Hammer ever added such scenes to your films without consulting you?
JVG: Maybe for the export versions to the Continent and to the East?
TF: No, certainly not.
JVG: You seem quite sure about it.
TF: Yes I am. There was only one scene they asked me to shoot for possible export. That was a waist nude of Hazel Court when she was posing, in THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH.
JVG: Yes, I have seen a print with that shot included.
TF: That's the only scene I ever shot for that purpose and I'm sure Hammer never added anything to my films.
JVG: You have always been fond of the theme Good versus Evil. It's present in all your films. Why do you underline it every time you can?
TF: It is what life is all about, isn't it. That is one of the truisms of being. And so is the attractivity of Evil. I have always tried, in the interpretation of the written word, within the context of the story line, to underline this conflict between the powers of Good and the powers of Evil. I've also tried to underline the attractivity of Evil. These scripts always offer an opportunity to somewhere underline these things and I've done it whenever I had a chance. Only, the critics didn't see it my way. I've been accused of every possible form of sensationalism, but I never really shot a scene
which didn't fit in the emotional whole of the story line, in the context of the script. Possibly with that one exception you just mentioned in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. But critics have always abused me.
Terence Fisher then fetches a newspaper clipping from his desk and invites me to read it. It's a review from "The Daily Times" of his first DRACULA. For a while he discusses more worldly things with Gary and Alan, and suddenly asks:
TF: It's interesting there, isn't it.
JVG: Yes it is.
TF: They were the only ones who gave my films a fair review at the time. I have been abused by every other newspaper and critic in this country, but "The Daily Times" gave my films always a fair review. I'm quite proud of that piece of paper. But after all, you're not making these films for the critics, are you. It's the audience you must entertain. How many years ago was this written?
GP: About 1958.
AF: Nearly twenty years ago.
TF: Is it? We're getting old, aren't we.
[A few months later, in November 1976, Terence Fisher sent me another favourable newspaper clipping from "The Daily Telegraph", with a large photo and a rather extensive article by Eric Shorter, who had just met Fisher at the Film Festival in Sitges, Spain. The critical tide had definitely turned by then.]
JVG: Beside underlining the attractivity of Evil and the eternal struggle of Good and Evil, what else did you especially underline in your films?
TF: Anything which was implied in the story line and which I liked, I've tried to underline. That is what directing is all about isn't it? Let the films speak for themselves, please. I underlined everywhere I could, the attractivity and the evil of vampirism for instance, with the biting in the neck... I tried to underline the sexual appeal of the vampire, of Dracula...
AF: Like in Melissa Stribbling's return...
TF: Oh yes, indeed. Of course that is one of the greatest strengths of Dracula. He has these three things, hasn't he. He has a mighty physical strength, he has the power to move in time and space and he has a very strong sexual appeal to his female victims. We have many sexual situations in DRACULA, haven't we. One had to underline these at the time, one could not yet explicitly film these situations as it would be done today, but I've accentuated it whenever I could.
GP: Like the homosexual relation with David Peel in BRIDES OF DRACULA?
TF: People have said this. Tell me where and how!
GP: There is a part in the film where David Peel bears a physical attraction towards Van Helsing.
JVG: He does bite Van Helsing in the neck at a certain moment.
TF: Well, that is what you should expect, isn't it? He lives by blood. But surely there is no homosexuality implied in that scene. I played for the written word and there was no hint whatsoever in the script at that. I have accentuated in this film as far as the sexual attraction between man and woman was concerned. And I have also underlined the lesbian relationship. But I don't think I have ever consciously tried to underline the homosexual relation between the men.
AF: Surely he does attract Van Helsing because Van Helsing is his only deadly enemy.
TF: That is wishful thinking. Not wishful thinking really, but it is an interpretation of the audience. There is no justification for such an action. That is really searching for something which isn't there. If I had intended something like that, we would have played the scenes quite differently. They were factual scenes with factual relationships as far as I am concerned. The lesbian angle
was obvious of course. I did underline that and when the audience next saw that other situation, they probably thought I was hinting at something similar, which isn't true. There is nothing of a sexual attraction between Van Helsing and the vampire. But you can't miss, I hope, the lesbian applications, because I have been playing for it, it was acted to get that effect. And it was not written for it.
AF: Certainly that marvellous scene where Freda Jackson calls the dead from their graves wasn't written like that?
GP: I assume that Van Helsing was a pure type of character...
TF: Oh indeed he was. I don't think that Van Helsing had any sexual feelings towards anybody in any shape or form. He was also one of the most ruthless characters one could ever meet.
GP: He didn't care about sex, he just lived to root out vampirism?
TF: Well, it's like Frankenstein really, who started off with the idea of improving man's luck.
AF: And then became obsessive.
TF: The devil said to him: "Go on with your work, you're wonderful, do anything, create a creature better than God's, you're better than God". And he falls for it. That, I think, comes out marvellously in Peter's performance, which I think is always a tremendous performance. The sensation is wonderful in one or two scenes after a successful experiment - or what they thought was going to be a successful experiment - when Frankenstein had created another monster and
Peter is saying to himself: "Why, this is wonderful! I've created a man! I am God!". And this comes from what started as a tremendous idea. But Evil sidetracked it in a way and he can never be successful. He's doomed to failure one way or another. He can never make a successful monster because of the power of Evil. It never could be because the power of Evil is merely a mistaken belief for the power of Good.
GP: Frankenstein tries to create a man not a beast.
TF: Definitely true. He started off with tremendous ideas. It is very much like Hitler, who was eliminating hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people and in the end justifying it to himself because he was trying to create a perfect man. Frankenstein and that side of Hitler are very much alike.
AF: In THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Frankenstein murders them all. The brain is what you really need...
TF: The mind is what you need, and to justify it in saying: "I'm going to get it." But he will never really succeed in creating a person because he's too much concerned about the body and the physical brain. The only thing he can achieve is a physically living being, nothing more, because he can't give the body a mind.
AF: Up to the time of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN nobody had ever considered Frankenstein as a real character, it was the monster that was important, not the creator.
