meteoric success with their gothic horror titles in the late 1950s, had
somewhat petered out by the early 1960s with the big budget failure of Phantom of the Opera
(1962). To save the studio from extinction, a quick pair of
psychological thrillers was commissioned from writer Jimmy Sangster,
following the same formula as their earlier, and very popular Taste of Fear (1961). The films, Paranoiac (1963) and Maniac (1963) had proven a success, and a third quickly followed, Nightmare...
age eleven, on her birthday, Janet saw her father brutally killed by
her mother, and she was committed to an insane asylum for life. The
young Janet, now 17, is still suffering from horrific nightmares and
delusions, convinced that she is going insane like her mother did. Sent
home from school to live at her old home, she begins to have even
stranger and more terrible dreams, but is she going insane or is there
something else happening? Like all of Jimmy Sangster's thrillers, Nightmare
is full of twists and turns and is best enjoyed with no prior knowledge
of the storyline at all (hence the very brief synopsis). Fortunately, unlike a
lot of similar films, Sangster manages to make Nightmare scary, confusing and unexpected, but wraps it all up perfectly at the end, with a very good climax, and good pacing throughout.
Freddy Francis returns to direct after his success with Paranoiac,
and gives another superb turn behind the camera, demonstrating the
cinematography skills that won him two Oscars - effectively switching
between the "dreams" and the "reality" such that the audience (like
Janet herself) have difficulty working out which is which. Hammer
regular Don Banks provides a light but very menacing orchestral
soundtrack, but many of the scariest scenes play out in silence, which
works well. There are no big
names in the cast this time around, although most of them had long
careers in British television and cinema, so might be recognisable.
Fortunately, the standard of acting is high all round, especially from
Jennie Linden as Janet.
Boasting a great script and strong direction, with some good performances all round, Nightmare
is an effective thriller and fans of the Hammer psycho-thrillers should
certainly enjoy it, as should fans of the genre as a whole. Recommended.