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Hammer Horror Series: The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

The Evil of Frankenstein #1

by Steve Habrat

In 1957, Hammer Films first made contact with American audiences with The Curse of Frankenstein, an autumn-fused retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Starring Peter Cushing as Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the monster, The Curse of Frankenstein was a leaner and meaner film when compared to James Whale’s 1931 classic. It also contained a bleak psychological edge that appeared to be inspired by J. Searle Dawley’s 1910 short film Frankenstein. In 1958, Hammer followed up The Curse of Frankenstein with The Revenge of Frankenstein, which directly addressed events from the first film. After striking a distribution deal with Universal Studios, Hammer was allowed to directly copy from Universal’s Boris Karloff classic. Hammer quickly got to work on The Evil of Frankenstein, which found the studio modeling their monster after the iconic Karloff version. Directed by Freddie Francis, The Evil of Frankenstein breaks from the first two films in the series and attempts to almost restart itself, disregarding any continuity simply to capitalize on the look of the monster. The result is a sporadically entertaining but surprisingly sluggish horror film that is glaringly devoid of serious creativity.

Ten years after being banished from his hometown of Karlstaad due to his unorthodox experiments, Baron Victor Frankenstein (played by Peter Cushing) returns to his hometown with his assistant, Hans (played by Sandor Eles), to restart his experiments. Under the cover of a town festival, Frankenstein and Hans slip through the village unnoticed and return to Frankenstein’s ransacked mansion. After spotting the town Burgomeister (played by David Hutcheson) wearing one of his rings, Frankenstein causes a scene that draws the attention of the authorities. Forced into hiding, Frankenstein and Hans take shelter in a cave with a local deaf-mute beggar girl (played by Katy Wild), but while exploring, Frankenstein makes a shocking discovery—his creature (played by Kiwi Kingston) that wandered off ten years ago frozen in a chunk of ice. Frankenstein, Hans, and the beggar girl remove the creature from the ice and take it back to Frankenstein’s castle where he restores the creature’s life. Despite being reanimated, the creature refuses to respond to commands, so Frankenstein hires the help of Zoltan (played by Peter Woodthorpe), a disgraced sideshow hypnotist that is also being forced out of town. Zoltan agrees to try to hypnotize the creature and his attempt is an excess, but Zoltan begins using the creature behind Frankenstein’s back to carry out his own revenge on those who disgraced him.

Under the talents of Freddie Francis, The Evil of Frankenstein manages to hold on to Hammer’s level of quality. Despite the fact that most of their films were made on small budgets, they consistently produced A-level work as far as the set design and art direction was concerned. Francis makes sure that the sets looks great even if a few of them have been lifted from Whale’s film, the costume design is detailed, and that familiar gothic atmosphere is still allowed to poke its head in every now and again. As far as visual fumbles go, The Evil of Frankenstein drops the ball on the overall look of the dreaded creature. Modeled after the famous make-up work by Jack Pierce, the creature here has the same flattened forehead, sagging eyes, and frowning mouth that Karloff’s creature did, but it looks slapped together in a rush. Putty lines are clearly visible and the prosthetics appear as thought they were just stuck on in globs. As a B-movie monster goes, this creature is a winner, but when compared to the effects on Christopher Lee’s monster in The Curse of Frankenstein, he doesn’t even belong in the same series. To further keep him in the vein of the Karloff monster, they slap a gray suit on him that is reminiscent of what the creature wore in Universal’s Son of Frankenstein and they complete the look with platform boots that boost his size and slow to a shaky stomp. The only thing Hammer chose to omit from their creature were the famous bolts that jutted out from Karloff’s neck.

