Sunday, 30 November 2014

Paranoiac (1963)
Oliver Reed
When we think of Hammer Films it is nearly always their legendary output of 'gothic horrors' that we immediately think of. However, apart from their early output, when it comes to style and suspense, Hammer's handful of contemporary psychological thrillers from the early to mid 1960s far outweigh all but the very best (i.e. the 1958 Dracula) of their Transylvanian tales. I know that one should put the Draculas and Frankensteins into their correct historical context as groundbreaking colour horror films that thrilled their audiences but when viewed today, even the most ardent horror fans has to admit they just appear weak.
So it is with real pleasure that I have finally been introduced to the joys of films such as Paranoiac, The Nanny and Taste of Fear. These are films that have stood the test of time and retain their ability to shock an audience.

Like Taste of Fear, Paranoiac has a seaside setting, is all about imposters and focuses on the psychology of someone suffering from the trauma of loss. It tells the story of a brother and sister, Simon and Eleanor Ashby (Oliver Reed and Janette Scott) whose younger brother Tony committed suicide following he death of their parents. Or did he?

Following a church service to remember their lost family ...
Janette Scott, Lilianne Brousse and Sheila Burrell
... a mysterious figure appears in the churchyard ...
... who later appears to the increasingly fragile Eleanor in the garden of their home:
Alexander Davion
Is it Tony, back from a watery grave, or an imposter? If it is an imposter has he been sent by Simon to drive Eleanor mad, allowing him to inherit all the family fortune, or by someone else?

Eleanor is certainly teetering on the brink of madness, she is fragile and has her own nurse who is - of course - Simon's lover. She also has a bedside manner that raises the viewer's suspicions.
Janette Scott

Janette Scott

Liliane Brousse & Janette Scott
But if Simon has brought an imposter into their home to drive his sister mad, what's tipping Simon over the edge?
Alexander Davion & Oliver Reed

Oliver Reed
Is it simply his boozing and reckless disregard for money?
Oliver Reed
Or is it the trauma of the loss of his parents and his brother? Then there's Aunt Harriet (Sheila Burrell) and her obsession with the family name and reputation. Simon seems to be a little bit too interested in her for anyone's good.

And who - or what - is in the spooky disused chapel, playing the organ?
 If you've read other posts on this blog, you'll know I'm not going to answer that question. The best way to find out is simple: buy the DVD and find out for yourself.

The film is stylish, creepy and puts you on the edge of your seat (and over the edge at one point). In other words, it does what a psychological thriller is supposed to do.

Others appearing include:

Maurice Denham
Harold Lang:
John Bonney:

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