TF: That's right.
AF: You switched it. It didn't matter who the monster was, it was the character Frankenstein who became important.
TF: Well, he's the interesting one, isn't he.
AF: Yes, quite. There is also a limit to the number of monsters you can make.
TF: That's right. What counted was what he thought he was going to achieve. He started off with this tremendous idea and all good intentions. I've always been interested in whether he was deeply religious, or whether he was an atheist. I'm quite convinced now that he was an atheist.
AF: He must have been.
TF: I think so because he was breaking every conceivable law.
AF: He had to be an atheist.
TF: Yes, he wanted a certain power and I think it was this power complex which didn't work out right.
AF: He had to be an atheist because the church was the adversary of science.
TF: Yes indeed. Yet he and the church worked together occasionally... [Ton Paans, who translated another version of this interview, pointed out here : "This is an ironic reference to the opening sequence in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, where one of Frankenstein’s helpers bribes the executioner who is about to execute the scientist, so that the priest who accompanies him to the scaffold will be executed instead of Frankenstein."] It's interesting to see how this whole Frankenstein thing developed. I look at "Dr. Who" every day [at the time daily broadcasted on British television for children], which makes me... Now, don't you laugh, listen!... It's fascinating! This is really "Frankenstein on the planets", isn't it. It's fascinating to see. They use every trick of mine, they copy some of my shots too. He's completely like Frankenstein, down to his walk, to what he does to people. It's fascinating! I love it!
AF: Your last Frankenstein film was rather special, with the brain transplant...
TF: That's right. The whole thing hinges on a brain transplant. Nobody seems to realize what the ultimate brain transplant will be. It's going to be a fact within the foreseeable future and something for all of you to think about. Think of a brain with a memory and emotional reactions and sexual
reactions towards certain people, like among husbands and wives. Look at this man in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. This man had the husband in him, he remembered all their associations. Appearing within a different physical body was a terrifying thing for him. Of course it drove him mad when he saw himself. And when he returns to his wife and walks to her room and takes her. It's an interesting thing this brain transplant. It's full of the most awful implications, isn't it. What is the good in being able to transplant a brain? This is grand if it means you can preserve the brilliance of that brain and the knowledge of science or whatever, but what about the man behind this brain? This emotional man, his associations with people and circumstances? It's impossible, isn't it?
AF: Yes I think it is.
TF: It's a terrible thing to think of. These two people - he is two people, isn't he...
AF: Yes he is.
TF: ...in a different physical body. It was not the brain which didn't like the new body very much which was the problem. The problem was that the body didn't like the brain. It didn't want to be told to play the violin. In other words, it started to reject the brain, the brain didn't start to reject the
AF: That's one of your most powerful images.
TF: Yes it is.
AF: You were always one step ahead of the scientists, all the way.
GP: The new Frankenstein films don't carry this content anymore. There is no motivation anymore, it's all sensationalism.
TF: Well, a lot of them, I think, try to cash in purely on the visual, without any thought of the depth of the content of what that visual was actually saying, which is sad, isn't it. It's purely a commercial approach, just like nowadays sex in the cinema...
AF: We've just had YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and that played for comedy, bad comedy...
TF: I have no quarrel with people who want to play it for comedy, if it is played properly and well. You can send anything up, can't you, and you should be able to send anything up. But if you want to play it for comedy you must do it with a lot of thought. It is a most difficult thing to do it successfully, I think.
AF: This is really the key to all of your films. You take it absolutely serious.
TF: I try so. Otherwise, why make them? In whatever you make, you got to have some integrity in your approach, please. Otherwise it comes down to just try and catch a penny. And entertainment should not only be trying to catch a penny. Of course we got to catch the pennies, but we have to justify ourselves in catching them.
JVG: Do you know anything about the Milton Subotsky script for "Frankenstein"? Milton Subotsky is spreading the word that he wrote a script for what he calls "a first new color version of Frankenstein". And then someone else sold his script to Hammer...
TF: Was this for the first one?
JVG: Yes, for THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
TF: Well, I've heard something about it...
JVG: According to him, Amicus still receives a yearly percentage for the rights...
TF: Really? I had no idea of it at all.
JVG: I don't know if it's true. You've never seen such a script?
TF: I haven't. If this is true it would be mighty interesting to compare the two, wouldn't it.
JVG: Yes indeed, it would.
TF: However, I can't really believe it's entirely true like you say. He would never have allowed that the filmcredits mentioned only Jimmy Sangster's name.
AF: That's a fact. Not Milton, he wouldn't.
TF: There's probably somewhere an exaggeration in this.
JVG: Milton Subotsky said his script followed Mary Shelley's book very closely...
TF: The filmscript of Jimmy Sangster didn't follow the book.
TF: I've heard it said that the story did come from somewhere else, that's the most I heard.
AF: Probably it was only the idea he sold. Maybe he went with his script to Universal, who gave the idea to Sir James to make it for them. That's much more likely.
TF: I should think so, yes.
JVG: When you are discussing Frankenstein, you don't often mention FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN. Is that because you don't like the film? I do like it very much.
TF: I saw it again on the box the other day and I liked it. At the time I didn't, that's true, but I can't tell you why. I didn't care for it so much, until I saw it again and I liked it. Just like the one with David Peel [THE BRIDES OF DRACULA]. I saw it again on the box and I loved that one.
JVG: Another film which in my opinion is one of your very best, but which the critics have run down, and which even your fans don't care for very much, nor maybe you yourself, is THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.
TF: No, I'm very fond of that one really. It's a strong frustrated love story, that's why I like it.
JVG: It is very romantic...
TF: Yes indeed, it is very romantic. I've always been searching and searching among my films but this is really the only one that had what you can call a true romance in it. It was a heartbreaking situation I think.
JVG: Yes, very much so, I loved that. Oliver Reed was superb! He's the best werewolf in every respect in cinema history, I'm sure he is.
TF: They both played it well, I thought, the boy and the girl. And Oliver Reed gave indeed a tremendous performance. He had to play many things at the same time. He really made you feel his feelings of the tragedy of the inevitable change whenever the wolf came into him, mingled with his tragic love for that girl.
