Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mini Hitchcocks: Nightmare

Poor Janet. When she was a child, she witnessed her mother stab her father to death…on her birthday no less! Scarred for life, Janet has a rough time of it, with recurring nightmares of wandering through the darkened corridors of the local insane asylum only to encounter Mummy, a slobbering, strait-jacketed maniac with rats nest hair and bulging eyes, straight out of Nuthouse Lunatics 101.

So begins Nightmare, yet another entry in Hammer’s foray into the world of little Gothic psycho thrillers, where Jennie Linden proves her acting chops as Janet, screaming and running around the shadowed halls of High Towers, the ancestral home she will inherit when she turns eighteen (looking suspiciously like the castle set from Dracula: Prince of Darkness.).

Janet has been away at school, but her frequent nocturnal screaming fits aren’t good for the other girls. Accompanied by one of her teachers, she is sent home to rest. Janet has a guardian and executor of the estate, the playboy Henry Baxter, who is away on business and so has hired a psychiatric nurse to be Janet’s companion until his return. Things start to heat up when Janet starts having dreams and visions of the World’s Ugliest Woman (Clytie Jessup who also happened to play the ghost of Miss Jessell in 1961’s The Innocents) standing around looking uber-creepy. You can tell she’s uber creepy because she has a scar on her face. Whoever or whatever this woman is, her frequent appearance pushes Janet to the brink of hysteria. Soon, she too is ratting her hair and running around barefoot, brandishing that old psycho standby, the butcher knife, and periodically breaking into fits of spittle-spewing screaming. And that’s just the first twenty minutes.

In Nightmare, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster offers a more mechanical script than his other thrillers, and when the multiple Scooby-Doo endings start to roll out in waves, its enough to make even this die-hard Gothic fan roll his eyes. I guarantee you won’t be able to predict any of these endings, and you probably won’t buy them as plausible, either. But if you like stark black and white Cinemascope shot in old dark houses with lots of screaming and peeking around doorways, this one is another winner. 

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