Paranoiac (UK 1962)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/7/20
Cast: Janette Scott, Oliver Reed, Sheila Burrell, Alexander Davion, Liliane Brousse

Simon Ashby (Oliver Reed) has only three weeks to convince everyone that his sister Eleanor (Janette Scott) is insane so that he can inherit the entire family fortune. His cruel gaslighting attempts nearly succeed, until his long lost brother Tony (Alexander Davion) shows up out of the blue. Tony reportedly committed suicide eight years ago by jumping off a cliff into the sea, but no body was ever found. Eleanor is all too eager to accept his arrival, which dispels all signs of her "sickness" and ruins Simon's plans. Naturally, Simon and Aunt Harriet (Sheila Burrell) are emphatically suspicious of his conveniently timed visit. Is Tony an imposter seeking to claim his share of the Ashby estate, or did he just disappear eight years ago to escape the shadow and responsibility of the family name? Simon's increasingly devious and reckless behavior only proves that he's the one who's insane, and he'll do whatever it takes to get all of the money for himself.

It's a surprising little gem from Hammer Studios, and a taut and suspenseful thriller. The black and white photography is crisp and moody, and creates a tense atmosphere. Oliver Reed is simply wonderful as a sinister and calculating madman. His charm is irresistible, and his imposing charisma gives him power over everyone in the film, except Tony. His violent outbursts are truly terrifying and his unhinged performance does an excellent job of reflecting his increasingly fractured mind. Simon's womanizing and rowdy drunkenness also eerily reflects Reed's own personal lifestyle. Anyone else in this role might have made it a bit too campy or melodramatic, but Reed fits the bill perfectly. Janette Scott is charming and lovely, and gives an excellent performance. Her nurse, Françoise (stunning Liliane Brousse), is shockingly sexy, almost to the point of absurdity. She has her own agenda with Simon, which adds even more intrigue. Alexander Davion does a fine job as Tony, although he's not particularly charismatic. However, his somewhat guarded performance keeps you guessing what his true background and motives are. The film ends abruptly with little resolution, but the various twists and turns getting to that point are delightful.