The Evil of Frankenstein #2

As if reworking the story wasn’t doing enough damage, Peter Cushing was also forced to rework the character of Victor Frankenstein. Gone is the putrid little man who had affairs with his maid and seethed at his mentors from trying to put a stop to his gruesome experiments. In that man’s place is a kinder soul, one who only shows his sinister side when he rips a heart from a dead man’s chest and deadpans, “he won’t be needing it!” It’s a bit of black humor that shows his disregard for the dead. Besides the one scene, Frankenstein is a sympathetic character, constantly tormented by those who just simply don’t understand. Cushing plays him as a misfit cast out of normal God-fearing society and forced to suffer for fascination with scientific progression. “Why can’t they ever just leave me alone!,” he sighs melodramatically as he takes a dejected look around his trashed manor. In a way it works and there isn’t anything particularly faulty with Cushing’s portrayal, but you will certainly be left longing for that weasel we were forced to follow around in the first two films. Pitted against Cushing’s misunderstood protagonist is Woodthorpe’s Zoltan, a smirking baddie who likes to pick on the deaf-mute beggar girl and manipulate the creature into carrying out his sadistic orders. Woodthorpe is up to the task of playing a villain and he certainly turns his Zoltan into a slimy one, but his storyline seems out of place, making you wish that Francis would have omitted him from the action entirely.

Considering that this film is trying to replicate some of the finer aspects of Whale’s Frankenstein, you would think that Francis and screenwriter John Elder would have attempted to make us sympathize with Kingston’s creature. While Kingston largely lets the make-up do most of the work, there isn’t any of creature’s child-like wonder that we saw in Whale’s film. There is no “flower picking” scene or torment from a hunchback. No, The Evil of Frankenstein becomes more about playing the tiny violin for Frankenstein and lingering on Zoltan’s scumbag behavior. In a sunny flashback, we get a brief little glimpse of society rejecting the creature, running him down and putting a bullet on him. It’s basically the only time we ever are invited to really feel anything for the creature. Overall, for those who were wondering what it would be like if Hammer replicated what Universal had already done to popular effect, then The Evil of Frankenstein is the film for you. It never musters any memorable scares and the viewer will have a hard time empathizing with the creature. You also can’t help but wonder what the creature would have been like had Lee possibly taken the role (they probably could have made him unrecognizable in that make-up). Still, the film holds up to Hammer’s level of quality and Cushing does his best with what he has to work with. If there is a lesson to be found here, it’s that Hammer shouldn’t have tampered in the realm of cinematic gods like Universal Studios, James Whale, Boris Karloff, and Jack Pierce.

Grade: C

The Evil of Frankenstein is available on DVD.

Hammer Horror Series: Nightmare (1964)

Nightmare #1

by Steve Habrat

Despite what you may believe, Hammer Films didn’t only fiddle with gothic horror films about vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein monsters, and mummys. In the wake of Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological horror film Psycho, studios began rushing to capitalize on the formula Hitchcock used to such shocking effect in 1960. Hammer was certainly no different, and among the Psycho-inspired films that they sent down the assembly line was the claustrophobic Nightmare, a spine-tingling psychological horror movie presented in noir-like black and white. Without an undead fiend to terrorize Peter Cushing or a busty woman in a low cut dress, many might be quick to dismiss Nightmare as a bit of a disappointment, especially since some of Hammer’s finest moments have been with Frankenstein or Dracula, but under the direction of studio regular Freddie Francis, Nightmare is an arresting exercise in spectral spooks and slasher brutality. It also happens to be an extremely gorgeous looking horror movie, one that features undeniably pristine cinematography and expert lighting effects to give the film quite a bit more bite than it already has.

