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An American wakes up in an English hospital unable to remember anything of his life before a recent car accident. With only a photograph torn from a newspaper to guide him, and an unknown benefactor, he attempts to unravel what looks increasingly like a bizarre murder. Written by
Hammer studios are best known for their campy horror efforts such as the Frankenstein and Dracula series', but in the mid-sixties they also produced a number of satisfying little thrillers (mostly directed by Freddie Francis) and this film belongs to that side of the studio's output. The film is not as appealing as Francis' earlier Paranoiac, but Hysteria works primarily because of the swinging sixties atmosphere and the mysterious plot, which is played to the maximum and finishes with a great twisted climax. It's amazing that this film was produced by Hammer studios, as it feels much more like a Hitchcockian mystery/film noir than anything else that the studio produced. The plot follows an American who wakes up in an English hospital, unable to recall what has happened to him and how he got there. All we know about the man is that he was involved in a car accident, and he has a mysterious benefactor who's paying all of his hospital bills and has paid for a penthouse suite for him to stay in upon his release. His only real link to his past is a newspaper cut-out of a mysterious French model...
It's obvious that this film was an attempt to mimic the successful American mystery movies of the sixties. Robert Webber's suave performance isn't a world away from Cary Grant, while Lelia Goldoni does her best Audrey Hepburn impression, and actually does rather well with it. Hammer films are distinctly English, but despite being set in the home nation; this one feels more like an American film overall. Of course, the lead character's accent helps this greatly. The film may be a disappointment to die-hard Hammer fans who prefer the colourful imagery of their most successful horror films, but Hysteria is good because it shows that the studio have some diversity. Freddie Francis was certainly one of Hammer's most capable directors, and in his hands this story is allowed to show some characterisation and present a good mystery. Hysteria keeps its audience on the edge of their seat throughout, and manages to deliver just the right amount of humour to be funny, without taking anything away from the mystery. The conclusion is well worked and makes sense, and overall; although this isn't a classic Hammer film, it's certainly a very good one!
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