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Freddie Francis, Horror Director and Award Winning Cinematographer - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

May 2010

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Reading about cinematographer/director Freddie Francis in film publications, you could come to the conclusion he was a Jekyll and Hyde-character: Depending if the magazine is high brow or fan-operated, he is either described as a brilliant director of photography who only worked with the best but who had a shameful past in horror cinema, or he was a likeable to borderline ingenious genre director who after the decline and eventual demise of British horror cinema had to shoulder a camera to make a few bucks ... and eventually he won an Oscar (his second) rather by chance.


The truth of course lies somewhere in-between: Even before his career as a (genre) director, Francis had made himself quite a reputation as a director of photography and had won his first Oscar. As he had worked his way up in the industry from clapper boy, it was somehow inevitable that he would eventually land in the director's chair - and for some reason or other, he soon became attached to the horror genre (or did the genre become attached to him?). But while his films were usually just genre fodder and could have profited from better, more sophisticated, more original scripts (which is not to say Francis' films were not pretty good as what they were), they were at the same time almost flawless in the visual department, and effortlessly managed to combine atmosphere and playfulness into a coherent whole.

On top of that, as a director (much more than as a cinematographer), Francis had to see where he got the money from and what he got the money for, and if that was primarily genre output for horror studios, so be it ...

And then there's of course the fact that (especially in his second career) as cinematographer, not all the films he made were as high-brow as names like David Lynch or Martin Scorsese might suggest: Sure, his films for Lynch (Elephant Man [1980], Dune [1984], The Straight Story [1999]) are all great films (even if genre fans love to hate Dune, probably without even having seen it), but Cape Fear (1991) is not exactly the film Scorsese will be forever remembered by, the Tom Selleck-Paulina Porizkova-vehicle Her Alibi (1989, Bruce Beresford) and the Brooke Shields-Timothy Dalton-starrer Brenda Starr (1989, Robert Ellis Miller) are anything but classics, and even Francis' second Oscar film Glory (1989, Edward Zwick) isn't totally kitsch-free - even if the shortcomings of all of these films are hardly Freddie Francis's fault of course.

But as usual, I'm getting far ahead of myself, let's start at the beginning ...



Early Life, Early Career


Born in 1917 in Islington, London, England, Freddie Francis initially set out to become an engineer. An essay he wrote at school about films of the future which won him a scholarship to the North-West Polytechnic in Kentish Town already showed the shape of things to come though, and at 16 he dropped out of school to become the apprentice of a stills photographer. He quickly rose through the ranks, soon becoming a still photographer himself, then clapperboy, camera loader and focus puller.

In 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, Freddie Francis joined the army, where he was soon assigned to the Army Kinematograph Unit at Wembley as a cameraman and director, which is where he truly learned all aspects of his trade.


After the end of the war, Freddie Francis returned to civilian life as a camera operator, as which he soon rose to the top of his profession, working for such big names as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Small Back Room [1949], Gone to Earth/The Wild Heart and The Elusive Pimpernel [both 1950], The Tales of Hoffmann [1951], Twice Upon a Time [1953, this was a Pressburger-solo-effort], The Sorcerer's Apprentice [1955, a Powell-solo-effort]), Carol Reed (Outcast of the Island [1952]), John Huston (Moulin Rouge [1952], Beat the Devil [1953]), and René Clément (Monsieur Ripois [1954]).



Freddie Francis, Cinematographer - Part 1


With Francis excelling in his job as a mere camera operator, it was only a question of time until he would take the next step on the career ladder, becoming a cinematographer - which meant of course having (a certain) creative control over the camerawork instead of just holding the camera under someone else's command.


Francis' career as a cinematographer sort of began with John Huston's Moby Dick (1956), on which he still worked as a camera operator but also was the director of photography of the second unit work.


Freddie Francis finally came into his own as a director of photography in 1956 with A Hill in Korea/Hell in Korea (Julian Amyes), a relatively routine war movie that deserves mention mainly for giving a young Michael Caine his first credited film role.