Nightmare introduces us to Janet (played by Jennie Linden), a young woman who suffers from terrible nightmares that send her from her bed screaming bloody murder every single night. As a young girl, Janet accidentally witnessed her deranged mother stabbing her father to death, laughing all the while she plunged the knife into his chest. Now all grown up, Janet is enrolled in a boarding school, but her nightmares have grown so severe that one of her teachers, Mrs. Lewis (played by Brenda Bruce), convinces the school to send her home to her guardian, attorney Henry Baxter (played by David Knight). Upon arriving home, Janet meets her new nurse, Grace Maddox (played by Moira Redmond), chauffeur John (played by George A. Cooper), and housekeeper Mrs. Gibbs (played by Irene Richmond), but shortly after settling in, her nightmares begin and it also appears that she is suffering from disturbing hallucinations. She constantly sees a corpse with a bloody knife protruding from its chest and she catches glimpses of a ghostly woman wandering the halls in a trance. Day after day, Janet is convinced that she has inherited her mother’s insanity, but after a brutal attack, she is shipped off to a hospital for serious treatment. Shortly after Janet is gone, certain members of the house begin to suspect that Janet may not have been suffering from terrible hallucinations after all.

In true Hammer fashion, Francis puts plenty of emphasis on the film’s setting and atmosphere. The film opens in a darkened sanitarium as a woman’s voice calls out to a terrified Janet, who is wandering these threatening halls unaccompanied. This journey culminates with Janet stepping into a padded cell and staring her unhinged mother right in the face. Francis quickly steps in and reminds us that it’s just a nightmare, but judging from the screams of the poor Janet, these dreams are pushing her fragile state to the breaking point. It should be noted that anytime anyone screams in Nightmare, the sound work on the shrieks will have you frozen in horror. The screams that the characters emit could shatter concrete. After we emerge from the sanitarium of terror, Francis gives us a small break before he drops us into another house of horror. Cramped with lavish furniture and engulfed by heavy shadows cast down hallways and in bedrooms just down the hall, there seems to be no escape for poor Janet. Every night before she settles in for bed, she hears a faint noise that lures her away from her bed. She bumps into a woman wearing a white gown and sporting a nasty scar on her cheek and she discovers a corpse that has been hacked and slashed to death. Each scare is executed with precision and the claustrophobic goth that wraps around us makes Nightmare unshakeable.

Nightmare #2

While Nightmare doesn’t enjoy the presence of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, or even Oliver Reed, Francis still manages to capture some rock-solid performances that are sure to keep you entertained. Linden is perfect as the young, sympathetic Janet who just wants her night terrors to cease. Her final push into violence is made all the more disturbing through the fact that she had so much innocence in her heart. Redmond puts on a kindly face as Janet’s new nurse, Grace, but as the horror progresses, we realize that there is a dark side lurking deep down within her just waiting to emerge. Knight is charismatic as Janet’s guardian, Henry Baxter, who perks the young girl up just by walking into her bedroom. Irene Richmond and George A. Cooper is in supporting roles as John and Mrs. Gibbs, but in the end, Francis and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster give them the opportunity to play hero to the violence and madness overtaking the mansion. Brenda Bruce is another warm and caring force as Mary Lewis, Janet’s concerned teacher who thinks it’s best if she spends some time at home. Probably the strongest performance in Nightmare Isla Cameron as Mother (that sounds very Psycho to me…), who smiles as she waves a knife around and seems to find enjoyment in her daughters horrified screams for help.

Considering that Nightmare was riding the wave of Psycho’s popularity, there are a few little similarities that the viewer just can’t turn a blind eye to. First is the twist that is pulled at the end, something that won’t be revealed here, but that is indeed strikingly similar to some parts of Hitchcock’s slasher. There is also the fact that our main character, Janet, disappears halfway through the movie, something that is glaringly similar to Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane (luckily, Hammer didn’t decide to stab her to death in a shower). This lift could have been disastrous, but luckily, Sangster writes up supporting characters that can carry the film when Janet steps out. Overall, if you have had your fill of watching Van Helsing drive stakes through the heart of Dracula, or you need to break from watching Victor Frankenstein reanimating lifeless flesh, Nightmare offers a nice change of pace for Hammer fans. It doesn’t push the limits of the horror of personality subgenre (Hitchcock still remains the master) and it has been unfairly overshadowed by the studio’s color monster movies, but it does give the psychological horror film a heavy gothic makeover, throws in some “ghosts,” and petrifies anyone who hates creepy old dolls. Bonus points for the rich use of black and white film.

