Nightmare (1964)

Rating: C

Dir: Freddie Francis
Star: David Knight, Jennie Linden, Moira Redmond, Brenda Bruce

There are some things that aren’t actually much fun to watch on-screen, but it’s a lesson film-makers have difficulty learning. Taking drugs would be top of the list, but based on this one, “going mad” can surely not be far behind. Highly-strung teenager Janet (Linden) is sent home from school, as her nightmares are disturbing the other pupils. Turns out her mother went mad, stabbed her father and had to be locked up in a local asylum: Janet is concerned she inherited whatever caused the insanity. Things don’t get much better at home, despite the presence of nurse Grace Maddox (Redmond). Janet continues to see things, culminating in her fatally stabbing the wife of family lawyer Henry Baxter (Knight) at a birthday party – which results in the girl being consigned to the same asylum as her mother. However, it turns out this was all a plan by Baxter to get rid of his wife, so he can marry Grace. But when they move into the family home, Grace starts to suspect her new husband might have similar plans for her…

The main aspect of interest is the abrupt shift in focus in the middle of the film, clearly inspired by the similar change from Marion Crane to Norman Bates in Psycho, as the movie swings from Janet to Henry. It’s this middle section that contains most potential, with Francis pulling off the change with some aplomb. Unfortunately, the front and final portions are a good deal less interesting, Janet and Grace staggering around the house, looking disturbed and frequently shrieking at the top of their lungs – Chris was in the office, commenting afterwards, “What were you watching? There was an awful lot of screaming…” and it’s probably fair comment. The necessary plot-points are established with enough efficiency that by the time the third or fourth titular sequence comes into play, you have to suppress an urge to yell, “Enough, already!” at the screen. With all respect to Francis, Hitchcock he ain’t, and any efforts to prove otherwise, such as this, are doomed to fail.

[Also starring: George Cooper, who portays chauffeur John, also played caretaker Mr Griffiths for many years in Grange Hill.]