Monday, September 12, 2011

Interlude: Jimmy Sangster, 1927 - 2011

Jimmy Sangster has always been one of my heroes, and I was saddened to hear of his recent passing.  I actually heard the news a few weeks late (he died on August 19) but that’s only appropriate, since I saw his films a bit late as well -- two or three decades after their release, in fact.

Sangster was by far the best screenwriter in the Hammer stable, with credits like  X the UnknownThe Horror of DraculaThe Curse of FrankensteinThe Crawling Eye and many others.  He wrote quickly.  His output was consistently good.  And he was an all-arounder, which is surprisingly rare in his profession. His scripts were well-plotted and suspenseful, his characters believable, his dialogue whip-smart.

In later years he turned to television, scripting episodes of Ironsides and Banecek and Movin’ On, giving even the most mediocre assignments far more than they deserved.  And unlike some television writers (I’m looking at you, Harlan Ellison) he never tried to make a show conform to his own sensibilities.  He was a master craftsman who knew exactly what the script required, and provided it.And when given the opportunity, as with "The Spanish Moss Murders" episode of  Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Sangster showed that he was still bubbling over with ideas.  He ran circles round the other guys, and he made it look easy.

When I grow up, I want to be Jimmy Sangster.


kochillt said...

"The Spanish Moss Murders" was one of the finest episodes of KOLCHAK, but it was "Horror in the Heights" (episode 11) that was scripted by Jimmy Sangster. I always save it for last because it's my favorite, and we just watched it two weeks ago as we concluded our reunion with all 22 appearances of Carl Kolchak. "Son, I've seen more dead bodies than you've had TV dinners!" The last 9 shows just couldn't reach the peak of this story, with Carl facing a Hindu creature that lures its victims to a horrible death by imitating the image of a loved one, and adopts the face of Miss Emily when it attacks him. Jimmy directed 3 titles for Hammer, THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN and LUST FOR A VAMPIRE in 1970, and FEAR IN THE NIGHT a year later.

Uncle Mike said...

Aha, you are correct, of course. I think I jumbled those two episodes in my mind. HORROR IN THE HEIGHTS features a monster that gets close to you by appearing to be someone you trust. No worries there, the cynical Kolchak reasons, since "I don't trust anybody". We learn that he does trust Miss Emily, which is a humanizing little touch. Kolchak was a pleasantly fallible character, the perfect sort of character for Sangster to work with.

kochillt said...

Considering how fast a writer he was, and that he was strictly in it for the money, Jimmy Sangster had such a gift for depth of characterization that virtually everything he did proved to be worth a viewing. The Kolchak episode reveals Carl's deep affection for Miss Emily, which we were aware of, but he himself apparently was not, at least until The Rakshasa opened his eyes. I too have received messages about my own mistakes, as I mixed up a pair of Larry Buchanan remakes with their Roger Corman originals. We do take pride in our work. Writing about Universal and their vast library of classic horror titles continues to be a labor of love.

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