Francis's assignments soon got better though, with films like Joseph Losey's Time Without Pity (1957), The Scamp (1957, Wolf Rilla), Charles Crichton's The Battle of the Sexes (1959) starring Peter Sellers, the Hammer courtroom drama Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960, Cyril Frankel) - Hammer would become a very important studio later in Francis's career -, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960, Karl Reisz) and of course Sons and Lovers (1960, Jack Cardiff), for which he won an Oscar for best (black and white) cinematography.


(Arguably) More defining for his later career than his Oscar-winner though must have been Jack Clayton's Henry James-adaptation The Innocents (1961), Francis's introduction to the horror genre, which he also considered his finest work up to then.


By the early 1960's, Freddie Francis had mastered the art of (black and white) cinematography, for which his Oscar is of course only proof. Francis' quality was that he did not just photograph whatever was thrown at him, but use the camera and lighting to create atmosphere, and even tension and suspense at times, in a word his visuals always served the narrative as best as they could - and thus it was inevitable that Francis would eventually take the next step and move into the director's chair, circa 1962, and in the next almost 20 years, he would only return to cinematography once, for Night Must Fall (1964), mainly out of respect for that movie's director Karl Reisz.



Freddie Francis, Director - Part 1 (the 1960's)


Especially in hindsight, Freddie Francis' first film as a director seems to be an odd choice, genre wise - the romantic comedy Two and Two Make Six (1962), and later he himself admitted that he wasn't too happy with the outcome, and didn't even like the script he was given all that much, yet figured as the celebrated cinematographer that he was he could make something worthwhile out of everything ... but sadly failed (which he also later admitted).


Two and Two Make Six was (allegedly) followed by some uncredited additional work on Day of the Triffids (1962, Steve Sekely), but there is no actual record concerning the amount of Francis' work on that film, or even his actual function, and since visually, Day of the Triffids has little to do with Francis' other work, his contribution probably was neglectable.


The British/West German co-production The Brain/Ein Toter sucht seinen Mörder (1962) however was the first film in which Francis really showed his mastery: Being based on Curt Siodmak's already twice-filmed novel Donavan's Brain [Curt Siodmak bio - click here], Francis turns his source material into an elegantly filmed, atmospheric and suspenseful murder mystery with science fiction undercurrents (a brain kept alive in a jar and the like), a film that looks much better than its slightly pulpy script might suggest (though if pulp horror is your thing, you will love the movie for its plot as well).

It should be noted here that Freddie Francis did not like to be pigeonholed as a horror director, and did not have any particular affinity to the genre (or so he said later in life) - but it's of course also true that no other genre is in such need of atmosphere as horror, thus his directorial style veered towards the genre almost naturally ...


Francis' elegant and highly effective genre effort The Brain caught the eyes of the heads of Hammer, then the leading horror production house of the UK by a longshot, and it wasn't long before Francis was offered two black and white thrillers by the studio, at a time when the studio already filmed mostly in colour: Paranoiac (1963) and Nightmare (1964). Both of these films are very effective and again elegant mysteries/suspense pieces that Hammer made at the time besides their more famous gothics to cash in on the success of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Of course, neither of these films was any real competition on a quality level to Hitchcock's classic, but they were very decent genre efforts nevertheless.


Hammer also assigned Freddie Francis to make his first colour film, The Evil of Frankenstein, later in 1964 - and Francis created a quite passable film, too, injecting black humour and a certain light-footedness into one of the studio's signature series ... which is exactly why in the eyes of many (not in my eyes though), The Evil of Frankenstein is pretty much a failure and Freddie Francis a lesser director than Terence Fisher [Terence Fisher bio - click here], who has made the Frankenstein-saga into one of Hammer's hottest properties with Curse of Frankenstein (1957).

The truth lies somewhere else of course: Fisher was always dead serious about his horror films, which almost invariably revolved around big subjects like good-vs-evil, and his direction, while elegant, was also very straightforward as if to emphasize on that.

