British screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, who changed the course of the horror genre in the 1950s with his scripts for Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula and The Mummy, died in London au August 19, at the age of 83.
With The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Sangster successfully toyed with horror tradition by making Peter Cushing’s mad doctor the film’s focus, instead of his cadaverous creation, which had long been the norm during Universal horror’s golden age throughout its run of Frankenstein films, and Sangster would pen two more entries, The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) and The Horror of Frankenstein (1970).
“Without Sangster’s contribution, his brilliantly economic scripts which pushed the censors to their limits, the horror scene today would be very different,” says Hammer historian and author Robert J.E. Simpson, who notes that in the ’50s the British Board of Film Censors pre-approved a film’s script before it was shot. “Jimmy is the father of modern horror cinema.”
Born in North Wales in 1927, Sangster’s first significant film industry job, as third assistant director for a British cheapie, came after his tour of duty in the Royal Air Force ended during WWII. Before writing his first script for Hammer, X: The Unknown (1956), Sangster worked a number of film jobs, everything from gofer to clapper boy, which Simpson claims gave him unique insight into film production. “He didn’t throw away money needlessly at the scripting stage on concepts that the company couldn’t afford to turn into reality. Even when his dialogue clunks, his pace is unrelenting.”
Sangster always preferred his psychological thrillers (1963’s Paranoiac, 1965’s The Nanny) over his monster films. With Taste of Fear (1961), a reworking of Henri-George Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955), Simpson notes that he revolutionized horror once again. “[He gave Hammer] one of their finest productions and launched a run of Hitchcockian thrillers at a time when the gothic were starting to fall out of favour.”
This article originally appeared in Rue Morgue Magazine, #116, published October, 2011.