Grade: B

Nightmare is available on DVD.

Hammer Horror Series: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

by Steve Habrat

That evil Baron Victor Frankenstein is back and more hellish than ever in director Terence Fisher’s 1969 Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, the fifth entry in Hammer’s brutal and bloody Frankenstein series. Back with a vengeance, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed ushers in a pulverizing wave of emotion that will shatter your heart and a number of unbearably tense moments that Hammer’s Frankenstein series was noted for. A bit different than other Frankenstein films, this entry in the series lacks a grunting, groaning hulk of a monster and replaces him with a mad colleague who has undergone an icky brain transplant. Not as heavy on the horror and more of a thrill ride, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed finds Peter Cushing once again stepping in as the infamous mad scientist and playing him with such demented fury, it practically sends the viewer into shock. While the lack of a deformed corpse shuffling around the countryside may be a bit of a disappointment, the twisted story and the lack of a clean cut hero makes this installment one that really hits you right in the gut. And I dare you not to be downright mesmerized by the chilling opening sequence and that grim ending.

The monstrous Baron Victor Frankenstein (Played by Peter Cushing) has been prowling the streets in secret and gruesomely claiming victims for his terrifying experiments. After one of his victims survives and discovers the whereabouts of his secret lab, Frankenstein is forced to take shelter at a local boarding house that is run by young landlady named Anna (Played by Veronica Carlson). Under a new name, Frankenstein keeps largely to himself but after he discovers Anna’s fiancé, Karl (Played by Simon Ward), who happens to be a doctor at the local mental asylum, is stealing drugs and selling them, he blackmails the young couple into helping him with his macabre work. The couple soon learns that Frankenstein is attempting a brain transplant on a former colleague named Professor Richter (Played by Freddie Francis) who has been locked up in an insane asylum for many years. As the police close in on the trio, the experiment on Professor Richter doesn’t go according to Frankenstein’s plan and Richter sets out to make Frankenstein pay for his ungodly experiments.

Perhaps the strangest touch to Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is the fact that there isn’t the usual Frankenstein Monster that we are all familiar with. This creature is certainly sympathetic as everyone he stumbles across is terrified of him (he means them no harm) but he actually speaks and very intelligently at that. The only thing truly horrifying about his appearance is the slew of stitches that dot his forehead like a hellish crown. Later in the film, the Monster (or Professor Richter) goes to see his wife who is just sickened over what Frankenstein has done to her husband. It is emotionally intimate and touching as Professor Richter hides out of his wife’s sight and calmly tries to comfort her. Mind you, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed certainly asks for plenty of empathy but this isn’t all a pity party. Fisher opens the film with plenty of bloody, gore, and severed limbs to make us all a little queasy. The opening finds a masked Frankenstein prowling the shadows and lobbing off heads as blood splatters every which way. If that scene doesn’t get your heart pounding, surely the sequence that finds a water main suddenly bursting and a rotten corpses bubbling up from its muddy grave as Anna tries desperately to hide the body from onlookers will have you covering your eyes. It’s smartly conceived horror sequences like this that prove to the viewer that Fisher and Hammer may have been making a spin-off franchise film but they were determined to do it with plenty of style and fury.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed also gets a boost from the always-spectacular Cushing as the demented Frankenstein. If you think you’ve seen him at the height of his evil, wait until you see him here. He hilariously cuts down a group of over opinionated gentlemen who criticize his past experiments. As he overhears their conversation, the sullen Frankenstein turns to them and says, “I didn’t know you were all doctors!” They quickly explain that they are not doctors and Frankenstein hits them with, “Oh, I thought you knew what you were talking about.” When he is verbally ripping someone to shreds, Frankenstein commits other monstrous acts including a heartless murder and the stomach-churning assault of Anna. It is also terrifying the way he forces Karl into murder but what is even more chilling is that Karl doesn’t put up much of a fight, although he does squirm but mostly during the experiments. The climax of the film largely belongs to Francis, who really manages to get us on his side as Richter. Then we have Carlson and Ward as the young couple forced into terrible acts by their evil puppet master. It certainly isn’t easy to watch Karl get tangled in a web of death but there are points where he doesn’t seem to mind at all. Anna, meanwhile, is more of a prisoner than Karl, kept around only for Frankenstein to rape and make coffee.

