07/20/2018 07:42

Film: Paranoiac

Year: 1963

Director: Freddie Francis

Writer: Jimmy Sangster

Starring: Janette Scott, Oliver Reed and Shelia Burrell



This film is one that I didn’t know about until picking up a DVD that featured The Phantom of the Opera from 1962. They are both Hammer films. I decided to see this since it was on that DVD and remember enjoying this quite a bit. It had been a while since that first viewing. I’m now giving it a rewatch as part of my Traverse through the Threes, being that this is from 1963.

Synopsis: a man long believed dead returns to the family estate to claim his inheritance.

We start by seeing a monument honoring a married couple died in 1950. Around the side of the tomb, we then see that one of their children passed away three years later. This name is Antony Ashby. We then go inside of the church where the minister is conducting a memorial service for the parents. We meet that the woman that helped raise the other two children. She is their aunt, Harriet (Shelia Burrell). The daughter is Eleanor (Janette Scott). There is then the other son, who plays the organ for the church, Simon (Oliver Reed). Eleanor has a panic attack and faints when she sees a man in the doorway.

Back at the house we see that she has a nurse who takes care of her. Her name is Françoise (Liliane Brousse). We learn that Eleanor is a nervous woman. She seems like she’s on the verge of a breakdown. She believes that the man she saw was their missing brother. The story is that after their parents passed away, Tony as a boy jumped off a cliff, hit the rocks and drowned, but his body was never recovered.

Eleanor looks out the window and sees the man again. She goes out and runs into him. Simon and Harriet do not see eye-to-eye on everything, but she wants him to calm down his drinking, because his actions are hurting the family. He looks out the window and sees his sister. They go after her but find her alone. She is brought back into the house and given a sleeping pill.

This is when we learn that Françoise is not a nurse. She was brought in by Simon. She is fond of him and he shows affection toward her sometimes. He goes to make himself a drink to find they are out of brandy. He rings for the butler, Williams (John Stuart) and asks him to fetch another bottle. This is where Simon learns that they are out. He has overspent his allowance from his trust fund so he has outstanding debts with the wine seller as well as for getting gas for the car.

The next day he goes to visit with the attorney who runs the trust fund as the executor. This is John Kossett (Maurice Denham). Simon accuses him of embezzling and the man wants him out of the office. John’s son is Keith (John Bonney) and he enters the room. He takes Simon into his office and we learn the truth. His father isn’t the one stealing. Simon gets money to cover some of these expenses.

We then see Eleanor at the place where her brother supposedly committed suicide. There is a man watching from above. He watches as she jumps. The film then shifts back to her house with this man carrying her. He reveals to the butler that he is the brother they thought was dead, Tony (Alexander Davion).

This makes everything much different with dividing up the estate. Since they thought he was dead, it now must be split between the three children. Aunt Harriet doesn’t believe that he is who is saying he is. Simon doesn’t either. Eleanor does and it seems to help her with anxiety. John is called in to ask him questions to prove who he is. Davion seems to pass. Things aren’t as they seem though and there is a lot to unpack here for the truth.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that I didn’t fully remember where this movie was going so it was like watching this again for the first time. What I will say is that I still rather enjoyed this one. It is a dark, brooding feel that is built from the past of this family with the mental state of the surviving children. I’d say that this feels a bit like borrowing from Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’. Our siblings are pitted against each other, but their mental state is in question.

Where I want to start then would be with the mental state. Simon is trying to get Eleanor to snap completely. If he does, he inherits everything. He has a chip on his shoulder as he feels slighted. It seems that everyone loved Tony more than him. It doesn’t help that Simon is a brooding young man that drinks too much. He is hard toward everyone. Aunt Harriet is worried about him, but he is cold toward her. He isn’t liked by anyone. Reed does an amazing job in a role like this. It is a shame that alcoholism was what killed him so this younger character is mirroring him. To finish this though, Simon is greedy.

On the other side, you have Eleanor who doesn’t care about the money. Her mental state is fragile. She lost her parents and her beloved brother. There is hope when she sees this figure that she believes is Tony. Aunt Harriet is worried about what people think of the family. This upsets her with how Simon acts. He thinks that Eleanor should be the one that takes more of her burden. This is interesting with the truth of what happened and reveals that follow. I’d say that Scott has a good performance along with Reed here.

The last bit for the story then would be if Tony is who he says he is or not. I won’t reveal this since it would spoil part of the movie. What I will say though is that this comes around the halfway point as to the truth. Or at least not too long after we see that Tony has returned. There is an odd relationship that forms between him and Eleanor. This hurts her mental state as well. I think that Davion is also good in his role. My issue is that I feel his ‘sister’ and that plotline has an odd way of being tied up.

Where I think I should then go would be the rest of the cast. Burrell is also solid as an old school aunt. She cares more about how the family is seen and less about truly helping them. That fits their status and background. Denham is good as the hardened attorney. I like Bonney as his corrupt son. Brousse is cute as this nurse. I’d say that the cast in general is solid for what is needed.

Other than that, I’ll go to the filmmaking. The cinematography is good. I think getting to know this manor and how much wealth this family has. There is that feeling that there isn’t much left though or that it is being spent too fast by Simon. We also get the bleakness of the cliffs. This is where Tony was supposed to have died. I liked that. There isn’t a lot in the way of effects. We also don’t need them. There is a creepy mask as well as a mummified body. Those were both solid. The soundtrack also fits with the use of organ music and the singing of a boy. This is a well-made movie overall.

In conclusion, I’m glad that I finally revisited this one. We are getting a one-off Hammer film that I think deserves more attention. There are elements of the old dark house. We have this family who is wealthy, but there are dark, hidden secrets. I like the elements of the House of Usher with questioning the mental status of everyone. The acting helps there. Special credit to Reed, Scott and Davion. This is also well-made. I can’t recommend this to everyone. If you like older cinema though, this is one I’d say give a watch.


My Rating: 8 out of 10