JVG: He did that unsurpassably.
TF: Yes, very well, I liked it. THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF is the deepest of all of my films I think.
JVG: I fully agree and I'm a bit surprised but pleased that you consider it your deepest film. Technically it was also beautiful.
TF: Yes, it looked good, didn't it.
JVG: Anthony Hinds produced THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, what was he like as a producer?
TF: He was a very, very good working producer. He made sure that the money that came from the top was properly used. One could also discuss interpretative things with him in a way which I would never dream of discussing with another producer.
JVG: THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF was his first own script to be produced...
TF: I don't know about that, but it meant a great deal to him, I'm sure. He was all the time most interested in what went on. Not to the point of interference, but we discussed many things. If it sometimes came to a difference of opinion, he could be convinced, if you could put up an emotional argument against his opinion.
[Anthony Hinds wrote to me about this : "THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF was my first full screenplay, under my nom-de-plume of John Elder. I am rather fond of it (I'm not so fond of most of the others). It was a very happy production (except for the night locations, when it poured with rain and the huge light bulbs kept exploding) and Terry Fisher and I did not have one cross word during the entire production. I generally managed to have at least one row with my directors, and I was generally in the wrong."]
JVG: He mentioned he had to rewrite quite a bit of the script while you were shooting.
TF: They weren't major changes, only dialogue. They had to be rather tight productions from a commercial point of view. If we felt that scenes were running too long, he rewrote the dialogue. It is nearly impossible to time a script before you are shooting it. These pictures were meant to run between 80 to 90 minutes. Most of the changes in the script were dialogue cuts because we were running over that time.
JVG: He also had to rewrite the last half hour entirely because of set requirements.
TF: I could very well imagine that. I can't remember what it was with THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, but things like that happened all of the time.
JVG: Did you become involved in the production of THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF before the actual shooting began?
TF: Yes, but at that time not very early. I got involved when the first full draft of the script was finished. I then had a chance to make minor modifications, but nothing drastic.
JVG: Did you discuss the appearance of the werewolf with Roy Ashton?
TF: I discussed with Roy and the producers what he should look like. Then Roy went away and made a lot of sketches. He draws very well. We then discussed again and he made other sketches, and so on. One exchanges ideas, and Roy keeps on drawing until everybody is satisfied. That is the wonderful way in which Roy works. How far we would take the change from man into wolf came probably through discussion. The change of the hands featured in the script, and I think we consequently decided to let the hair grow all over him above the waist. Very conveniently we dodged the issue of the lower part. You had no idea what was below the waist, which is only reasonable and fair. If you try to go that far, you're in great trouble.
JVG: Did you shoot any tests of the werewolf make-up? There are many pre-production stills of Oliver Reed wearing various stages of the werewolf outfit and make-up.
TF: I don't think we did any pre-production tests. It was a part mask and things like that were tested purely for the visual effect.
JVG: When you directed the transformation scenes from man into wolf, did you leave everything
entirely to Les Bowie and his special effects team?
TF: I go as far as getting the artist into position and we discuss beforehand what should happen. He then produces the various effects that are later cut into the film at the right moment. This is contrary to Hitchcock, or so I've been told. He really works it out completely in a story board.
JVG: When editing, is there a special procedure for inserting such special effect scenes?
TF: Not at all. It is exactly the same as with normal footage. You have the dramatic content of what is happening and you put it emotionally together, special effects scenes or dramatic scenes, that doesn't matter. You wouldn't say "I now want three feet of hair growing on his hands," or something like that. Anyway, I wouldn't do it like that, other people might do it like that though.
GP: When it was on television recently they showed that scene where Anthony Dawson is picking at his nose.
TF: Yes. That was never cut by the censor. You got the beginning of it and then we cut away. I never held on to it, or shot it beyond the point of one or two quick flicks at his nose.
JVG: Those flicks, or sometimes one of them, were cut from some prints. I've also seen a Belgian print of Universal with the other censored scene, which you, Gary, mentioned was edited out of the English print, when Yvonne Romain stabs the marquis.
TF: That was indeed taken out of the English print. The censor took that one out. But that picking at his nose, that was interesting because it came purely about by chance. Tony Dawson was waiting in between takes and they left him with his make-up still on. There was a little flake of something on his nose - due to the make-up - which shouldn't have been there. And he just flicked it off with his finger. I said to him: "This is tremendous! Now, keep this and act as if you
wanted to deliberately get rid of something filthy." Well, he had everything wrong with him anyway... This was interesting because it came purely by luck. Picking away a little flake of make-up had important consequences. It illustrates how one's mind can work quickly and also my point of the intuitiveness of directing. We would never have thought of it, it came purely by chance. It was exciting and it is what film directing is all about.
GP: I think Anthony Dawson was the most evil and vile character from all of your films.
TF: It was a good performance. A tremendously good performance. He was Evil personified. It was Evil taken to its ultimate.
GP: THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF was your only film with which you had serious trouble with the censor.
TF: No, not really. We didn't have such serious difficulties with the censor. He just would not let me go quite as far as I wanted to go. You never saw the rape, you never saw them make contact. But you could see far more in his approach towards the girl. However, the censor wouldn't even have that. He thought we went even too far in the implication, he didn't want to have horror mingled with sex. But we had to show something to make the audience aware of the fact that there had been sexual contact with the girl. She was to have the child. It was necessary for the audience to know what had happened, otherwise the story wouldn't make sense, would it.
GP: There was this joke about Richard Wordsworth going to the make-up to be fitted with fangs for the rape scene, but they told him "No, the censor says you can either wear fangs or rape the girl, but you can't have both at the same time".
TF: I don't know if that tale is true, but it illustrates very well the feelings the British censor had at that time. He didn't mind horror, he didn't mind sex, but he was strongly opposed against mixing horror with sex.
JVG: At the time, you had objections against the action being set in Spain?
