Freddie Francis, a true Icon of Fright, Dies at 89. Acclaimed Cinematographer/Hammer Studios Director
Legendary cinematographer and director Freddie Francis passed away at age 89 yesterday. Francis worked on many, many horror films during his long career, including "The Evil of Frankenstein", "The Innocents", and the original 1972 British "Tales from the Crypt" film.
Born in London, England, Francis was originally on the way to a career in engineering. He left school at age 16, becoming an apprentice to a stills photographer. This led to him successively becoming a clapper boy, camera loader and focus puller.
In 1939, Francis joined the Army, where he would spend the next seven years. About this, Francis said, "Most of the time I was with various film units within the service, so I got quite a bit of experience in all sorts of jobs, including being a cameraman and editing and generally being a jack of all trades."
Upon his return to civilian life, Francis spent the next 10 years working as a camera operator. Some of the films he worked on during this period include The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), Beat the Devil (1953), and Moby Dick (1956); he was a frequent collaborator with cinematographers Christopher Challis (nine films) and Oswald Morris (five films).
After Moby Dick, Francis became a full-time cinematographer, handling such prestige pictures as Room at the Top (1959), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Sons and Lovers (1960), and The Innocents (1961).
Following his Academy Award win for Sons and Lovers, Francis began his career as director of feature films. For the next 20-plus years, Francis worked continuously as a director of low-budget films, most of them in the genres of horror or psycho-thriller.
Beginning in 1963 with Paranoiac, Francis made numerous films for Hammer throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These films included thrillers like Nightmare (1964) and Hysteria (1965), as well as more traditional monster movies such as The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. On his apparent typecasting as a director of these types of movies, Francis said, "Horror films have liked me more than I have liked horror films."
Also in the ’60s, Francis began an association with Amicus Productions, another studio which, like Hammer, specialized in horror pictures. Most of the films Francis made for Amicus were anthologies such as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1968) and Tales from the Crypt.
Of the films Francis directed, one of his favourites was Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly (1970). Mumsy… was a black comedy about an isolated upper class family whose relationships and behaviors came equipped with deadly consequences. The film was not very well received by mainstream critics, but has gone on to become a minor cult favourite amongst fans.
In 1985, Francis directed The Doctor and the Devils, which is based on the crimes of Burke and Hare.
Francis’s last film as director was The Dark Tower (1986) (no relation to the 2004 book of the same name by Stephen King).
Return to cinematography
With The Elephant Man (1980), Francis found himself gaining new-found industry and critical respect as a cinematographer. During the 1980s he worked on films like The Executioner’s Song (1982), DuneGlory (1989), which earned him his second Academy Award. (1984) and
In 1991, Francis provided the cinematography for the critical favourite The Man in the Moon as well as Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear. His final film as cinematographer was David Lynch’s The Straight Story, which he shot on location in Iowa in 23 days.
- Mine Own Executioner (1947)
- Room at the Top (1958)
- Sons and Lovers (1960)
- The Innocents (1961)
- The Elephant Man (1980)
- The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)
- Dune (1984)
- Glory (1989)
- Cape Fear (1991)
- The Straight Story (1999)
- The Evil of Frankenstein (Hammer, 1963)
- Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (Amicus, 1964)
- Nightmare (1964)
- The Skull (Amicus, 1965)
- Torture Garden (Amicus, 1968)
- Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (Hammer, 1968)
- Trog (Herman Cohen Productions, 1970)
- Tales From The Crypt (Amicus,1972)