Wednesday 7 February 2024

Paranoiac - 1963 film review

If you were going to make a Hammer Horror movie, I don't think that a novel written by Josephine Tey would spring to mind as obvious source material. Yet her excellent story Brat Farrar was turned by Jimmy Sangster into Paranoiac, and what is even more surprising is that he made a pretty good job of it. Some Tey fans may hate the over-the-top elements, but the film was definitely more enjoyable than I expected. 

Directed by Freddie Francis - who won two Oscars for other work - the film moves at a sprightly pace, opening with a church service in memory of members of the Ashby family. The death of the parents, followed by the subsequent suicide of their oldest child Tony, meant that the remaining children, Eleanor and Simon, have been brought up by their Aunt Harriet.

But they are a troubled group, to put it mildly. Eleanor (Janette Scott) is haunted by Tony's death and Simon (Oliver Reed, at his most crazed and menacing) is trying to have her committed to an asylum so that he can inherit the whole of the family fortune. Eleanor is being 'looked after' by a glamorous French nurse who is having a torrid affair with Simon, while Harriet (Shelia Burrell) has plenty of issues of her own. The family solicitor and trustee (Maurice Denham) fights a losing battle to maintain order, not helped by the villainy of his son and junior partner. Elisabeth Lutyens' music adds to the mood of melancholy and melodrama.

The quality of the cast contributes to the success of the film. There are incestuous sub-texts that would have startled Tey, and although the 'returning prodigal' character is played rather woodenly by Alexander Davion, there are enough plot twists and moments of drama to satisfy most viewers looking for a Sixties horror movie that is better written than most.


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