Especially in its earlier era Hammer Films would occasionally turn out a thriller rather than a straightforward horror picture. Freddie Francis’ Paranoiac (1963) is one such film—and one of the most satisfying, in part due to the fact that before it’s done, the film actually has turned so macabre that it has turned into a horror film. (That was probably a good thing, since the film was highly promoted with a still of a figure in a exceedingly creepy mask, making it look quite horrific indeed, even though the mask only shows up briefly in the film.) But its biggest strength comes from a wonderful performance from Oliver Reed—looking almost impossibly young and with his face not yet scarred from that famous bar fight. Reed’s glowering good looks and the feeling that his hard-drinking character might explode into violence at any moment is what truly raises the film a notch.
As a story, Paranoiac is one of those affairs of family secrets, pretty heroines who may or may not be insane, and disturbed elder brothers. The plot hinges on the appearance—just before the inheritance is to be passed over to Simon Ashley (Reed)—of a man (Alexander Davion) claiming to be the supposedly dead older son, Tony Ashby. This, of course, is not good news to Simon, who doesn’t believe it and who decides to settle the matter by tampering with the brake lines on Tony’s MG TC. (Purists take note, the car has been outfitted with bumpers—which it didn’t originally have—in order to facilitate a literal cliff-hanger sequence.) Very little is what it seems and many characters are not what they seem. It’s all agreeably done and the more macabre things get, the better the film is. Not exactly a classic, but an often overlooked little film that’s better than quite a few more highly-regarded Hammer productions.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Paranoiac Thursday, Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.