TF: Well, I didn't mind very much, but I just did not see any particular reason for putting it there. There was no real reason for setting it in Spain, was there? The werewolf is certainly not a Spanish legend, so why?
AF: Sir James always said that one of his best markets was Spain, so that could probably be the reason.
TF: That's probably very true. And that's a fair answer to your question.
[Anthony Hinds wrote to me about this : "THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF is vaguely based on a book with a French setting [Guy Endore's "The Werewolf of Paris"] but I had to quickly change it to Spain because the production at Bray preceding mine, set in Mexico, fell through and I inherited their unused sets." Film historians later alleged that the preceding Hammer production, which fell through because of severe opposition to the contents by the Catholic Church, was "The Inquisitor", to be directed by John Gilling and set in Spain, not in Mexico.]
JVG: Yes, but anyway, it is a beautiful, remarkable film in many ways.
TF: I like THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF very much. I like them all, but some better than others...
JVG: The situation of Good versus Evil is delightfully confusing in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, and well played by Oliver Reed, because the werewolf, "the monster" of the film, is not evil but sympathetic.
TF: Fundamentally he is not evil at all. He is cursed. He has come under the influence of the power of Evil. He has not sold his soul to the devil, like Baron Frankenstein did. He is more like Dracula, who was a cursed creature as well. As a small boy he puts it all down to bad dreams
and he appears to get over it, thanks to the love of the people he lives with. The curse has been taken away from him by love and care and affection. But only temporarily. It reappears. The only way of overcoming the evil of the curse is death. This is most tragic in the context of the love between the boy and the girl. The real tragedy was that the boy was terribly in love with the girl and could not tell her. He could not express his love and even had to try to push her away from him, because of the curse. That was an awful situation, the real tragedy.
JVG: At a certain point in the film we could believe that the power of Love was going to cure the werewolf. But instead, the power of Love was killed.
TF: The power of Love could not cure him physically. He could only be released by death, not by love.
JVG: In the end, after the werewolf is killed by the silver bullet, he does not change back into the man, like in all previous werewolf films. This makes the situation even sadder.
TF: The silver bullet, melted from a cross, is only symbolic for the power of Good, which, as always, destroys the power of Evil in the end. The physical body of the werewolf remains, but the message is just the same. The soul is released from the curse when it leaves the body. This is not really shown, not even symbolically, except maybe in the peace of his face. It still was the body of a peaceful werewolf that remained and it looked indeed very sad. In fact, however, the body of the werewolf was irrelevant. It was just the vehicle in which his soul was trapped. If you come to think of it all like this, it is a very religious picture.
JVG: You do like THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF most of all your films!
TF: Yes, I do, because it is a strong, frustrated love story. I have always wanted to make a love story and this film comes closest to it. It is the only one with a true romance in it. It is very romantic and very sad. It was a real tragedy. One hopes that audiences get more interested in werewolves because of that core of a love story within the horror tale. I'm serious about that because I love the picture for that reason. I never really say I like it best of all my films, but I
do like it best because of that core of a love story. It is certainly the deepest of all my films, in emotional content and in the inter-relationship of the characters. The script of the film was tremendous in its line of reasoning, there is nothing in it with which one could quarrel. All the performances were tremendous. I love the film because it is my only one with the core of a true love story in it.
TF: How do people in Holland react to these films?
JVG: Well, actually we're from Belgium. But from my personal experience [back in january 1976]
I learned that people in Holland take very little to no interest in fantasy films. In Belgium the situation is just a little bit better. We still have no fantasy films at all on television, but we do have a fantasy film festival now in Antwerp. Next September it will be in its third edition. We also have a Belgian fanzine in the Dutch language, "Fantoom". A translation of this interview will probably be edited into it. Gary knows the magazine...
GP: Yes, it's very good...
TF: I've been in Belgium... I started my life at sea and my first foreign port was Antwerp.
JVG: We live near Antwerp.
TF: Well, well. I suppose it's quite different now. Still, I'd like to see it again. I'd really be fascinated to see it again. I remember it very well.
JVG: I'm sure the organizers of the festival would be delighted to have you as a guest of honour. It would give you an opportunity to revisit Antwerp at the same time...
TF: I'd love to.
[Sadly, this never came to be.]
JVG: They've already shown several of your films at the Antwerp festivals. Last year, for instance, I saw there, for the first time, your German picture, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE.
TF: That's one of the few films I really don't care for.
JVG: Yes, I know. It isn't a very good film, but it was quite interesting to see Christopher Lee in the role of Sherlock Holmes.
TF: Yes, he played a very good show, didn't he. Excellent!
JVG: I even liked him better in the part than Peter Cushing.
TF: It was a very good performance.
JVG: He was a quite different Sherlock Holmes.
TF: Yes, indeed he was. I also liked Thorley Walters in the role of Watson.
AF: He was nearer to Nigel Bruce than Andre Morell was.
TF: Yes, a little more subtle than Morell perhaps.
JVG: Did you actually go abroad to make it?
TF: Yes, we went to Germany.
JVG: And Christoper Lee and Thorley Walters too?
AF: Christopher speaks German, doesn't he.
TF: Yes, he does. He speaks five or six languages.
AF: There was that terrible remake of HANDS OF ORLAC and they made three versions, a German, a French and an English, all on the same set. Christopher was the only one who could do all three versions without dubbing.
JVG: What was the part of the German co-director, Frank Winterstein. What exactly did he do?
JVG: The man who was credited as co-director. Frank Winterstein I believe his name was. A remarkable name to be working with, certainly if you would forget to pronounce "winter"...
TF: Yes... He didn't co-direct it. He was my first assistant.
JVG: In the titles of the print I saw, he was credited as co-director.
TF: Well, he acted as first assistant. He was a very nice fellow to work with. We made it for CCC Films, didn't we. Arthur Brauner ran CCC Films. The studios were in West Berlin. Actually they were a converted poison-gas factory. This is true! They told it to me after we were half-way through. You could still see the little narrow gates and the railway tracks where they took the containers with the poison-gas to ship them to their destination...
