Don Sharp, the director who helped revitalize England’s Hammer Studios as the premier producer of gothic horror cinema in the mid-1960s, died on December 25. His passing was announced by the studio, though they did not elaborate with a location or cause. He was 89.
Hammer Studios first burst onto the horror film scene in the mid-1950s, thanks in large part to the acting of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and the directorial talents of Terrence Fisher. However, as the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, Fisher seemed to have gotten tired of the genre. Following the poor reviews and dismal box office that greeted his 1962 adaption of The Phantom Of The Opera for the studio, executives turned to Sharp to inject some new blood.
Although he had allegedly never even seen a horror film before, Sharp’s first assignment, Kiss Of The Vampire and its story of a young couple honeymooning in Bavaria and getting involved with a vampire cult, was very well received by the critics. Studio executives were also pleased that Sharp had hired relatively inexpensive television actors to round out his cast.
Born in Tasmania, Australia, Sharp served in the Australian Air Force during World War Two before immigrating to Great Britain to pursue a career as an actor.
Sharp would direct two more films for Hammer – The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964) and Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966), with starred Christopher Lee as the bearded, wild-eyed, notoriously hard-to-kill Russian. Sharp would work with Lee again on The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) and The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) with the actor playing novelist Sax Rohmer’s titular arch-villain under makeup.
Other films on his resume include Witchcraft (1964) with Lon Chaney Jr., The Curse Of The Fly (1965) and a 1978 adaption of the John Buchan espionage novel The 39 Steps which was praised for being a true adaption of the source material while still not rising to the level of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 adaption.