Freddie Francis on the other hand was above all else a very visual, less story-driven director, and especially with his transition into colour, he also became very playful, stylistically, and often his movies used circus-, sideshow- and carneval-elements, which in turn of course made the films much more light-hearted than Fisher's, and while he was able to create atmosphere just as well as Fisher, his emphasis was more diffuse and less focussed on the very central themes of humanity.

That's not to say though that The Evil of Frankenstein is a better film than Fisher's Curse of Frankenstein, because it clearly isn't, it's just to explain that these two directors had very little (but their signature genre) in common and why Terence Fisher found his home in Hammer while Francis eventually moved on to put his stamp on another British horror studio's output, Amicus [Amicus history - click here] - but more about that below.


Before Freddie Francis moved to Amicus, he made a film for German production company Rialto, Das Verrätertor/Traitor's Gate (1964), part of the studio's Edgar Wallace-series - and one of the few films of the series actually co-produced with a British production house. Traitor's Gate however is not one of Francis' better films, as though scripted by Francis' frequent collaborator at Hammer, Jimmy Sangster, was a bit of a convoluted mess on a narrative level, plus Rialto put too much of their own stylistic seal onto the film to allow Francis much creative freedom, plus the film being a heist movie, Francis was a bit of a fish out of water.


After Traitor's Gate though, Francis would make the film that would ultimately become his signature film - but first a little background information: In the early 1960's, American film producers Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg came to the UK to relocate their operations here for both artistic and financial reasons. Eventually, they founded a studio called Amicus [Amicus history - click here] and produced a handful of musicals for the teen-market, which were not exactly failures but also no big successes both on an artistic and on a financial level. But the early-to-mid 1960's were also the time when rival studio Hammer was putting out one horror movie after the next, all to great audience approval. Subotsky, who was in charge of the artistic aspects of Amicus, had always been a fan of the macabre, and he figured he could come up with something that could at once cash in on the success Hammer had with its horror output and be different enough in approach to not be a mere cash-in. Always having been a fan of short stories with surprise/twist endings, Subotsky resurrected the concept of the horror anthology (or omnibus movie, as the Amicus-anthologies came to be known), which was besides all else something Hammer had never tried. Of course, Subotsky also did not want to stray too far from the usual Hammer-productions with his concept either, thus several Hammer-regulars were hired, first and foremost of course Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and a prolific Hammer-director was brought in to handle the direction ... which of course leads us back to Freddie Francis.


Freddie Francis was probably the perfect choice to handle omnibus movies, given his light-footed and playful approach to directing, his attention to macabre detail rather big themes and even his predilection for circus, sideshow and carneval elements.

The first omnibus movie - and arguably also the best - was called Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), an extremely likeable and highly entertaining mix of genre clichés ranging from voodoo to vampires, werewolves to climbing plants, framed by a story of Death himself (Peter Cushing) taking a quintet of train passengers to the beyond, and it was at least in part Freddie Francis' achievement that the film became quite as good as it was, a light-hearted yet macabre and at times even ironic journey through genre mainstays.


With Hysteria (1965), Francis returned to Hammer for another black-and-white thriller pretty much in tune with Paranoiac and Nightmare, but with Dr. Terror's House of Horrors it had already become clear that Francis had found his creative home with Amicus (though he never worked for that studio exclusively).


Amicus, it should be noted here, would eventually become famous first and foremost for their omnibus movies (and for a good reason), but after Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, the studio did not immediately embrace the formula but had Francis try his hands on a handful of movies with feature length narratives, covering the various subgenres of horror:

  • The Skull (1965) is a supernatural thriller in which Peter Cushing plays a collector of macabre memorabilia who falls victim to his latest acquisition, the skull of Marquis de Sade.
  • The Psychopath (1966) is essentially a murder mystery with horror elements.
  • The animal horror The Deadly Bees (1967) was quite obviously inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), and even if Hitchcock's film is slightly overrated, Francis' film is no match for it.
  • They Came from Beyond Space (1967) is an a tad silly and at best so-so alien invasion flick - and science fiction never was either Amicus' or Freddie Francis' strength to begin with.