TF: Yes it was indeed a terrible feeling. We went out that night and got drunk...
JVG: It has become quite rare, that film. There aren't many prints around anymore.
TF (laughing heartily): That doesn't surprise me at all... They didn't need to print many...
"Quite rare"!... I must remember that: "My rarest film"...
JVG: Well, everybody keeps wondering: it is a Terence Fisher film but what does it really look like. Only very few people have actually seen it. It's becoming an urban myth really. That makes it interesting.
TF (still laughing): Well, I think it's a very good idea to have the audience keep wondering about it and have them think they missed something tremendous.
JVG: Many people now really do think they missed something tremendous, I'm sure. And this
will even grow with the years. We have similar examples to prove this theory.
TF: Well, let's hope they never find it back in the vaults somewhere after those years... My rarest film!
AF: That was the only time you ever filmed abroad wasn't it?
TF: No, I filmed for five days in Cannes. But the money ran out and we all came home. I came home with the manager of the hotel sitting in my neck.
JVG: Was that at the same time?
TF: I can't remember.
Mrs. Fisher: That was 24 years ago.
TF: I can't remember the name...
Mrs. Fisher: There was that actress in it... Anouk...
AF: Mrs. Albert Finney that is...
TF: Yes, that's right. Anouk was with us and also Michael Redgrave, Herbert Lom and the little girl...
Mrs. Fisher : Mai Zetterling?...
TF: No, the other one... I can't remember... It doesn't matter anyway.
JVG: You don't remember what the film was going to be, the title...
TF: No, I can't remember it.
GP: Were you in any way involved in Hammer's tv series "Tales of Frankenstein"?
TF: No I wasn't. Tony Hinds was producing them, wasn't he, or rather co-producing with somebody Harrison... But they never really made it.
GP: They made part of it.
TF: They did make that other tv series.
GP: Yes, for 2Oth Century Fox.
TF: That's right.
AF: They were disastrous really.
TF: They were bad.
AF: However, in the 25 minutes you got for such a film you can't do very much.
TF: No, that's true.
JVG: Did you do a lot of television work?
TF: No, not a lot. I did some. Probably the most I did was "Robin Hood", I did quite a few "Robin Hood" episodes. I also did a few tv films which were presented by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. They ran in the fifties.
AF: They had good stories.
TF: Yes, they had very good stories. Then you also had "Colonel March of Scotland Yard"...
JVG: Boris Karloff was in one of those...
TF: Yes, he was, Boris Karloff...
JVG: Did you get to know him well?
TF: Only for about a week. I loved him. He was a very kind man. And a very professional man too.
AF: "Robin Hood" must have been the most successful tv series really of all times?
TF: Yes, it had repeats and repeats and repeats... How many of that series did they make?
AF: About 65 I believe.
TF: Did they? 65!...
AF: Your feature film is the last major Robin Hood film.
AF: That was the only time Peter was cast as an out-and-out villain in one of your films.
TF: Peter shouldn't be cast as an out-and-out villain, although he can play it tremendously well.
AF: Like I said earlier: he can swashbuckle with the best.
TF: Oh very well. He's tremendously athletic, Peter.
AF: When he moves he's always in full control of his whole body.
TF: I'm sure Peter studied these leaps and falls. He's a real professional.
TF: Do you remember how good Peter Cushing was in the final scenes of DRACULA?
JVG: Didn't he use a double there?
TF: Only when he leaped at the curtains. But he insists upon doing his own stuntwork.
GP: That finale of DRACULA runs incredibly fast.
TF: It is not that fast really. The chase is very fast until the moment when Dracula gets Van Helsing down and pretty nearly strangles him.
GP: This is where it slows down.
TF: It slows down then because he thinks he's got him. Then it's a slow stalk and it doesn't get fast again until that sudden dash for the curtains.
AF: And then the sign of the cross...
TF: That was a most wonderful sequence wasn't it. That was again something which came out of the first rehearsal. It was Peter's idea. It was really exciting.
JVG: Someone who knows the subject well, recently said that THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES is the best all-round Hammer film.
TF: It was a good film. I saw it again on the box recently and I liked it.
Mrs. Fisher: It did very well in black and white. Because as you can see we don't have a color tv.
TF: I saw "Jekyll and Hyde" [THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL] again, which everybody abused.
It did very well on the box. I liked that too.
AF: It's just the script, the different concept of the theme, which made the film less successful.
JVG: I liked exactly that very much, making Hyde attractive...
TF: You liked the script? It's very interesting, isn't it. I liked the script because it made Evil charming and sexually attractive.
JVG: That's really the whole idea behind the Jekyll and Hyde story.
TF: Of course it is. The great strength of Evil lies in its attractivity. I liked it. I loved the can can dancers, I loved the whole thing.
AF: The other side of Victorian London was brought out very well, the hypocrisy and so on...
TF: Yes. It was taken to its ultimate, yes.
JVG: Another film which was very harshly abused by the critics, but which was a very good film in my opinion, was your version of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
TF: Yes, I liked PHANTOM. Everybody said that the Phantom wasn't a horrid character. Of course he wasn't a horrid character, he was a very emotional and a very sad character. He was a victim of the circumstances. This man was driven to do certain things but he was driven to do them. He wasn't a monster but a very emotional character.
AF: It's much more of a romance than the earlier versions really.
AF: It probably suffered because of its Hammer label which made people expect corpses in the cupboard.
TF: Yes. And Herbert Lom is very, very good. Very good indeed, and so was the girl.
AF: Heather Sears... she's never done a better thing since.
TF: I thought she was very good.
GP : Michael Gough was very good in that film.
TF: First class.
GP: He was the monster, not the Phantom.
TF: Of course he was. He was the personification of the power of Evil. But it broke the Hammer rules.
GP: PHANTOM probably failed at the box office because it wasn't a typical gothic Hammer film. It was more of a love story.
TF: People go to look for my love of a love story. I'm serious about that because it's why I love THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF. I never say I do like it best of them all, but I do really like it best of them all because it's the only one with a true love story.
JVG: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was an expensive film. It got the largest budget Hammer ever gave to a film.
