The Mondo Esoterica Guide to:

Freddie Francis

  About Freddie Francis:

Born in 1917 in London, Francis' made his first break into cinema as an on set stills photographer in the mid 1930s, and soon trained as a camera operator before joining the British Army film unit in 1939, where he worked for the duration. After the war he went back to working as a camera operator on a variety of British made films, including the Powell and Pressburger productions The Elusive Pimpernel (1950) and Tales of Hoffmann (1951), and the all star John Huston films Beat the Devil (1953) with Humphrey Bogart and Moby Dick (1956) with Gregory Peck. The same year he graduated to the role of cinematographer on the Korea war film A Hill in Korea (1956), and continued to work for several years on a variety of well regarded films including Room at the Top (1959) and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), climaxing with Sons and Lovers (1960) for director Jack Cardiff, which won him an Oscar. The next year he worked on the hard hitting drama Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1961) for Hammer films, and made his directoral debut on the otherwise forgotten comedy film Two and Two Make Six (1962), followed by some uncredited extra scenes for the British horror classic Day of the Triffids (1962), and an Anglo-German co-production The Brain (1962).

With his directoral talent now established, Hammer's head producer Anthony Hinds invited Francis to come back and work for the studio to helm their latest production Paranoiac (1962) starring Oliver Reed. The film was the second of Hammer's Jimmy Sangster scripted psycho-thrillers (after Taste of Fear (1961)), produced by the studio to re-establish themselves after the failure of their gothic horrors in the early 1960s (most notably Terence Fisher's Phantom of the Opera (1962)). It was a success and he returned to shoot the equally effective Nightmare (1964) and the little known thriller, Hysteria (1965). When their return to gothic horror, Kiss of the Vampire (1963) proved a success, Hammer elected to shoot another entry to their popular Frankenstein series entitled Evil of Frankenstein (1964) with Peter Cushing returning to the studio after a two year absense to reprise his iconic role, although this proved much less successful, and is often considered to be the worst of the series - Francis was unable to capture the same gothic atmosphere as Fisher could. Later in the year, Francis would team up with Sangster again outside of Hammer, on the German produced Edgar Wallace thriller, Traitor's Gate (1964) starring Klaus Kinski.

His work with Hammer brought Francis to the attention of the American filmmakers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg who had come to Britain in the late 1950s with the script that would eventually become Hammer's breakthough horror film Curse of Frankenstein (1957). After the success of their own horror film City of the Dead (1960) with Christopher Lee, the duo established a fulltime production firm in Britain known as Amicus. Francis was brought in to direct the studio's first horror film, the portmanteau story Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) with the classic Hammer pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and he also helmed their next production, The Skull (1965), again with Cushing and Lee, alongside British character actors Nigel Green, Michael Gough and Patrick Wymark. The films were very successful as Francis was considered part of the team, but already cracks were appearing between the director and co-owner Milton Subotsky, with Francis rewriting and altering several parts of the script, and Subotsky rubbishing his work, making a lot of subsequent changes in the post-production editing.

Despite this feuding however, Francis continued to work for Amicus, shooting their thriller The Psychopath (1966) and nature run amuk sci-fi film The Killer Bees (1966), although again he found little favour with the American co-producer, rewriting the entire script while Subotsky was in hospital - only the insistence of the backers, Paramount Pictures, saw Francis retained on the film, and he described the production as so traumatic as to make him consider leaving the profession. Fortunately he remained and went on to shoot Torture Garden (1968), with Amicus finally returning to their successful anthology format, and Peter Cushing unusually third billed behind imported American stars Jack Palance and Burgess Meredith. Despite the less than impressive result of his previous Hammer gothic horror title, he returned to direct Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), the third part of their classic Christopher Lee series which was much more successful. After helming a few episodes of the popular ITC adventure series, including The Saint and Man in a Suitcase, his last film of the decade was the independent horror comedy, Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly (1969) which he has described as the favourite of all his directoral work, but which sadly received very poor distibution, and remains almost unknown.

