Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Nightmare (1963)

...aka: Here's the Knife, Dear: No Use It
...aka: Spiral of Terror

Directed by:
Freddie Francis

Out of all the films produced by Hammer, this is one of the most beautifully filmed. As a matter of fact it could very well be the best looking black-and-white production to ever come from the studio. So here's a big salute to veteran cinematographer John Wilcox and his gorgeously clean use of light and shadow to create a dark, sinister mood within the confines of a large mansion. Having legendary DP Freddie Francis (whose work on such films as THE INNOCENTS, THE ELEPHANT MAN and many others will never be forgotten) in the director's chair also helps to ensure this is as visually arresting as they come. When she was just 11 years old, Janet (Jennie Linden, a last minute substitution for Julie Christie) witnessed her insane, cackling mother (Isla Cameron) stab her father to death. With mum now safely locked away in an asylum, now-teenage Janet is trying to move on and piece her life back together. The fact she's plagued by horrible nightmares and wakes up screaming almost every single night makes it a bit difficult. She's also afraid she might have somehow inherited her mother's psychosis. Janet's a bit on edge these days... and very fragile... and her compassionate private school teacher Mrs. Lewis (Brenda Bruce) isn't the only one to notice...

Deciding Janet needs a break, Mrs. Lewis arranges for her to go back to her childhood home for a protracted stay. Occupying the place now are her temporary guardian, and the families attorney, Henry Baxter (David Knight), newly-hired nurse Grace Maddox (Moira Redmond), housekeeper Mrs. Gibbs (Irene Richmond) and chauffeur John (George A. Cooper). Unfortunately, there's no peace and quiet to be had in this home, as Janet's nightmares continue and she begins seeing horrific things (a stabbed corpse, a creepy woman in white lurking around...) that are sending her dangerously close to the edge. It's best for me not to reveal any more of the story, but let's just say there are several surprises in store not only for the principle characters in this film but also the viewer. Written and produced by Jimmy Sangster, and obviously influenced by several key psychological horror classics of that time, notably LES DIABOLIQUES (1955) and PSYCHO (1960), NIGHTMARE manages to set itself apart to a degree. Aside from the impressive visual presentation and the twisting storyline, there are some genuinely eerie moments here and a well-maintained air of tension, paranoia and suspense that pervades the entire film.

It's also very well acted. Even though it would have been interesting to see first choice Julie Christie in the lead role, Jennie Linden does quite well and is very effective as the sincere, sometimes hysterical teenager who wants a normal life but always seems a moment away from cracking. Christie's decision to back out at the last moment ended up being a wise choice on her part. The role she took instead, Diana Scott in DARLING, ended up winning her the 1966 Best Actress Oscar. Redmond is superb also in an intricate, tricky role I can't go into much detail about, and there are good character bits by just about everyone in the supporting cast (Bruce, Cooper, Richmond, etc. are all great). Knight is the only one who disappoints a bit with a bland, one-note performance, but his part isn't as big as his top-billing might suggest and he doesn't really do the film any major harm. Also with Clytie Jessop, John Welsh and Timothy Bateson.



BigGreg3000 said...

So much better than "Scream of Fear" which came off as kind of hokey (tell me how is the girl going to jump out of the car without the chauffeur seeing her, and then that ridiculous scene with him pushing his paramour into the sea). I couldn't agree more with you about the cinematography; what a visual pleasure, as well as (unfortunately) David Knight's performance. He reminds me of one of those upper class twits from Monty Python; only thing missing are the front teeth jutting out.

A fine little low budget film that deserves more attention.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I've been meaning to re-watch both of these, along with Paranoiac, The Nanny and a few others. Hammer's psychological horror flicks always get neglected in favor of their monster movies but really shouldn't be.

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