In typical Frankenstein fashion, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed ends with a fiery confrontation between Richter and his creator. You will be cheering as Richter unleashes charred revenge on the sick and twisted Frankenstein. In a way, the film is disappointing because we are so naturally used to seeing a decaying corpse brought back to life through electricity that it does come as a bit of a shock when this “Monster” begins speaking in a polite manner. The positive is that it does add a fresh spin on the material and it doesn’t resort to rehashing what we have already seen in previous Frankenstein films. The other disappointment is that most of the scares are found at the beginning and then the film transitions into a more of a suspense thriller with lots of bright red blood. Overall, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is certainly a strong installment in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, one that isn’t afraid to embrace plenty of extremely unethical behavior and plenty of fiery doom and gloom when the curtains fall on the climax. This is a nasty movie with infinite amounts of madness burning in its blood red eyes. An essential film for Hammer fans.

Grade: A-

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is available on DVD.

Hammer Horror Series: Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

by Steve Habrat

After Hammer’s success with Horror of Dracula, the British studio began whipping up multiple sequels that found Christopher Lee’s snarling Count Dracula rising from the grave in some way, shape, or form. One of the better sequels is 1968’s Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, a snappy horror outing with plenty of blood dripping from Lee’s fangs and as much cleavage as you can handle. Hey, this is Hammer! With Hammer’s favored son Terence Fisher out of the director’s chair and director Freddie Francis taking control, there seems to be a reignited spark of enthusiasm throughout Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. Lee seems just a little more devilish than usual and the bloodletting is a tad more extreme than some of the previous offerings (the film is hilariously rated G but don’t be fooled). Francis injects a captivating storyline and mixes it with attention grabbing melodrama and likeable characters, all which give the film a morbid charm, much like the monster we all fear. Francis takes things to the next level with a number of iconic images and a climax that more than delivers. It’s a gothic image so startling that you will never be able to chase it from your mind. The only thing missing here is Peter Cushing, who is sorely missed!

Set after the events of Dracula, Prince of Darkness, a year has passed since Dracula’s (Played by Christopher Lee) death but the local villagers are still jumpy and whisper about vampirism. They are convinced that Dracula still watches them from his castle high in the mountains and that he still emerges at night to drink the blood of the living.  Monsignor Ernst Mueller (Played by Rupert Davies) decides to perform an exorcism on Dracula’s castle to prove to the villagers that the evil is gone for good. The monsignor takes a local priest (Played by Ewan Hooper) with him up to Dracula’s castle but what he doesn’t know is that the priest is grappling with his faith. During the exorcism, the priest takes a nasty fall and cuts his head. The blood trickles down the rocks and finds its way through a crack in the ice. The blood flows into Dracula’s mouth and the evil one is revived from his chilly slumber. Unable to enter his castle due to a giant crucifix on the door, Dracula sets out to find the monsignor and make him pay for what he has done. He targets the priest and the monsignor’s beautiful niece, Maria (Played by Veronica Carlson), and her atheist boyfriend, Paul (Played by Barry Anderson).

Despite being a whole bunch of fun, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave does have one major gaffe near the end of the film. The scene finds atheist Paul attempting to drive a stake through old Drac’s heart but he refuses to pray so the attempt is useless and Dracula survives. It was news to this viewer that when one drives a stake through Dracula’s heart, you have to say a prayer or the vampire will survive. It may be goofy and completely out of place but the sequence does have tons of gore so that makes up for it. Other than this one flub, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave can be wonderfully funny, romantic, and terrifying. The opening sequence that finds a bloody dead body stuffed in the church’s bell tower is one to have you on the edge of your seat. The exorcism scene is also one that will give you chills as the winds pick up outside the gothic castle. Whenever Dracula’s presence is felt, Francis applies a filter that yellows the edge of the screen, an odd touch at first but as the film goes on, you may find yourself actually enjoying the effect as it suggests evil closing in around anyone who is near Dracula. And then there is the love story, a soft, melodramatic affair that will have the viewer rooting for young love.

