Paranoiac (1963): Starring Oliver Reed, Janette Scott, Sheila Burrell, Alexander Davion, Liliane Brousse, Maurice Denham, Harold Lang, Arnold Diamond, John Stuart, Laurie Leigh, Sydney Bromley, Marianne Stone, Colin Tapley, Jack Taylor....Director Freddie Francis, Screenplay Jimmy Sangster, Based On The Novel By Josephine Tey.
The Hammer horror films, a British production, gained rapid popularity and audience in the early 60's, in the wake of such revolutionary new horror movies such as Hitchcock's "Psycho". These Hammer films were still produced well into the 1970's after actor Christopher Lee had earned success in his signature role of Dracula. In this early Hammer film directed by Freddie Francis from 1963, we meet the wealthy Ashby family who live in a beautiful estate by the sea. The entire family has felt the loss of the young Tony, a choir boy who is thought to have committed suicide by throwing himself off the cliffs and into the sea. At first, we are led to believe his older sister Eleanor (played by the beautiful and talented Janette Scott) has been most affected by his death. She begins to see him everywhere - in the church, walking by the estate grounds, etc. No one else sees him and so they believe she is going insane. Things are not always what they appear to be. The nurse hired to care for Eleanor, a French woman named Francoise (Liliane Brousse)is in actuality the lover of Simon Ashby, brother to the deceased Tony. Before long a man claiming to be Tony (Alexander Davion) appears and the drama is set into motion. No one believes that this is Tony, who was reported dead and they don't buy his tale of having been roaming for years and finally decided to show up back home. There are reasons behind the suspicions of Aunt Harriet (Sheila Burrell) that he is an impostor. The movie is slow and more of a murder mystery than anything else, at times needlessly long and very talky. The mystery is slowly revealed by the impostor. Tony was murdered by Simon and he kept his cadaver hidden in a chamber where he, out of guilt and madness, plays the organ and has Aunt Harriet dress up as Tony and mimic singing his voice through a phonograph. "Paranoiac" is a about madness and deception. Aunt Harriet knew about Simon being a murderer and kept it a secret for years. There is also a matter of selfishness and desire for fortune, as portrayed in the characters of Simon and the impostor. He soon begins to change his heart when he falls for Eleanor. The hint of incest is another part of the twisted tale. They are not actually brother and sister and Eleanor learns this but she is drawn to him romantically because she had repressed desires for her brother. All this was very shocking and bold in early 1960's cinema. The film has very little action and could have benefited from supernatural elements. Why no ghost ? But it is still a dark and Gothic film and a product of its time. The dramatic, chilling music is by Elisabeth Lutyens and the impressive cinematography by Arthur Grant. The film was made in England and the panoramic scenes of the high cliffs and the sea is very symbolic of madness. It is almost Edgar Allen Poe, "Fall of the House Of Usher" in style but never quite gets to there because it's a film that does not brake any new barriers except that it has a hint of incest and mystery. It is like the screenwriter was so repressed that they did not dare go too far. But it's not one of the more successful Hammer films. For this reason, I can only rate this film a 6 out of 10. It's still very worthwhile if only to see famed actors Janette Scott and Oliver Reed in well-executed performances. The dialog is solid and the acting is powerful, especially Oliver Reed as the intense and insane Simon. A good film but not great.