14 October 2008 | Coventry
"The Nanny" probably just started out as an attempt to cash in on the immense success of lead actress Bette Davis (who starred in "Hush
Hush, Sweet Charlotte" and "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" the previous years) and who knows - maybe even the profitable concept of "Mary Poppins", since that classic also revolved on the nanny/children relationship; albeit a much happier and cheerful one. By no means, however, this means that "The Nanny" is an inferior thriller production. Quite the contrary, this is a hugely atmospheric and very suspenseful pot-boiler and perhaps even one of Hammer's most underrated efforts ever. The legendary British horror studio is mainly known for its grueling takes on classic monster stories ("Dracula", "Frankenstein"
) and stupendous Sci-Fi movies (the "Quatermass" trilogy), but they were also responsible for several gore-free but spirited and story-driven psychological thrillers with a film-noir type of atmosphere, and "The Nanny" is unquestionably one of the highlights in this often overlooked sub category alongside "Hysteria" and "Paranoiac".
Our lead actress, with her uniquely creepy charisma and eyes that were sung about specifically (Bette Davis Eyes Bette Davis' Eyes), stars as an exaggeratedly polite and overly dedicated nanny in a household full of neurotic outcasts. Mommy is an emotional wreck since the death of her cherubic daughter; daddy is a senseless prick who's never there when needed and ten-year-old son Joey just left a mental institution because he's suspected of drowning his sister. Joey hates Nanny with a passion, claims she killed little Suzy and now openly accuses her of wanting to do the same to him. No matter how patient and loving she tries to be, Joey's behavior grows increasingly aggressive and uncontrollable. Admittedly no one, not even the most inexperienced and/or unintelligent horror viewer, will have much trouble figuring out what's really going on quite early in the film already, but Hammer veterans Seth Holt ("Taste of Fear") and Jimmy Sangster ("Fear in the Night") nevertheless maintain the tension level high and the delivers the chills on a very regular basis. It's a slow-paced but non-stop ominous film, with the photography in good old black & white which always adds to the atmosphere and a truly depressing depiction of certain uptight British social classes. It's praiseworthy how, even though the denouement is transparent from the beginning, Holt and Sangster still manage to occasionally make you wonder who speaks the truth: the little boy who acts like Dennis The Menace on acid and simply asks for a thorough spanking
or the stoically cold but unimpeachable nanny? Davis is sublime, but young actor William Dix definitely doesn't have to yield to her persona as he gives away a marvelous performance. It even is truly incomprehensible and unfortunate that he just appeared in only one more movie after this.