Paranoiac (1963)

Oliver Reed stars in Hammer's superbly written thriller, from director Freddie Francis. From Universal R1 Hammer Horror Series boxset.

The Film

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...

The 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 unnecessary action scenes that many thrillers use to keep the audience watching - instead he keeps the film flowing thanks to the cleverly twisting, yet always plausible 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.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? Oliver Reed - big name British star who started his career with Hammer, best known for Gladiator (2000).
Directed by anyone interesting? Freddie Francis - an Oscar winning cinematographer who spent two decades working on cult British and German films, from Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) to Legend of the Werewolf (1975).
Is it scary?There are several very creepy sequences
Any violence? Some deaths, nothing explicitly violent.
Any sex? No
Who is it for?
Fans of psychological thrillers and the non-gothic horror Hammer films should find plenty to enjoy here.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 2.35:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Black & White.
A strong print with good dead, almost no print damage and only mild grain.
Audio Original English mono - Dolby Digital - sounds great, no hiss.
Subtitles English HOH, Spanish and French.
Extras None.
      AvailabilityOnly available as part of the Hammer Horror Series boxset.
      Region Region 1 - NTSC
      Other regions? None known.
      Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print used is English language.



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      All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 25th June 2007.
      Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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