Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Fisher, Terence (1904-1980)

Director, Writer, Editor

Main image of Fisher, Terence (1904-1980)

Terence Fisher's critical reputation rests almost entirely on the horror films he directed for Hammer in the 1950s and 1960s, but he was a more versatile filmmaker than his horror output suggests. Born in London on 23 February 1904, he served in the Merchant Navy before entering the film industry in 1933. From 1936 to 1947 he worked as a film editor for a variety of production companies, with his best-known project probably the Gainsborough melodrama The Wicked Lady (d. Leslie Arliss, 1945). His first three films as director - Colonel Bogey (1947), To the Public Danger and Song for Tomorrow (both 1948) - were short dramas produced at Highbury Studio, which was being used by the Rank Organisation to develop new talent. To the Public Danger, an impressively staged adaptation of a Patrick Hamilton radio play, was the best of these, and some critics have retrospectively seen it as anticipating Fisher's later horror work. As a further sign of things to come, future Hammer star Christopher Lee made a brief appearance in Song for Tomorrow.

After Highbury, Fisher moved to Gainsborough where he directed (or co-directed with Antony Darnborough) four feature films. As with To the Public Danger, horror critics have identified the period mystery drama So Long at the Fair (1950), Fisher's final Gainsborough film, as a horror-like project. But Fisher's other Gainsborough films reveal him to be a talented director adept at a range of subjects - the plight of post-war refugees in Portrait from Life, tragic romance in the Noël Coward vehicle The Astonished Heart (1949) and light comedy in the portmanteau drama Marry Me! (1949).

When Gainsborough closed in the early 1950s, Fisher became a prolific specialist in the low-budget support feature that was becoming an increasingly important aspect of British film production. None of these films, nineteen in total, were strikingly original but some of them - notably the melodrama Stolen Face (1952) and the SF drama Four-Sided Triangle (1953) - contained flashes of talent and ambition. Eleven of these films were made for Hammer, an up-and-coming independent production company with which Fisher's future career would become inextricably linked. When Hammer decided in the mid-1950s to remodel itself as a horror factory, Fisher became its main director. He was part of the team that produced all the 'classic' Hammer horrors - including The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) - and his measured and stately style was a key aspect of the Hammer formula.

Given the low budgets involved and the breakneck production schedules, the quality of these films was inevitably uneven, but some of them, and especially Dracula, were remarkable achievements, albeit ones that were not generally feted by critics at the time of their initial appearance. After the box-office failure of The Phantom of the Opera (1962), Fisher worked less often for Hammer, although his later Hammer films arguably comprise his best work, reflecting as they do both a technical maturity and a willingness to innovate. Although Fisher is regularly accused of representing a conservative moralistic force within British horror, films like Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) and The Devil Rides Out (1968) show a tentative and questioning attitude to social authority and morality.

Fisher's other films from the 1960s - the SF invasion fantasies The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), Island of Terror (1966) and Night of the Big Heat (1967), and a German-produced Sherlock Holmes story - are less successful although interesting nevertheless. Fisher's final film, the Hammer production Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, was completed in 1972 (although not released until 1974).

Fisher received very little critical attention throughout his career. Ironically, as that career ended, the publication in 1973 of A Heritage of Horror, David Pirie's book-length study of the British horror film, led to a re-appraisal of his work. Since that time, Fisher has come to be seen as a major British film director, especially so far as his horror films are concerned, and as someone who embodies the virtues of a popular British genre cinema. It is still the case, however, that Fisher's pre-horror work has not received the critical attention it merits. Terence Fisher died on 18 June 1980.

Dixon, Wheeler Winston, The Charm of Evil: The Life and Films of Terence Fisher (London: Scarecrow Press, 1991)
Fisher, Terence, 'Horror is my business', Films and Filming, July 1964, p. 8
Hutchings, Peter, Terence Fisher (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001)
Meikle, Dennis, A History of Horrors: The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer (London: Scarecrow Press, 1996)
Pirie, David, A Heritage of Horror (London: Gordon Fraser, 1973)

Peter Hutchings, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Curse of Frankenstein, The (1957)Curse of Frankenstein, The (1957)

Breakthrough horror that made stars of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee

Thumbnail image of Dracula (1958)Dracula (1958)

Christopher Lee stars in the first colour telling of the classic vampire tale

Thumbnail image of Dracula Prince of Darkness (1965)Dracula Prince of Darkness (1965)

Christopher Lee's second appearance as Bram Stoker's vampire count

Thumbnail image of Gorgon, The (1964)Gorgon, The (1964)

Hammer branches out with its first female monster movie

Thumbnail image of Hound of the Baskervilles, The (1959)Hound of the Baskervilles, The (1959)

Typically full-blooded Hammer Sherlock Holmes, with Peter Cushing

Thumbnail image of Wicked Lady, The (1945)Wicked Lady, The (1945)

A bored Margaret Lockwood finds fulfilment through highway robbery

Thumbnail image of Windbag the Sailor (1936)Windbag the Sailor (1936)

Will Hay comedy that puts him in charge of a most unseaworthy vessel

Thumbnail image of Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1955-59)Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1955-59)

Hugely popular series that gave a ratings boost to the early ITV

Thumbnail image of Sword of Freedom (1958-61)Sword of Freedom (1958-61)

Artist-swordsman del Monte takes on the Medicis in Renaissance Florence

Related collections

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Cushing, Peter (1913-1994)Cushing, Peter (1913-1994)


Thumbnail image of Lee, Christopher (1922-)Lee, Christopher (1922-)