Roy Ashton – The “British” Jack Pierce

The dead walk in this promotional shot for PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES(1966)
The dead walk in this promotional shot for PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES(1966)

Roy Ashton’s first major makeup’s was on Boris Karloff in The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936). He played a mad scientist with hair that was quite long for those days. After they finished shooting he cut his hair for another film, but the producer, Ted Black, decided they needed some additional shots of him. So I made a wig for Boris to wear while the crew filmed the inserts.”

Immediately before the start of the war, Ashton met Roy Ward Baker, who later went on to establish himself in the horror genre with films like Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers and Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth in the U.S.) Baker had just been promoted to the position of assistant director and was working at Gainsborough Studios while Ashton was there with Rosenthal. The two Roy’s became good friends, neither realizing that their professional paths would cross on a number of occasions in the future. The war in Europe then intervened and Ashton worked as radar instructor for the Royal Artillery. Following this period in the service, he launched into an alternative career as an opera singer, an area of the arts he had long considered. “My interest in music was cultivated by my home environment,” he says. “Both my parents were musicians. My mother was a particularly fine singer and pianist. Her encouragement fired my ambition to study the subject. This I did simultaneously with art studies and studio work. As soon as the war was over I felt it was time to apply the musical training professionally and joined several opera companies like Intimate Opera, and Festival Opera, singing in England and on the Continent.”

12697 - The Man Who Changed His Mind

The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936)

Ashton retained his film union affiliation during the 14 years he spent performing, keeping his hand in movies when his musical career was not so demanding, though that proved rarely to be the case. However, by the middle 1950’s he became increasingly involved with Hammer.

On the production of Invitation to the Dance (1955), Ashton found himself working as assistant to Phil Leakey. They were soon firm friends, and worked together on several films. Leakey introduced Ashton to Hammer Films, so starting a relationship for which Ashton is best known.

“At that time Phil Leakey was in charge of Hammer’s makeup department, and when there was a lot of work I used to go and give him a hand. I’m afraid I can’t remember the first film I worked on there, but it was before they began making the gothic horrors. I then worked on The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) for a few days, and also on The Horror of Dracula (1958). On the latter I helped Phil with Christopher Lee’s makeup for his big death scene, putting in his fangs and touching up the fake skin so that it would peel properly. I guess you could say I assisted in giving him his cutting edge,”

I remember I stuck in Chris Lee’s teeth and eyes for the sequence where the shaft of light fell on him and he disintegrated.  Not that there’s much involved in Dracula’s make-up. The tradition is that he’s very pale, seeing as he never goes out in the sun, for obvious reasons, and he has dark hair with a widow’s peak. Eyebrows that join across and of course and canine teeth. Also, for some scenes, his eyes turn blood red. I didn’t make the contact lenses, but I’m in charge of getting them in and out of the actors eyes.

“With Christopher Lee I would put them in just before a take and extract them immediately afterwards. So that he wasn’t too distressed by them. Some people can’t develop a tolerance for them, particularly if they suffer from hay fever. The ones that Chris wears cover the whole ball of the eye, except for the cornea and iris, and fit under the upper and lower lids.

After The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), there was a production lull while substantial rebuilding work was carried out at Bray Studios. During this time Leakey, having had his retainer cut by the company’s associate producer, Anthony Nelson Keys, left the company in disgust. Ashton found himself in charge of make-up for The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). Ashton’s main effort on that film, to transform a Great Dane into the title character, was barely a success, the result only appearing briefly in the final cut.

Anton Diffring as Bonner, 1958

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)
His next film, The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), involved transforming Anton Diffring into “a living corpse”.  Ashton achieved the effect with liquid rubber, which, when allowed to dry on a pinch of skin, would leave wrinkles when the skin was released back to its original position. He then used blue mending wool to imitate collapsed veins. Ashton also prepared a cap, which he covered with wisps of hair and latex, and designed a special set of contact lenses to create the milky white and yellow effect of an aged eye. The result was widely admired: over a decade later the American makeup artist, Dick Smith, consulted Ashton about the effect to create makeup to age Dustin Hoffman as a 103-year-old man in Little Big Man, and was to repeat the effect in several subsequent films.