TF: It was not a large budget really. It was the largest budget Hammer ever gave, but that doesn't go very far... I'm not sneering at that, because I think it's wonderful how we can make these pictures on a comparitively low budget and still make them look good. Of course it's easy to make a splendid thing when you have all the money in the world. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the content of it is as good as the surround that you've built.
JVG: Do you think it was the most expensive film you've ever made?
TF: I'm not sure. SO LONG AT THE FAIR was possibly more expensive. I don't know. Companies are always very careful towards directors about how much a film really costs. You're not supposed to nose into that. When you get hired as a director, you do your job and don't ask how much the film costs.
AF: However, none of your films show any restrictions in that respect, because they were designed very carefully.
TF: That is true. That was largely thanks to Bernie Robinson, let's face it. It never showed the amount of money he had at his disposal. And they were very well-dressed films. Wardrobe and so on were all very well, I think. It's not so difficult to do well if you got what it takes, but set building is very hard when you have little money.
AF: It never really shows. Just look at THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the hall of the castle had only one wall.
TF: You have to use your camera in such a way that it doesn't get boring. You can do a wonderful amount with only three walls and never see the fourth wall. All you have to do is switch the furniture around, place it in the foreground, then you switch that around, and so on.
AF: FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY must have had an enormous budget but never really shows it. It looks expensive, but that's all.
TF: If you promote and can get an enormous budget for a film, it immediately becomes necessary to spend all that money. That isn't always so good.
AF: I think you're the first director to bring these subjects out of the studio. If you look at the old Universal films, they built their Transsylvania in the back lot and left it there. But "Black Park" became a signature for Hammer, all the way through.
TF: They didn't have any true exteriors in those days, did they?
AF: They didn't. In the original FRANKENSTEIN every scene was shot in the studio.
TF: They probably felt they were making a highly theatrical film, and therefore it was good thinking to keep the film completely under the same impression of stage techniques rather than true exteriors.
AF: Yet in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN there couldn't be a more theatrical scene than Christopher Lee with the child and the gun going off. And that scene was set in very real country side.
TF: Indeed, that was a mistake of course.
AF: It's like the old German technique...
TF: Yes! It's really going to "Caligari" [DAS CABINET DES DR. CALIGARI] isn't it. Some exteriors
were very good though, because the trees there made such good shapes. We shot quite a bit in autumn and winter and the shapes of the tree branches are tremendously expressive emotionally.
AF: Especially against the sky. And when you track fast, the trees come flashing right past the camera.
JVG: Didn't you paint the branches red to get a certain effect?
TF: Oh, yes indeed. When we began filming THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN it was the beginning of autumn. This was something which people wouldn't notice but which subconsciously affected them. I thought it was a good idea to have the branch foliage in the foreground, close to the camera. Then we painted the leaves in a red autumn color. I hope it didn't give the impression of red paint, because it should express something only in the mind of the audience. The fact of the red being in the foreground and the little boy in the background with Frankenstein coming after him and chasing him, the red could have had an effect subconsciously. I believe the red color attracts the eye and the eye remains with the red even when the conscious attention is on something in the background. You've made your point, although the audience does not know in the beginning what the point is. You stay with that red in your mind, although there's nothing
else on the screen except the little boy screaming.
AF: It's a considerably more subtle way to handle the violent scene with the child than is mostly done.
TF: I think so...
TF : What more can I tell you?
JVG: Something about THE GORGON?
TF: Well, there's one or two nice things about THE GORGON. Of which one do you want me to tell?
JVG: I liked the whole film, although it got a lot of criticism from professional people as well as from your admirers.
TF: Yes, I also liked it. I'm beginning to like you too, because you like all the things I like. Yes, it was a nice film. It involved its characters in a nice way in the mythological basis of the story.
JVG: The Gorgon hasn't been used very often in the cinema, did you like the myth?
TF: Yes I did.
JVG: The myth appeared recently in the Belgian film MALPERTUIS. Susan Hampshire was the Gorgon and Orson Welles was in it too. Do you know that film?
TF: No, I haven't seen it.
AF: THE GORGON was a rather bleak film, wasn't it.
TF: What do you mean by bleak?
AF: There isn't much warmth in the characters.
TF: There was the frustrated warmth in the relation between the man and Barbara Shelley.
AF: That was much more like tension really.
TF: Yes, tension it certainly was.
AF: The characters couldn't show what the climax was going to be, in the sense like in a Frankenstein or Dracula film.
TF: Yes, that's right. The format is there to a certain extent, but it was different.
AF: Bernard Robinson's interiors were most bizarre, I think.
TF: It's been quite some time since I've seen this film. I need a memory jog to remember some things. The film doesn't stay with me completely. I suppose that's only natural.
GP: The decapitation of Medusa was one thing I didn't like in THE GORGON.
JVG: Everybody keeps rejecting the film for that one scene and I think it wasn't even that awful, really. I've seen much worse.
TF: It wasn't so bad. There wasn't time enough to experiment with the different materials they use for making a head. It didn't look like a solid head but it didn't look like a bouncing football either. It just lacked that little touch which would carry conviction. And the only way you can get that touch is by experimenting. We didn't have time to do that.
Mrs. Fisher: When you saw the head in repose it looked good.
TF: Yes certainly, but that's not the point. The point is the actual impact when it hits the ground and goes bouncing off the stairs.
AF: The 'thwack' of the soundtrack carried the wrong effect. It was a very solid 'thwack' and you saw what the sound track told you to see.
TF: Yes, that's right.
AF: This is also a point where the suspension of disbelief stops, because the audience of course knows that she is not actually going to be decapitated and so they will go searching for the special effects as they would do in any special effects sequence.
GP: Roy Ashton told me that when they were shooting that scene with Prudence Hyman and Christopher Lee, Chris slightly misjudged the distance where he was to brandish his sword. Prudence was supposed to duck out of camera range the moment the sword was going to hit her, but somehow they misjudged the distance and if it hadn't been for someone who pulled her down, Chris would have really decapitated Prudence Hyman.