More horror followed into the 1970s, with Francis working first on the dire monster movie Trog (1970) and the ultra low-budget German gothic-horror themed sex-comedy Vampire Happening (1971). Despite his problems with Milton Subotsky, the director would make one more film for Amicus - Tales from the Crypt (1972) based on the popular EC Comics, with the studio again returning to their trademark anthology format after failing with some experimental projects (namely the 3-D I, Monster (1971)). Peter Cushing as usual starred, taking second billing this time to Joan Collins, and despite being one of the poorer Amicus anthology films (and receiving suitably bad reviews), it was massively successful on both sides of the Atlantic and the second biggest grossing film of the year, behind The Godfather (1972) - despite this, Francis would never again work with the studio. However the next year he did co-script and direct the similarly themed portmanteau horror film Tales that Witness Madness (1973), again starring Joan Collins, but it proved to be an unsucessful venture.

British horror was in slow decline during the decade but Francis went
on to direct several smaller projects through the 1970s. Tigon's The Creeping Flesh (1973), was a rather derivative but quite effective gothic horror film harking back to the genre's heyday a decade earlier, mostly successful due to its pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in one of their last horror pairings, he followed this with Ringo Starr's musical horror film Son of Dracula (1974) and the Jack Palance vehicle Craze (1974). His son Kevin Francis had established a small production company, Tyburn Films, and Freddie was employed to direct two Legend of the Werewolf (1975) and The Ghoul (1975) - Peter Cushing starred in both these impoverished productions that have little to recommend them. He worked briefly on the little known Sylvia Anderson television series Star Maidens (1976) before ceasing work for the rest of the decade.

A big change came in the 1980s when Francis returned to Hollywood and he resumed his original role as cinematographer, gaining his first credit on David Lynch's impressive Elephant Man (1980) before working on the dramatic television film The Executioner's Song (1982) and Lynch's poorly conceived Dune (1984) - Francis himself expressed his dislike for the effects driven nature of the film. He returned to the director's chair for the last times to helm the low rated Burke and Hare adaptation, Doctor and the Devils (1985) starring Timothy Dalton, and the little known horror/thriller Dark Tower (1987) with Jenny Agutter. The dramatic American Civil War movie Glory (1989) saw Francis back as a cinematographer, and he was awarded an Oscar for his work. Work followed on Martin Scorsese's effective horror remake Cape Fear (1991) and a few smaller productions, before his final credit came as cinematographer on David Lynch's unexpected hit, The Straight Story (1999). Retiring from the industry at the age of 82, he continued to work, as the chairman of the British Society of Cinematographers for two years, and later founding a scholarship for new film-makers. He passed away in March 2007.

As a film-maker, Francis had two seemingly seperate lives, firstly as a popular cinematographer in the both the late 1950s, and the 1980s, working on a number of highly rated films and winning two Oscars, but secondly as a cult movie director, working on some of the best British horror films of the era, and some of the worst. On either side he has remained a well respected name, and his work is rightfully acclaimed.

DVD Reviews: Films directed by Freddie Francis

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)
Anchor Bay UK Region 2 DVD
The first of the studio's anthology horror films is quite hit and miss, but always enjoyable, with a good cast.
Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
US Universal Region 1 DVD (Hammer Horror Series Boxset)
Suffers from a bad looking monster, and relatively average performances - direction is good, but lacking.
Watchable but not recommended.
Nightmare (1964)
US Universal Region 1 DVD (Hammer Horror Series Boxset)
Another well written psycho-thriller from Jimmy Sanger, strongly directed by Francis in black-and-white.
Paranoiac (1963)
US Universal Region 1 DVD (Hammer Horror Series Boxset)
A cleverly written Jimmy Sangster thriller with some strong direction and a superb performance from Oliver Reed.
Tales from the Crypt (1972)
US Fox Region 1 DVD
The studio's biggest success, and some great directing but a rather weakly written film, with some real duds.
Worth watching for Peter Cushing's chapter alone.
Torture Garden (1967)
UK Sony Region 2 DVD
A typcial Amicus portmanteau horror, boasting two good stories, and two less impressive. With an unusual cast, including Jack Palace.
Recommended for fans of the studio.


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All text in this site written by Timothy Young - September 2007.
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