Paranoiac (1963)

Rating: C+

Dir: Freddie Francis
Star: Janette Scott, Oliver Reed, Alexander Davion, Sheila Burrell

After the economic failure of Phantom of the Opera, Hammer switched back to smaller projects, with long-time scribe Jimmy Sangster writing a series of psychological horrors, without the expensive period trappings. This one centers on the dysfunctional Ashby family: the parents died in an accident, and teenage son Tony took his life a few years later. Now there’s mentally-troubled Eleanor (Scott) and drunken rake Simon (Reed), who is looking forward to getting his inheritance, instead of relying on the disapproving family lawyer who administers the trust fund. It’s be even nicer if he could get Eleanor committed as insane… However, that hope is derailed when Tony apparently returns from the dead, after eight years – just in time to take over the family. But it is the “real” Tony or an impostor? And if it’s the latter, at whose behest has the cuckoo been inserted into the nest?

It’s ironic to see Reed playing an alcoholic asshole, given that’s basically what he became for the majority of his later life. Sangster’s script pulls off a number of twists that I didn’t see coming, though the ending appears to abandon all semblance of sanity and heads into Gothic loopiness. While not all bad – it gives Reed the chance to engage in some excellent, manic face-pulling – it doesn’t really fit with the tone set in the opening 70 minutes, which are much more prosaic and down-to-earth. Indeed, you could say that Reed doesn’t really fit with the rest of the performances, which are a good deal more laid-back by comparison. Interesting that Hammer also went back to black-and-white for this one: whether as a cost-cutting measure, or to invoke comparisons with Psycho is hard to say, but it’s quite effectively used. Even though I watched this at the end of a really long day, it kept me awake and adequately interested, when a lesser film would have failed to stave off unconsciousness.

[Also starring: Maurice Denham, who plays family lawyer Mr. Kossett, had a long career as a character actor. His voice, from Night of the Demon, is heard on the opening of the Kate Bush song, “Hounds of Love”: “It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”]