A reference photograph of a fully bandaged Christopher Lee as ‘Kharis’ in ‘The Mummy’ (1959), taken by Roy Ashton . Christopher Lee was asked to ‘act’ with his eyes, which were made-up and left uncovered by the mask.

For Christopher Lee’s make-up in The Mummy (1959) I did a lot of research. My studies took me to the British Museum and many books on mummies, and I tried to reproduce as best I could the effect which I imagined the passage of time would have on Chris. I made a cast of his head and on that I worked with pieces of old rag and pieces of laminated paper. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that this, my first attempt at mummy makeup, would adhere so closely to his lace. It was very uncomfortable for Chris because there was nowhere really for him to breathe!

“Actually the only place where the air could get into the makeup was around the eyeholes, but in the later mummy films I realized that I could still suggest the appearance of a mummy in a way that allowed for the presence of air holes and all sorts of cavities that presented pressure on the actor’s face. The bandages, by the way were done by the wardrobe department, but we worked together on that.

The bandages were wound in such a way that they appeared as they originally did on actual mummies, but of course they had to have built in support otherwise they would have fallen straight down when he mused. They were reinforced with cotton wool and sewn together, so in effect they became a kind of uniform into which he could step. To make the join between the facial make’ up and the bandages, I used some very old rap which I made look hard with plaster.

“Curse of the Werewolf (1960) was another film I researched painstakingly. I went to the Natural History Museum to draw and photograph the exhibits since a basis of correct anatomy was very important. You see, if something like that is not right, anatomically. It doesn’t work well, destroying the whole illusion. Even the layman with no knowledge of anatomical construction can tell if you have not done the job properly.


Oliver Reed preparing for his starring role in the Hammer Horror film ‘The Curse of The Werewolf’ (1960). It was make-up artist Roy Ashton who recommended Reed for the part; “His powerful bone structure was just right for the appearance…he resembles a wolf anyway, when he is very angry.” 

“The werewolf design took me several weeks of study and experiment,” Ashton continues. “Oliver Reed had to submit to a number of tests, but he was splendidly cooperative and patient. The makeup basically was a false cranium which fitted over his and came down to tuck into his eye sockets. The ears took some adjusting in the design before they looked acceptable. The neck and chin was a complex arrangement of hair somewhat in the manner that sheaves are organized in thatched roofing, as the head movement demanded that the layers had the freedom to move around one another. The body was a leotard covered with yak hair. I also had to create finger nails that suggested claws, and fangs and nostril expanders to add to the final effect. The application took about two hours, using a blend of plastic, silk, hair, and acrylic.”

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 The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)


The Terror of the Tongs (1961)
The film is notable in that is the first Hammer horror film to afford Christopher Lee top billing. Lee also reported to work on the film after a vacation in Northern Italy with a deep tan, which was problematic for the make-up department since his character was supposed to have very pale skin. Lee later said in interviews that the make-up to make him appear into a Chinese in this movie was the most uncomfortable make-up he had to endure up to that time.

The biggest makeup problem in the remake of Phantom of the Opera (1962) turned out, oddly enough, to be the Phantom’s mask. The management contracted a professional mask maker six weeks before shooting, who turned out many super designs for the Phantom’s mask, none of which they were satisfied with. My suggestion was that this chap who flitted around the opera house would have picked up a discarded prop to hide his disfigurement. I recommended a book called Masks of the World, by Gregor, which features nearly every mask invented by man, all photographed and recorded. But they weren’t interested. It reached the stage where the film had actually started. I think it was the third week into the six weeks of the shoot, and we were in the Wimbleton Theatre ready to film the Phantom’s first appearance, and Herbert Lom was still without a mask. In desperation they asked me to make something on the spot, so t went away and returned 10 minutes later with a mask made out of cloth, camera tape, string and other oddments, and they said, ‘That’s it! That’s just what we wanted!”‘