Now none of these films was an actual box office failure or an artistic disaster, but they were of varying quality, and while they helped establish Amicus as the only serious competition to Hammer considering horror movies and pigeonhole Freddie Francis as a horror director (something he was not too happy about), they're at the same time no classics, and deservedly so, and the fact that most of them have been re-issued countless times on video and DVD is more due to nostalgia than due to their actual status in cinema history.


In 1967 though, Amicus decided to dust off its (by now only 2 years old) omnibus horror formula and give Freddie Francis another crack at making a horror anthology - Torture Garden.

This time, Francis' love for sideshows becomes even more apparent as the whole framing story (basically the devil predicting the macabre deaths of a bunch of people) is set in one. Perfectly acted and directed in Francis' usual light-footed and playful style, Torture Garden is nevertheless no match for Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, mainly due to a terribly uneven script by the much overrated Robert Bloch (who by the way also had his hands in the writing of Francis' The Skull, The Psychopath and The Deadly Bees). Nevertheless, Torture Garden is still good fun to say the least.


In the latter part of the 1960's though, British horror was increasingly losing momentum, which is why Francis did not make another film for Amicus for the rest of the decade, and the studio itself turned its attentions away from horror for the most part (but with little success [Amicus history - click here]).

Francis in the meantime returned to Hammer, turning out a passable yet less than great series film, Dracula has Risen from Grave (1968), with which he took another series over from Terence Fisher [Terence Fisher bio - click here], against whom he would again lose out in direct comparison (but direct comparison only).

Francis also tried his hands on slapstick comedy with the dialogue-free short The Intrepid Mr. Twigg (1968) starring Roy Castle, but with his signature genre on (temporary) decline, Francis soon turned his attention to television, directing episodes of such series as Man in a Suitcase (1967, '68), The Saint (1967, '69) starring Roger Moore and The Champions (1968), but his television efforts of the time are uniformly less than memorable.



Freddie Francis, Director - Part 2 (the 1970's)


The 1960's might not have ended on a memorable note for Freddie Francis the director, but his first film of the 1970's is all but more of the same: Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly/Girly (1970) is a deliciously weird, bizarre, absurd, even surreal film that's basically about a family of homicidal maniacs trying to lead a picture postcard perfect life - and even when the family members start to murder each other over a man (Michael Bryant), they do their best to keep up appearances.

Now this film is based on a wonderful play by Maisie Mosco, is possibly the best-scripted film Francis ever made, and could have been his break away from the horror mold and into the arthouses all around the world - but the outcome is a film that shows above all Francis' shortcomings as a director: Sure enough he delivers a competent job and does not stand in the way of his movie's plot, and he obviously knows how to handle his excellent cast - but his directorial effort is also very conventional and a bit old-fashioned concerning the outrageousness of the screenplay even ... and thus he does pretty much nothing to enhance the other-worldliness of the film, instead treats it like a typical thriller with spots of black humour. That all said, Girly is still a pretty good film, but it is not the masterpiece it could/should have been ...


If Girly was a highlight in Francis' career though, his very next film, Trog (1970), was quite the opposite: There is nothing of the weirdness, the absurdity, the arthouse ambitions that made Girly into something unique in Trog, instead we are presented with the silly tale of the missing link come back to life in the 20th century and the attempts of a doctor (Joan Crawford, whose last film this was) to tame the beast - until it of course goes on a rampage thanks to baddie Michael Gough and has to be shot. That the film was produced by schlockmeister Herman Cohen of I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957, Gene Fowler jr) fame should already speak for itself, and as soon as you see the cheap rubber-apemask the missing link is wearing, you pretty much know what you're in for. The problems with the film are not only the basic premise and the bad monster mask though, but also the fact that it takes itself way too seriously and tries to make up a (completely phony) scientific background to carry its tale, an attempt that is almost ridiculous - but unfortunately only almost.