Then we have the top-notch performances from Lee and the rest of the cast. Much like Horror of Dracula, we don’t see too much of Lee’s Dracula but when he does decide he is going to show up, he will have you trembling in your boots. When he sets his sights on a young gal he wishes to bite, his eyes turn that familiar shade of red and his lips curl in to a demonic sneer that spells death. When he approaches the crucifix that hangs from his castle doors, he commands one of his vampire slaves to get it out of his sight. The way he delivers the dialogue will send a chill, as he says it with heaping amounts of hate in his voice. Anderson is great as the honest and true Paul, who resists the seduction of a voluptuous bar maid named Xena (Played by Barbara Ewing). He just seems like such a good guy that you can’t help but root for him in his battle against Dracula. Carlson is easy on the eyes as Maria, a warm and innocent girl who sneaks out of her room at night and tip toes over the rooftops to check in on Paul. Then there is Davies as the stern monsignor who detests the fact that Paul is an atheist. Rounding out the cast is Hooper as the priest at odds with his faith. He is one of the first to fall under Dracula’s spell and he certainly is a sympathetic character. He can also seriously creep us out as he utters only snippets of dialogue and refuses to look anyone in the face.

The whole conflicted faith aspect of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is certainly an interesting touch to a Dracula film. It seems fitting but sometimes it seems slightly neglected as a plot point. However slack this plot point may be, Francis guides it smoothly into one hell of a finish that features a gothic image that has to be the king daddy of nightmarish visions. It’s epic, gruesome, terrifying, and strangely beautiful all at once as it rests against an overcast sky. There are a few moments where Dracula Has Risen from the Grave can be a bit cheesy, especially when a sped up Dracula zooms along in his carriage (I’ll wait while you chuckle). As the Dracula films began to slowly fall apart, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is a commanding Hammer vampire film that doesn’t hesitate to entertain us and then get right in our face so that we can smell the blood on its breath. And we can’t leave out Hammer’s famous gothic atmosphere, which is once running rampant right through the action. It certainly has a number of small flaws and one weird moment in the middle but Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is still a vampire film you will want to scare the living daylights out of you again and again. You may even crack a smile at a few points.

Grade: B+

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is available on DVD.

Paranoiac (1963)

by Steve Habrat

In the wake of Alfred Hitchcock’s slasher-thriller classic Psycho, British horror production company Hammer quickly tried to copy the slasher-thriller’s formula and success with a number of films that dealt with maniacs wielding a knife. While none of them were able to match the intelligence of Psycho, one did come close to matching it entertainment wise. Director Freddie Francis’ 1963 gothic thriller Paranoiac may not have bird-like nutjob Norman Bates but it does have enough chuckle-worthy melodrama, wild-eyed overacting, and creepy killers for every slasher fan out there. Francis, who never applies the attention to smaller details like Mr. Hitchcock so memorable did, still makes a luxuriant picture that holds itself together with plenty of nail-biting anticipation (When will that crazy Simon really snap?) and cobwebbed gothic atmospherics that was a must for nearly every single Hammer horror offering. Paranoiac never achieves the level of intensity of Psycho and you really can’t blame it because the film is riding a bloody wave that was becoming overly familiar.

