Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mini Hitchcocks: Paranoiac

This one’s my favorite of the bunch. Always has been. It’s Gothic to the core, from the opening imagery of the cliffs along the coast of Dorset, England, to Janette Scott’s histrionics as she teeters on the brink of insanity… and incest.

But I get ahead of myself.

Paranoiac is the story of a wealthy family with more than one skeleton in the family closet. Eleanor Ashby is a fragile beauty, a walking Petri dish of mental disturbance. But if Eleanor is a psychosis ready to happen, brother Simon is the full bore psychotic, an alcoholic playboy who threatens his foes with handfuls of darts and drives his Jaguar roughshod over Aunt Harriet’s rose bushes. Simon is played by a remarkably young Oliver Reed (here aged 25) at a fever pitch of mincing, smirking, staggering, and wide eyed horror when he realizes his brother Tony has returned from “the watery grave.” You’d be shocked too, especially if you thought you’d killed the boy ten years ago and were only waiting for dear sister to be carted off to the booby-hatch so you can inherit the family millions. Well, it’s only a half a million, but who’s counting?

Lovely Janette Scott holds her own against Oliver Reed as Eleanor, especially when she realizes she’s fallen in love with Tony Ashby. Dashing Alex Davion is serviceable as “Tony” who, understandably, has the hots for Eleanor, but forgets he’s actually an imposter and allows that fatal kiss. “OMG! Unclean!” cries our heroine and makes a mad dash for the nearest pair of scissors. Cue melodramatic crescendos.

Confused? You should be. You need a flow chart to keep up with the relationships… and we’re only talking about three characters. That’s because Paranoiac brings us more script gymnastics by the prolific Jimmy Sangster, this time loosely adapting the 1949 novel, Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey. It’s all a bunch of good, dirty fun directed in widescreen black and white by the great cinematographer Freddie Francis. We get some great Gothic shots of Scott in wind-blown nightgown scampering barefoot among the terraced gardens, plenty of batty dialogue, and true to Hammer style, staccato bursts of violence, all wrapped up in a neat 80 minute package. 

This is a good one for a rainy Saturday afternoon, or late at night when you can't sleep. Or anytime you need a strong dose of Psychological Gothic, for that matter.
I've been drinking. And now I'm going to drink some more.

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