While Trog bordered what could be considered as funny (in an unintentional way though), the German erotic vampire movie Gebissen wird nur Nachts/The Vampire Happening (1971) lacked all and any humour - too bad then that it was intended as a comedy. It would be a mistake though to (only) blame Freddie Francis for that movie's failure though, as the Germans in general had an impressive track record in producing unfunny sex comedies of any genre in the 1970's, and this of course is no exception. At least Francis is able to create some kind of creepy atmosphere, lead actress Pia Degermark is very sexy, and Ferdy Mayne from Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers (1966) puts in another fun vampire performance. This all doesn't add up to much, but it's better than nothing I guess - not much better though.


Tales from the Crypt (1972) was somewhat of a return to old form: Produced by Amicus [Amicus history - click here], the film - an adaptation of the comicbook by the same name published in the 1950's by William Gaines' EC Comics, probably the most (and only) influential horror comics to this day - was a return to Amicus' omnibus format, a format perfectly suited to Francis directorial style (as mentioned above). Suffice to say, the resulting movie did not disappoint ...


With Tales that Witness Madness (1973) Francis returned to the omnibus format yet again, but this time away from Amicus (World Film Services provided production), and to put it quite flatly, this is not one of the better horror anthologies, on one hand because the market was already over-saturated with the format (rival Amicus put out no less than 5 [!] omnibus movies of their own between 1971 and 1973), on the other hand though, the film, scripted by actress Jennifer Jayne under an alias, was really badly written.


1973 also saw the only collaboration between Freddie Francis and Tigon, the third biggest British horror studio behind Hammer and Amicus with The Creeping Flesh. The Creeping Flesh was an anomaly even upon release: It would have perfectly fitted Hammer's production catalogue from roughly 10 years earlier (and not only because of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the leads), but in the early 1970's, this period piece about an absent-minded scientist (Cushing), his mad daughter (Lorna Heilbron), his ruthless half-brother (Lee), an asylum and an evil super-Neanderthal seems totally out of time, and the film's script is probably the worst Francis ever had to work with, even more stupid than the likes of Trog or The Vampire Happening. However, this time around, Francis shows his true class as a filmmaker, and helped by a brilliant cast, he turns an utterly silly story into an atmospheric, even exciting piece of genre cinema, a bit old-fashioned perhaps, but not in a bad way.


While The Creeping Flesh was conventional though, maybe even a bit too conventional, Francis' next film Son of Dracula (1974) was outrageous - or at least supposed to be outrageous. Produced by Ringo Starr, Son of Dracula tells the story of Dracula's son (Harry Nilsson), a rock musician, who refuses to become the king of the netherworld because he loves a mortal woman (Suzanna Leigh). The film also throws Merlin the Magician (Ringo Starr), Van Helsing (Dennis Price) and Frankenstein (Freddie Jones) into what's supposed to be a crazy mix - only it isn't, because while the film is of a likeable anything goes mentality, it is on one hand not at all funny, on the other it's also really badly written ... and this time around, Francis was not able to turn a bad script around. A pity, really, because with its mix of horror, comedy and rock music, the film was ahead of its time, the two classics of the genre-mix, Phantom of Paradise (1974, Brian De Palma) and Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, Jim Sharman), were both released only after this one (if not long after).


Son of Dracula proved that outrageousness was probably not Francis' thing, but with Craze (1974), he proved that he could at least still competently handle a supernatural thriller (not that anyone doubted that). The film about Jack Palance as a nutty antiques collector possessed by an African idol that makes him kill women might be a bit on the trashy, even silly side, but Francis direction is competent enough in a slightly old-fashioned way to turn this into an enjoyable and entertaining piece of horror cinema.


And speaking of old-fashioned - in 1975, Freddie Francis made 2 movies for his son Kevin's production company Tyburn, Legend of the Werewolf and The Ghoul/Night of the Ghoul, both films starring Peter Cushing, and both films reminiscent of the kind of movies Hammer produced about 10 years earlier. Of course, the films seemed out of time in the mid-1970's and did not do great business (though they didn't bomb either), but from today's point of view they are quite enjoyable at least as pieces of nostalgia.


