4 Things Artists Can Learn from Terence Fisher

If you do any kind of research into the best horror films ever made, you’ll eventually hear about the works of Terence Fisher.

Fisher directed a number of excellent horror films for a company called Hammer Studios in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Many of these films starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, usually as two characters fighting each other.

For example, in the acclaimed 1958 movie Dracula, Lee plays the vampire and Cushing plays the man trying to destroy him.

What few people know is that Fisher was a practicing Anglican, and his horror films are filled with Christian symbols and ideas (I highly recommend Paul Legget’s book on Fisher if you want the full story on that).

1. If the Story’s Dark, Make it Dark 

Although Fisher hated the term “horror” and like to say his movies were really “fairy tales for adults,” he didn’t shirk from the dark stuff.

When a movie’s plot had scary scenes, he made those scenes scary and dark, usually in ways that still work today.

Too often, contemporary Christian artists don’t follow this principle.

They try to look away from evil all the time.

The truth is many things in life that are scary, and we need to recognize that in order to learn how to deal with it.

If we make stories about evil and don’t show how powerful evil can be, we risk making them seem simplistic, something we don’t really have to face.

2. Compelling Dark Stories Have Light and Dark Moments

Although Fisher didn’t avoid darkness in his work, he didn’t try to make every single scene scary either.

There are plenty of comedic or happy moments in his films, people doing normal things like eating dinner.

This makes us care about the main characters, so when dark things happen we care that they’re in danger and want to see them survive.

As tempting as it is to avoid darkness in a story that needs it, there’s the opposite extreme where we try to make the entire story dark.

Usually, even a scary story will have happy or peaceful moments, and doing those correctly can make the whole story work better.

3. Making Evil Look Attractive Doesn’t Always Mean Praising It

One of Fisher’s signature moves in his films was that he always portrayed evil as something that could seem beautiful.

In his vampire movies, the heroes often get defeated or sidetracked by attractive female vampires. 

In his Frankenstein movies, Victor Frankenstein is a well-dressed, intelligent man who looks normal but once you get to know him you discover he has twisted ideas.

However, Fisher always finds ways to make it clear these people are dangerous.

If you’re careful, you can have evil characters that look good and yet make it clear their actions aren’t excusable.

By doing that, you show people how tricky evil can be, remind them to be on their guard.

4. Stories Can Talk About God Without Being Obvious

Some of Fisher’s films have clear Christian symbols, but others (particularly the Frankenstein ones), describe Christian ideas in a different way.

In these films, Victor Frankenstein is portrayed as a man trying to defy God with his experiments.

There’s even a great scene in Frankenstein Created Woman where he stands in a witness box at a murder trial, skimming a Bible with a bored look on his face.

The experiments always go downhill though, showing the kind of destruction

You don’t necessarily have to use the word “god” or use symbols that represent him to make a movie Christian.

You can set the movie up in other ways that make it clear you’re talking about morality (specifically a Judeo-Christian morality).


Do you have a favorite horror filmmaker who uses Christian themes? Let me know in the comment section, I’d like to hear about it.


Image Source: http://petercushingblog.blogspot.com/2015/02/director-terence-fisher-man-who-told-us.html

5 thoughts on “4 Things Artists Can Learn from Terence Fisher

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