Paranoiac begins during a shadowy anniversary service for three fallen members of the wealthy Ashby family. In attendance are drunken playboy Simon (Played by Oliver Reed) and emotionally fragile Eleanor (Played by Janette Scott) Ashby, the two children of the deceased heads of the Ashby family. Simon and Eleanor are also there to mourn over their brother, Tony, who apparently committed suicide after the death of their parents. It is said that Tony left a suicide note at the top of a seaside cliff and then plunged himself into a watery grave eight years earlier but a body has never been discovered. Meanwhile, a clause in their parent’s will prevented the large inheritance to fall into the hands of Simon and Eleanor earlier but the time has come for them to get the money. Recently, Eleanor has been suffering from chilling sightings of a man that she believes to be Tony although no one will believer her except her loving nurse Francoise (Played by Liliane Brousse). Simon launches a campaign to convince Aunt Harriet (Played by Sheila Burrell), who has taken care of Simon and Eleanor since the death of their parents, to lock Eleanor away in a mental institution and give him all of the money. Simon is on the verge of accomplishing this when a mysterious man (Played by Alexander Davion), who claims to be Tony, arrives at the Ashby doorstep. Eleanor is delighted by the return and doesn’t sense anything to be out of the ordinary but Aunt Harriet and Simon suspect that there is more to this return than they are being led to believe.

Paranoiac is skillfully photographed, the crisp black and white brought to gothic life through the moaning organ echoing through the scenic cliffs and dilapidated chapels. There is no question that Paranoiac is heavy on mood even though the story often times feels like it would have been more at home in an episode of Dark Shadows. Things really get nice and scary at the end, when our revealed maniac sits at an organ with mummified remains watching the ghastly performance. While all of this is just fine and dandy, nothing compares to the appearance of the knife-wielding killer with a mask that will make you loose more than a few nights of sleep. Going in to Paranoiac, I knew the film had a masked killer on the loose but wait till you get an eye full of this menace. Looking like a demonic angel in a cherub mask, the killer drifts about the old chapel armed with a bale hook and makes the disguise that Norman Bates hides behind look tame by comparison. This bloodthirsty maniac is certainly the macabre visual highlight of this thriller.

In addition to the soapy dramatics of the storyline, Paranoiac has plenty of soap opera style acting to fuel a dozen afternoon dramas. Oliver Reed gives a performance for the ages as Simon, a belligerent drunk who smells something fishy about the sudden reappearance of Tony. He screams bloody murder over the fact that he has run out of brandy and he picks drunken fights in a bar that leads to him waving darts around like a lunatic. Equally batty is Scott as the emotionally unstable Eleanor, who attempts suicide to free herself from her daily torment. She isn’t as hysterical as Reed but there is plenty of crazy in her character. Her dramatics come to a screeching halt with the reappearance of Tony, the only character who seems to have both feet on the ground. Then there is the chilling Burrell as Aunt Harriet, a frigid force in the Ashby household who keeps Simon and Eleanor in line. Harriet is only successful half the time but like any domineering force, you will straighten up when she enters the room and has had her say. The frame is given more eye candy in Brousse, a French fox who is carrying on an affair with the unhinged Simon. Rounding out the main players is Maurice Denham as Ashby family attorney John Kossett, a man who has slowly been growing more and more exasperated with the actions of Simon.

With surprisingly solid acting, wonderfully rich sets, and wisely placed twists that spring themselves on the viewer at just the right moment, Paranoiac generates enough tension and dread to become a must for fans of the slasher subgenre while Hammer horror fanatics will gush over it for hours after they have watched it. Francis masterfully delivers a number of moments to send your heart into your throat. An attempted double murder during a cliff-side picnic will grab a few gasps and the ghostly sightings that Eleanor suffers from will keep you on the edge of your couch. The film runs a brief eighty minutes so you don’t have to worry about the film overstaying its welcome or the pacing getting thrown off with a bunch of unnecessary filler. It may not come close to sly genius of what Hitchcock came up with in 1960 but as a British alternative, it gets the job done. I can promise that it would have Norman Bates kicking himself that he didn’t decide to make a quick trip overseas to raid this killer closet and don this killer’s attire while terrorizing Marion Crane. Maybe next time, Norman.

Grade: B

Paranoiac is available on DVD.