After the sucess of Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1955), Hammer comissioned their script writer Jimmy Sangster to write a thriller film in the same vein, and thus was born Taste of Fear (1961) which performed very well at the box office, both in Britain and America. When their big period horror, Phantom of the Opera
(1962), made poor returns, the studio was almost brought to its knees
and needed some quick and cheap productions to re-establish the company
name in the X-rated horror markets - Jimmy Sangster was commissioned to write three thrillers, which became - Maniac (1963), Nightmare (1964) and Paranoiac...
Ashby family are attending the anniversary of their parent's death, the
unsettled Eleanor Ashby starts to become distraught when she sees a
mysterious figure watching her from the back of the church and becomes
convinced that it is her long lost brother Tony, who died eight years
ago after the death of their parents. Her brother, the callous and
heavy drinking Simon Ashby (Oliver Reed) visits their estate lawyer -
the two children are soon to inherit their parent's fortune and he is
suspicious that the lawyer has been stealing from the accounts.
However, everything is turned around when Eleanor is saved from
drowning by a man who claims to be Tony Ashby...
The story is based on the novel Brat Farrar by mystery writer Josephine Tey and was adapted by Jimmy Sangster who had made his name scripting Hammer's gothic horrors Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958),
and as with these adaptations, he has considerably changed some key
points from the book, completely shifting the narrative and putting the
emphasis on the mystery of Tony's identity, which is revealed from the
start in the novel. Instead of the
fantasy tones of his earlier productions, Sangster has crafted a
wonderfully unpredictable and tense thriller, eschewing the
scenes that many thrillers use to keep the audience watching - instead
he keeps the film flowing thanks to the cleverly twisting, yet always
storyline, that builds up to a
very fitting conclusion.
Director Freddie Francis had gained one of his early cinematography credits on Hammer's disturbing Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1959). Paranoiac
makes his first directoral credit for the studio, and he really
demonstrates the experience that being an Oscar winning cinematographer
(Sons and Lovers (1960))
brings to the role - using the scope frame to its maximum throughout the
production to show characters moving in and out of the shot and
keep the frame continually changing - avoiding the film slowing down
during the often quite lengthy and important dialogue scenes. It was a
skill that he put to good use in a variety of similar films during the
1960s, but was sadly underused by the later Hammer gothic horrors. The
look of the film is only let down slightly by a few rather dodgy
rear-projection effects, but these are very limited. The light
soundtrack is from occasional Hammer and Amicus composer Elisabeth
Lutyens and suits the film well.
Oliver Reed began his career with Hammer, making his first leading role in the impressive Curse of the Werewolf
(1961) - here he gives a masterful performance in a role that could
easily have given way to overacting. Curiously he is second billed to
Janette Scott who plays the traumatised Eleanor Ashby and gives an
equally strong performance. None of the Hammer regulars are present, but there are a couple of familiar faces in the
cast, and generally good performances all round.
Smartly written and well directed, Paranoiac
is further boosted by an outstanding performance from Oliver Reed, and
ranks as one of Hammer's most acomplished films. A million miles from
their better known gothic horrors, it will certainly appeal to those
fans who like exploring Hammer's lesser known productions, and fans of
twisting thrillers will find plenty to enjoy here - only fans of the novel Brat Farrar might be disappointed, as the screenplay alters a lot of key ideas. Generally recommended.
Anyone famous in it?
Oliver Reed - big name British star who started his career with Hammer, best known for Gladiator (2000).