Around the mid-1970's, the age of British horror has come to an end, the genre was dead and most of the companies that once delivered shockers by the dozens like Hammer, Amicus and Tigon - all of which Francis had worked for at one time or another - were either out of business or on hiatus. Thus, Freddie Francis turned to television once more, a medium he has worked on the side for even in the early 1970's when he still had a feature film career (The Adventures of Black Beauty [1972 - 74]). Now, Francis was assigned to handle several episodes of the series Star Maidens, a science fiction series starring Pierre Brice [Pierre Brice bio - click here] and Dawn Addams about a female-led society and all the problems that arise from that. The series was of course slightly silly and campy in that typical 1970's kind of way, but entertaining from today's point of view for exactly those reasons.


However, working for television was hardly to Francis' tastes and didn't do justice to his talent neither, so with the horror film industry dried up he returned to what he according to many did best anyways ...



Freddie Francis, Cinematographer - Part 2


Francis' return to cinematography can be described as pretty much triumphant, as he got offered a great film (and perennial favourite) right away: David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980). Sure, Lynch was not the cult figure back in 1980 that he is now, having only directed one feature so far, the midnight movie crowd favourite Eraserhead (1976), but it was clear even back then that Lynch was a man with a vision, and one that could be given control over a mainstream project (back in the day, the mainstream was considerably more open to true artists than it is nowadays).

A special bonus for Freddie Francis concerning Elephant Man was of course that it was filmed in black and white, a rarity by 1980 but still Francis' preferred medium - and Francis doesn't disappoint, supporting Lynch's genuine vision with impressive, often haunting images. Lynch and Francis hit it off pretty well too on Elephant Man, which is why Lynch would ask Francis back time and again over the years. Plus, the film also earned Francis several awards, like the Best Cinematography Award from the British Society of Cinematographers.


After Elephant Man, Francis reunited with Karl Reisz, with whom he did a couple of films in the 1960's, for The French Lieutnant's Woman (1981), a film that earned Francis even more awards, including another Best Cinematography Award by the British Society of Cinematographers and a BAFTA-nomination for Best Cinematography.


Of course, over the years, not all movies Francis worked on were as prestigious and indeed ambitious as the two above. Lesser films he worked on included the made-for-TV Norman Mailer-adaptation The Executioner's Song (1982, Lawrence Schiller), the espionage thriller The Jigsaw Man (1983, Terence Young) starring Michael Caine, the interesting yet less-than-perfect Peter Ustinov-vehicle Memed My Hawk (1984, Peter Ustinov), the espionage thriller Code Name Emerald (1985, Jonathan Sanger) starring Ed Harris and Max Von Sydow, the tearjerker Clara's Heart (1988, Robert Mulligan) starring Whoopi Goldberg, and above mentioned Tom Selleck-Paulina Porizkova-vehicle Her Alibi (1989, Bruce Beresford) as well as the Brooke Shields-Timothy Dalton-starrer Brenda Starr (1989, Robert Ellis Miller).


Sure, Francis' camerawork is decent in all of these films, but they're hardly memorable. The two films though that stand out of Francis' films from the 1980's (apart from those mentioned at the beginning of this chapter) are Dune (1984), David Lynch's decidedly weird big budget science fiction epic based on the novel by Frank Herbert, in which Francis once again proved to be Lynch's congenial partner when it comes to bring the latter's vision to the big screen, and Glory (1989, Edward Zwick), the film that earned Francis his second Oscar as a cinematographer, but that was arguably a triple Oscar-winner for its political content - it's about an all-black company in the US-American Civil War - rather than its actual artistic quality. Again, not that there was anything wrong with Francis' cinematography in the film, quite the opposite, but it's hardly among his more visionary work either.