In addition to turning people into monsters, Ashton was sometimes called upon to create special props, like the decomposed body of maniac Oliver Reed’s brother in Paranoiac (1963). “First of all I obtained a medical skeleton and rubberized the face and hands, to which I added layers of tissue paper. I took great pains over the face, though it came out looking like thin concrete in the finished film because of the way it was lit. I prided myself on the subtlety of the decaying features as I flaked the skin and gave the poor chap a few hairs, warts, bumps, and made sure the coloring was right.

          A rotting corpse, prepared by Roy Ashton for the film, ‘Paranoic’ (1963)

“When the body was finished I used to keep him in my workshop, locking him out of harm’s way at night in a cupboard. One evening I forgot to do this, and the next morning the cleaning woman came in, only to rush straight out shouting that there was a dead man in the makeup room! So he was obviously realistic,” he laughs.

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) “The idea for the creature was mine. I had extreme difficulty getting it accepted, because they had no idea of what exactly they wanted and couldn’t make up their minds. I did so many preproduction drawings that I started to throw them away. I think I did nearly 300 drawings in the end, numbering them up to 120 before I began to consign them to the bin.”

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I ask Ashton if his idea had been to attempt to capture the pathos of Karloff’s creature. “No, not really,” he replies, “They said, ‘We want a monster.’ so I tried to come up with some lumbering wretch. Kiwi Kingston, who played the monster, was a big man, a wrestler. I had him wear diver’s hoots which I thought would suggest a great lumbering creature.

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“The design had some resemblance to the original American Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, but was different in several ways. I had the idea of the cranium being opened across the top of the forehead and rather clumsily sewn together with large thongs to suggest the crude surgical procedures of the time. I think I put the electrodes on the temple whereas in the Karloff one, they put them on the neck. With his facial makeup I tried to impart a sense of the crude surgical procedures of that era.

The Gorgon (1964) was another film which put Ashton at loggerheads with the front office men. “Syd Pearson, who handled the special effects on that film, was responsible for the snakes which protruded from the Medusa’s head. I did not share his conception. I thought the half-dozen mechanical devices that appeared to strike in the wig worn by Prudence Hyman certainly did not suggest locks of hair.

“There is, by Cellini, a marvelous statue or Perseus holding the severed head of the Gorgon up by the hair, which is composed of tiny serpentine ringlets, and that is what I proposed. I intended to make a wig out of little leathery snakes which were being sold as children’s toys at the time. They were small jointed items glued on top of strips of leather and wriggled in a life-like manner. I told them a bunch of those would look right, but Syd came up with these fat snakes operated by cables, and that is what they opted for.” He shrugs. “Personally, I think it was the wrong decision.”


The Gorgon’s snakes were operated hydraulically and manually (with cables) by SPFX man, Syd Pearson, and his crew.

The film also required several characters to gradually turn to stone when they gazed at the Gorgon. To achieve this, Ashton made preliminary sculptures in Plasticine, colored them grey, and then based his final makeup’s upon them to produce the right texture.

“That was a time consuming process however I approached it,” he says, remaining silent about the technicalities, “but working with fine actors such as Michael Goodliffe, made it a worthwhile experience.”

Roy Ashton applies make up to Edward de Souza, 1963

Roy Ashton applying make-up to Edward de Souza’s chest to create the effect of vampire clawing, for the film ‘Kiss Of The Vampire’ (1964)

Hammer’s adaptation of “She (1965)” Sir Henry Rider Haggard’s classic fantasy adventure, a formidable challenge requiring him to age beautiful Ursula Andress to an advanced stage of decomposition in less than one minute. Once again the end result was not in accordance with his original intentions.

