One of Hammer Studios’ psychological thrillers that was spawned in the wake of that one Alfred Hitchcock movie, PARANOIAC embraces its more horrific nature and comes much closer to chilling the blood than many of the company’s operatic period-pieces ever did. The story is undeniably Gothic in nature despite the presence of fast motor cars and straight black ties. Its focus on the Ashby clan, a cluster of affluent neurotics if there ever was one, smacks of the same type of festering, familial disease that you would find in any of Ann Radcliffe’s “horrid tales.” And what is the Gothic story without its sin-riddled villain? Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and actor Oliver Reed give us one heck of a baddie in mad organist Simon, a teeth-gnashing maniac who is racked with guilt over the suicide of his brother and possessed by greed for his dead parent’s money in equal measure. Poor, fragile sister Janette Scott is the target of most of his predations, but an alarming turn of the screw occurs when a dead ringer for the dearly departed Antony comes a-calling at the mansion. With images that seem to predate similar Catholic-tinged terrors in Alfred Sole’s ALICE, SWEET ALICE (1976), PARANOIAC plunges into nightmare territory at times, especially during the brief scenes when the wraith pictured above makes its solemn appearances at Reed’s side as he plays the pipe organ. Freddie Francis shows a much more assured handling in the director’s chair than the previously-reviewed THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964), demonstrating a keen eye for the disturbing and the darkly beautiful, not to mention allowing Reed to froth all over the screen when the occasion calls for it.

Advertisements