From the DVD case: Simon (Oliver Reed) is a psychotic man who is driving his sister, Eleanor (Janette Scott), insane, so that he can inherit the estate of their dead parents. But when a mysterious man (Alexander Davion), who claims to be a long-lost relative, saves Eleanor from committing suicide, Simon’s plans are thwarted. Simon vows to get revenge on the impostor and take care of his sister in the process. (1963, b&w)
Mark says: Paranoiac begins with an interesting, though very improbable, premise: a brother, long thought dead, returns to the family estate to find his sister near madness, his brother a drunk, and himself the benefactor of a fortune. But first, he must prove to the family that he is the man he says he is.
Unfortunately, the story gets so tangled up in plot twists that it becomes preposterous. This is more of a thriller than a straight-out horror picture.
Janette Scott (The Day of the Triffids) plays Eleanor Ashby, the beleaguered sister haunted by the death of her parents and her brother’s suicide of years past. Eleanor, who looks fatigued throughout most of the film, finds new hope when her dead brother returns from his “watery grave.”
Ms. Scott does an admirable job playing the mentally fragile sister, but her constant state of distress becomes a bit tiresome. Luckily, her countenance improves in later segments, but her sunny disposition proves to be short-lived.
Alexander Davion (The Plague of the Zombies), plays the long-lost brother, Tony Ashby. We spend a large portion of the film trying to decide if Tony is truly the lost brother or not. Because so much of the story hinges on this point, I won’t give the answer away here. I will say that Mr. Davion does a fine job portraying this unlikely hero.
Oliver Reed is Simon Ashby, a drunken scoundrel of a brother. He is resentful of Tony’s homecoming as it lessens his own inheritance. We discover that Simon has racked up quite a few debts on liquor, travel, and cars.
Simon is so unabashedly depraved that he’s almost refreshing. With all the twists in this film, it is comforting to have someone we can depend on. Even if we can only depend on him being evil.
For the most part, Mr. Reed does a terrific job in his portrayal of the dastardly brother. However, he does have a few fits of histrionics that are reminiscent of his role as the featured beast in The Curse of the Werewolf. It’s can be almost embarrassing to watch.
Sheila Burrell, Maurice Denham (Night Caller from Outer Space, Curse of the Demon), and Liliane Brousse (Maniac) also have significant roles.
An interesting aspect of Paranoiac is that none of the characters are completely likable. Janette Scott is about as close as we come to empathy, but even she is exasperating. Still, the characters are engaging enough to keep us intrigued and the story moves along at a good pace, even with all of the absurdity.
As with most Hammer Films, the production value is superb and the movie features some fine black and white cinematography. Horror fans will have to wait until the final reel to experience anything truly ghastly, though.
Paranoiac is not my favorite Hammer Film, or even on my top ten list, but it is certainly worth a view.
Scene to watch for: Simon, in a menacing rage, pulls some darts on a bar patron. That’s right, darts.
Line to listen for: “I’ve been drinking. Now I need to drink some more.”
Trivia: Female lead, Janette Scott, was once married to scat singer Mel Tormé.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.