TF: We would all have been put away for manslaughter, wouldn't we...
AF: But Sir James would have let the scene go through...
TF: It was a perfectly convincing head in repose, but in motion it caused a moment of disbelief. If we look at the scene in retrospect, one should have seen the action of decapitation and nothing more. It was the way the head goes bouncing off the stairs which wasn't convincing... We should have only showed its trail perhaps. I tried to show too much.
GP: Roy Ashton also told me they hadn't enough time to experiment with the snakes in Medusa's head.
TF: Of course. We never had time to try out the different possibilities. We had to be careful to keep the snakes in motion. It was a hell of a contraption, with wires on each head of the snakes and trails of wires going into a mechanical thing where you turned the handle to get the things wobbling and doing what they were supposed to do.
Mrs. Fisher: One day you bought that little toy snake with the bulb and when you squeezed the bulb it gave a wonderful effect.
TF: If we'd have had the time to experiment we would have done it that way, with air pressure rather than wires. These were the things where Hammer cheated on a bit, because one hadn't time enough to try out the different possibilities of doing it.
JVG: So you would have liked to do it with air pressure.
TF: Yes, all you had to do was just reduce the air pressure and the snakes would have come down and then bring the air up to get the snakes up again.
Mrs. Fisher: What did they use in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS?
TF: Oh, darling, that...
Mrs. Fisher: That was marvellous!
AF: Actually it were stop frame models.
Mrs. Fisher: Was that what it was? It was marvellous.
TF: That's a long and tedious process. We couldn't afford it. And I wouldn't have used it in that film anyway. Because all you do when you see it, is to admire the skill with which it has been done, but you don't believe in it. Would you believe it? You have to believe in the situations in a film like THE GORGON, you can't have it ruined by unbelievable animation of any sort. It's no good you catch the attention of the audience and their imagination and then you can't make them accept it is true.
AF: I think film which mixes this kind of animation with live action is a different sort of film altogether. THE THIEF OF BAGDAD is a lovely film in that genre.
TF: Yes, a great film. A lovely film indeed.
AF: We saw it again on the box recently, with Miles Malleson. He actually did the script as well.
TF: Dear man... He was a tremendously professional actor and a very kind man.
GP: I loved him as the undertaker in DRACULA.
TF: Yes, that was good, wasn't it. And that again came purely by chance. While he was waiting in between takes he would say something funny and think of something else to follow that up in the conversation and he would go tapping on the coffins, and I said: "Keep it! This is tremendous!". It made the scene more macabre in a way.
AF: There's the other time when he was a jolly man in a macabre situation, the hangman in KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS.
AF: He was a very funny man. He had the advantage to look amusing.
TF: He wrote too, didn't he.
AF: Yes, he translated most of the French classics. He did the screenplay for Korda's THE THIEF OF BAGDAD and a lot of other Korda stuff. He also directed a couple of films.
TF: Did he? That's interesting, I didn't know.
AF: Yes, but way back and only shorts I think.
TF: He was a nice man...
JVG: I can see on your shelves that you have read a lot of Dennis Wheatley...
TF: Yes I have. I admire him as a writer. He's a little wordy, but the story content is always wonderful. And all of his novels are tremendously well-researched too.
JVG: Do you like the black magic contents?
TF: Yes I do. This is the same Good versus Evil content, isn't it.
JVG: With the devil himself as Evil.
TF: It's just another personification. Evil takes many forms.
JVG: Don't you think it's difficult to portray something utterly abstract, like a devil personified, on the screen?
TF: The devil can manifest himself in many ways. I mean, what does the devil really look like? The most beautiful woman in the world one moment and a horrible old man the next. Sometimes he even manifests himself as a child. The devil is purely the illusion of a personification, isn't it. How does Good manifest itself? How do you portray God, how do you portray the angels? It's merely a use of words, or rather of images instead of words, an interpretation of an idea... And so are we... Fables, allegories, that's what we really are...
JVG: The black magic and the devil in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT weren't very convincing in my opinion...
TF: When they all get gathered together you mean? What bothered you?
JVG: I think the visualization didn't have the strength to carry the idea.
TF: That's fair enough. What you mean is that it came too suddenly, out of a certain mood into an unbelievable mood of "Chase me, Charlie".
JVG: I thought the black magic wasn't made believable in the story.
TF: Didn't you believe in the black magic itself? Or do you think it was too easily overcome? Or was it the way the black magic was portrayed?
JVG: I didn't believe in the black magic as it was portrayed.
TF: You're quarreling with the whole situation, aren't you.
JVG: Yes indeed I am.
TF: I have no quarrel with the black magic scenes, I don't think so. The thing was beginning to build at that point wasn't it.
JVG: Yes it certainly was. But at that point I lost my belief in the situation...
TF: That's interesting. On the other hand, you believed the situation where Mocata is dealing with the girl in the house.
JVG: Yes of course. That scene was very well handled. The film is a superb thriller, with very good action and it had everything going for it. But the way in which the black magic elements were then visualized didn't always fit well into the action... I find it difficult to express exactly what I'm really getting at...
TF: You didn't believe in it while you were looking at it?
JVG: Yes, that's right.
TF: Then I failed.
JVG: Not at all. I think it was more due to the script really, to the story, to Dennis Wheatley...
TF: No, it wasn't... Did you like Charles Gray as Mocata?
JVG: Yes, very much so. In fact I actually liked all the actors, I liked everything the way it was acted and directed, and I don't believe there was anything wrong at all in that respect. I even think it is one of your very best films from that point of view, reminiscent in many ways of your first DRACULA. But unlike Dracula, I did not like the personification of Evil in it.
TF: You didn't like the appearance of Evil?
JVG: The devil personified for one thing, I didn't like. No way that man wearing a goat's head could have been the dreadful Evil Power which had control over everybody and everything. That was unbelievable, it broke the atmosphere and the action.
TF: That's interesting because it really was a true ritual of black magic.
