Jimmy Sangster wrote a lot of movies for Hammer Films, including The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). When he was asked to write a sequel called The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) – which the producers had already sold based on the title and poster art, Sangster reportedly said “I killed Frankenstein in the first film.” The producers said “you’ll think of something” and told him he had six weeks before shooting started.
I love stories like that. As a writer, nothing gets my creative juices flowing more than a bunch of strange requirements and limitations. Give me a box to work in, and a deadline, and odds are I’ll come up with something fun and interesting. On the other hand, if you tell me to write whatever I feel like – and to take as along as I want to do it – I will probably never deliver anything. There’s something about the challenge of taking an idea that seems impossible and trying to make it work that I’ve always found irresistible. And deadlines are not only helpful, they’re practically essential. I don’t know how many times I’ve been forced to deliver something that I didn’t think was ready – like a song for new children’s musical a few years back. In spite of not being happy with what I had, I brought it to rehearsal and discovered that it not only worked, but people LIKED it. Left to my own devices, I probably would have kept tinkering with that song for days, trying to make it better. I might have even thrown the whole thing out and started fresh with a different idea. Would it have been better? I don’t know. But I can tell you that after I heard the cast perform that “flawed” version a few times, I couldn’t have imagined it being anything different.
I’m not sure how Jimmy Sangster felt about the results of The Revenge of Frankenstein, but the general consensus is that it’s a very good sequel. Sangster found a fresh story to tell – as opposed to just repeating the events of the first film, as so many sequels seems to do. It almost feels more like a compelling art-house drama than a monster movie – although the horror eventually comes.
Jimmy Sangster has to be one of the most prolific writers of horror films, and other thrillers, of all time. He’s got 75 credits listed on the IMDb. They’re not all horror films, of course. He also wrote the made-for-TV comedy The Toughest Man in the World (1984), starring Mr. T as a bouncer named Bruise Brubaker. I remember seeing that one when I was a kid, but I had no idea who Jimmy Sangster was at the time. Sangster wrote a lot of made-for-TV movies after his time with Hammer Films had ended (or was winding down). My friend Brian and I watched one called A Taste of Evil (1971) during one of our annual movie marathons a couple of years ago (as I may have mentioned before, we have taken to exploring made-for-TV horror in recent year). About halfway through A Taste of Evil, I suddenly realized that it was kind of a remake – or maybe a rewrite – of an earlier script that Sangster had written for Hammer. I won’t say which one, as I don’t want it spoil either film, but it’s proof that Sangster really knew how to get the most out of a good idea.
Sangster also wrote episodes of TV shows, including The Six Million Dollar Man (1974–1978), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974–1975), and Wonder Woman (1975–1979) – which were all important shows of my childhood. Okay, I didn’t actually see Kolchak: The Night Stalker until later, but it would have been important if I’d seen it back then, believe me. I’m not sure if Sangster ever reused any of his old movie ideas on these TV shows, but it’s certainly possible. I’ve heard of TV writers from that era reusing the same basic plot on three or four different shows, so why not reuse a movie plot?
To be clear, I’m not criticizing this approach. In fact, I admire it. I’ve read the same advice in relation to freelance magazine writing. If you’re going to spend time and energy researching a topic, don’t just pitch one article that makes use of that research. Pitch five different articles to five different magazines. I suppose nowadays, they might talk about websites, podcasts and blogs more than magazines. Whatever the case, the advice is still good. I’ve often wondered if I could somehow apply it to my own writing. Like say, for instance, I was commissioned to write a play about a very specific period of Canadian history. I study that period intensely for a couple of years, reading every book I can put my hands on, and I now know more about that period of history than I could ever use in a single two hour play. So, why not write two or three plays? They could have completely different stories and characters, and/or focus on different aspects of that same period of history. Or, even better, I could write a screenplay or pitch a TV series based on that same research. Or, when the theatre that commissioned me in the first place decides not to produce my play, I could turn it into a screenplay or TV series, or whatever I want. Of course, this is all completely hypothetical. Or theoretical. Or 100% true – I get the proper terminology mixed up…
I’ve never been good at getting the most out of the work I’ve done, although I did reuse one song I wrote in a second musical, so I guess that’s something (although honestly I think it might have been a mistake, for various reasons – but that’s another story). I guess what I’m trying to say is that I find Jimmy Sangster to be an inspiration. I only hope that one day the inspiration, and admiration, will somehow translate into determination and action as well.
Oh, and in case I haven’t been clear, Sangster knocked it out of the park with this Frankenstein sequel. Not that it’s all about him. Director Terence Fisher delivered a beautifully shot, atmospheric movie and Peter Cushing was as brilliant as ever in the title role. Eunice Gayson, best known for playing James Bond’s girlfriend in Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963), is also very good as the sympathetic Margaret Conrad. If you’ve enjoyed The Curse of Frankenstein, or any other Hammer horror films, you will definitely want to see The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958). A good deal more classy and classic than the average #NotQuiteClassicCinema, it’s the kind of movie that can take an ordinary #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn and turn it into something special.