The 1990's, above all else, brought more work on less-than-special mvoies, like the made-for-TV movie The Plot to Kill Hitler (1990, Lawrence Schiller), which is about just that, the sugar-coated coming-of-age movie The Man in the Moon (1991, Robert Mulligan) that saw Reese Witherspoon in an early role, the teen-drama School Ties (1992, Robert Mandel) starring Brandon Fraser and Chris O'Donnell and featuring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in early roles, the made-for-television David Mamet-adaptation A Life in the Theater (1993, Gregory Mosher) starring Matthew Broderick and Jack Lemmon, and the period piece Princess Caraboo (1994, Michael Austin).


Only 3 films of Francis' 1990's output deserve special mention for one reason or another:

  • Cape Fear (1991) has Francis working with master director Martin Scorsese for the one and only time, and Scorsese praised Francis' intuitive understanding of suspense and atmosphere, something Francis might have learned more about in his days as director than as cinematographer, ironically. All that said though, it also has to be noted that Cape Fear, a remake of J.Lee Thompson's 1962 film of the same name, was not one of Scorsese's better films despite pitting Robert De Niro against Nick Nolte and giving Juliette Lewis her first chance to shine. Still, at least Francis' camerawork is on point.
  • The family movie Rainbow (1995, Bob Hoskins) deserves special mention merely for the fact that it was (alegedly) the first theatrical feature to be shot on digital video and then transferred onto 35 mm film ... quite an experiment for an established cinematographer well in his 70's, right?
  • The Straight Story (1999) finally, Francis' final film, reunited him with David Lynch to photograph one of the directors most unusual films - a road movie about an old man going on a 300 mile roadtrip on a lawnmower. By the time this movie was made, Francis was alredy in his early 80's, and maybe it's fitting that this movie about ageing would become his last ever, but it probably was all the more fitting that his last movie was directed by David Lynch, an eccentric director to say the least, with whom Francis always corresponded extremely well - which proves above everything else the almost unrivalled mastery Francis has put into his craft.



Freddie Francis, Director - Part 3 and Fade-Out


That the British horror film had pretty much died in the mid- to late 1970's Freddie Francis had returned to cinematography in 1980 did not mean he turned his back on directing completely, he made two more features in the 1980's actually, the Burke and Hare-tale Doctor and the Devils (1985) starring Timothy Dalton and based on a screenplay by famed playwright Dylan Thomas, and Dark Tower (1987, a film later finished by Ken Wiederhorn), a ghost story set in a skyscraper. Neither of these two films was on par though with Francis' better output from the 1960's and 70's, and both are considered as Francis' lesser efforts nowadays, and deservedly so.


For the small screen, Freddie Francis directed a couple of episodes of Sheldon Reynolds' Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson with Geoffrey Whitehead and Donald Pickering in the leads in 1980.

It was another series though that brought Freddie Francis to full circle - well, sort of, and primarily in writing: In 1996, Freddie Francis directed Last Respects, an episode of the seventh and final season of the American TV-series Tales from the Crypt - which seems kind of fitting since Francis also directed the comicbook's first big screen adaptation Tales from the Crypt in 1972 (see above). However, the new American series had little in common with the Britisch movie from 20+ years ago, and Francis' episode failed to really hit it off with contemporary audiences and was actually considered one of the lesser episodes of the series.


Freddie Francis retired from filmmaking as both director and cinematographer in the late 1990's, and deservedly so, he was well into his 80's and had quite a string of achievements to look back on. He died aged 89 in 2007 in Middlesex, England, leaving the world with a rich if uneven heritage of films ranging from the weird to the wonderful, the well-crafted to the almost visionary, the trashy to the masterful.


© by Mike Haberfelner

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In times of uncertainty of a possible zombie outbreak, a woman has to decide between two men - only one of them's one of the undead.


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Luana Ribeira, Rudy Barrow and Rami Hilmi
special appearances by
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written by
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produced by
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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
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Tales to Chill
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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
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tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
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Tales to Chill
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