JVG: Yes, I won't question that. But maybe that's exactly my point. It's something almost documentary inside a fantasy tale. THE DEVIL RIDES OUT is basically a fantasy tale and the black magic sequences were almost documentary.
TF: It depends on whether you call black magic fantasy. Do you mean within the story line?
JVG: Yes indeed, the story line was typical fantasy-like in structure, but the black magic elements were represented in a sort of documentary way, and in my opinion that didn't match well.
TF: The story line is not fantasy until Mocata appears on the scene. You have a perfectly normal family who gets suddenly involved in the black magic situation. Black magic isn't fantasy, whether it carried conviction to you and you believed it or not, that's not the matter. That cult was a manifestation of Evil. What could one have done for instance instead of the goat? This is the representation of Evil. I know what you're getting at, and it's indeed difficult. This is the power of Evil. They manifest their own horse, their own goat, their own devil sitting on a horse. The power of Evil makes them manifest their own Evil, doesn't it. It's probably too difficult to really relay that onto the screen.
JVG: Yes that's exactly what I mean. I never really understood whether those situations at the climax took place only in the imagination of the characters, or was for instance that horse really there?
TF: It was the manifestation of Death. The angel of death took Mocata. I know exactly what your objection is, and this is a question you'll have to ask people who practise black magic. Is this a physical manifestation? Can black magic produce an actual physical horse or is that horse just a figment, is it manifested as a supernatural being? Is it in the imagination? Is it a ghost? Or is it a
physical horse which you can give a slap on the back saying: "Naughty boy, go away!" My whole theory about how you portray these things is that they are all physical manifestations. In other words, that horse was a physical horse. This is a very difficult one. It isn't fantasy. It's between fantasy and reality, isn't it.
JVG: Yes, that's exactly what I mean... With this one crucial exception, there were a lot of similarities between this film and your first DRACULA.
TF: In what way?
JVG: Well, in structure, story line, atmosphere...
TF: I hope so in atmosphere. It should be similar in atmosphere because in DRACULA Dracula is the physical manifestation of Evil in exactly the same way.
JVG: Not in the same way, I can't agree to that. The difference to me lies in the suspension of disbelief. The question then whether the angel of death or the devil or Dracula are really real or not, is neither here nor there. I do accept the reality of Dracula every second while I'm watching that film, until the spell is broken by the end. Then I accept it as fantasy. That false realism, the suspension of disbelief, lifts your earlier Hammer films to a higher level. But I cannot in the same way believe in the physical manifestations of Evil in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT. I've seen the film quite a few times and I'm always shocked out of my involvement with the story and the characters. My suspension of disbelief is abruptly broken because I will never accept, as I did with Dracula, that the visualization of black magic is Evil personified like Dracula is. To me, here we have just a silly ordinary man dressed with a goat's head, or a horse uneffectively trying to scare me. I could be afraid of the real people behind it, who engage in black magic, but never, as they are visualized "true to reality" in the film, of their beliefs and their paraphernalia.
TF: I'm not really sure I could analytically explain it, I'm not pretending that I could. What I'm trying to say is what is behind it all, and I don't think I can.
AF: If you believe in the devil you can touch him, you can believe he takes your life, you can believe anything.
TF: Yes, exactly. Yes, he either takes your life or disappears. In other words, you come to the point: how real are we at this moment walking around in this physical body, which I don't believe is...
AF: It's only the brain which sends electrical charges...
TF: Yes, in other words, science is explaining away these things already to such an extent that they're coming to the point, or they will eventually come to the point where they're going to explain it away all. It will become understandable to us that we are not a physical human being walking about at all, but that we are, you could use the word...
AF: ...pure energy...
TF: Yes, pure energy indeed. I like to use the word 'thought': pure thought or pure thinking, but that's an electrical energy anyway.
AF: Thought itself are electrical charges. If the body dies, the brain dies and those electrical charges die too.
TF: Yes, but I don't believe that the brain as such is the evidence of living and being.
AF: I think the whole body is.
TF: Well, I don't think that any part of the body is. I think the whole body, including the brain, is a concept of the mind. I don't think thinking comes from the brain. I really believe that scientists will even explain away the whole physical body, the whole lot including the brain, and that thinking as
such is completely independent of the brain, as sight will be, and as touch will be. And that the manifestation of individuality will be an individuality of mental perception, not brain perception, but mental perception, in which you feel, see, move, be and exist, mentally. Not because of the brain but mentally, because I think thought or mind has nothing to do with the physical brain at all. I think it's a phoney belief in exactly the same way as... They only got now to the extent of saying that they can transplant a heart or a brain. In the end they will come to the point they will say: "What the hell are we worrying about the heart and the brain for? Let's educate people to realize that they don't exist in this body and don't think and don't see and don't touch and feel with this body." The first step is to take any person's brain and put it in a different body. That'll work. But it won't work really, of course, because the brain will reject the body eventually. Here we come
back to what we said about FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED...
TF: ...I think it was most interesting what we said about THE DEVIL RIDES OUT. I never admitted it, but probably... The whole thing is based on fact and it is consequently one of the most difficult ones to make. It is indeed quite different in that respect from the Frankenstein and Dracula myth. I'd love to do "Toby Jugg". You see, there you don't have the same difficulties and the emotional involvement and the character development go much deeper.
JVG: Yes, I think that's another or maybe the same reason why THE DEVIL RIDES OUT didn't appeal to me as much as your other films did. The story lacks their passion and strong emotions, the John Elder touch, because Dennis Wheatley in the first place didn't develop those in his documentary, laborious, almost clinical approach to the subject. There wasn't much emotional development in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, was there?
TF: No, there wasn't. That's right. That's fair enough. I do agree with you. I hope they come off as a very typical group of people who became suddenly involved in black magic things which they didn't understand. Yes... "Toby Jugg" actually would be easier to make from that point of view
because the appeareances of black magic as such... What appearances are there in "Toby Jugg"?
AF: Shadows at the windows...
TF: Shadows at the windows! Please!
AF: Most scary of them all...
TF: Most scary of them all, indeed. It would be much easier to make. I'd love to do it. Let's see what the future brings...