“I suggested we use four or five women of successive ages, ending up with an old woman without any teeth. Unfortunately, when the time came they only provided me with one old dear, upon whom I had to apply the pieces needed to make her look far in excess of her already advanced years, but she had a prominent nose and features totally dissimilar to Ursula’s. I had produced nine drawings as guidelines for the logical sequence of disintegration. So I wasn’t pleased with the end result.

“You see, the problem with most sequences of this sort,” Ashton continues, “is that during the process of ageing the face wastes away. The skin becomes very fine, the bones become pronounced and the hair thins extensively. Instead of diminishing the features, the makeup artist has to build upon what is already there, fattening and rounding the face to such a degree that the result is often. I think, implausible. If you ever have the misfortune to actually see a real corpse in an advanced state of decomposition, you’ll see that it is just putrescent skin and bone.”


In the Plague of the Zombies (1966) the zombies wore, on my suggestion, ones that were entirely white. Except for a little dot at the center which enabled the actors to see.

The assignment that gave me the most worry was the one where I had to turn a girl, actress Jackie Pearce into a serpent for a film called The Reptile (1966). It meant quite a lot of research and I eventually got a large snake skin which I cast in plaster to reproduce the scales on the make-up. It was a very difficult job because I had to give the girl a snake like snout with fangs and everything, while at the same time making it structurally and anatomically acceptable. You must do that. Otherwise people who may not understand anatomical structure will nevertheless feel that there is something not quite right.


Despite Ashton’s prowess at creating imaginative, economical makeup effects, the management at Hammer often disagreed with his ideas. ‘That was a common occurrence; they were seldom certain of what they wanted. However, it isn’t always that easy in the initial stages of a film to form a clear idea of what is required.

“When presented with a screenplay it can be very difficult for a makeup artist to grasp what a writer has in mind. Most writers— good writers—have a clear idea and can translate it into words, but there are those who do not appear to appreciate the difficulties which can face the makeup artist. For example, if a screenplay calls for an actor to blush—“He reddens under her gaze”-it is very awkward to present. How do you make an actor blush on cue? Well, you could put a red light on the chap’s face, though that’s not very good. Or you could touch up his face with blusher, though that too is not particularly authentic. Often one finds a writer’s indications frustrating. Not that I’m saying Jimmy Sangster was a bad writer, or John Elder, but at Hammer the scripts were left open when it came to specifics concerning the creatures.

Ashton returned to work for Hammer on Hands of the Ripper and The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil’s Bride), designing the satanic apparitions of the latter.

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Ashton also worked on a number of Amicus horror films, including The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Asylum (1972), and Tales from the Crypt (1972) where he supervised the makeup on several films for Amicus, producing one of his most memorable creations when he transformed Peter Cushing into the walking corpse of Grimsdyke, and worked on Tigon’s The Creeping Flesh.

Roy Ashton Filmography

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
The Horror Dracula (1958)
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)
The Mummy (1959)
The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)
The Curse of the Werewolf (1960)
The Terror of the Tongs (1961)
These Are the Damned (1962)
The Phantom of the Opera (1962)
Night Creatures (1962) Captain Clegg
The Pirates of Blood River (1962)
Paranoiac (1963)
The Old Dark House (1963)
The Crimson Blade (1963)
Nightmare (1964)
The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
The Kiss of the Vampire (1964)
The Gorgon (1964)
Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1964)
The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)
The Skull (1965)
She (1965)
The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
The Reptile (1966)
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
The House That Dripped Blood (1970)
Hands of the Ripper (1971)
The Devils (1971)
Tales from the Crypt (1972)
The Creeping Flesh (1972)
Asylum (1972)
The Vault of Horror (1973)
The Ghoul (1975)


Fangoria Issue 035 Apr 1984 Roy Ashton – Hammer’s Monster Man (Philip Nutman)

Hammer’s House of Horror Issue 02 1976 Roy Ashton Interview (John Brosnan)

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