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Mysterious puzzle of who or what is behind a young girl, having just returned from a boarding school in the English countryside, becoming increasingly paranoid and psychotic. The girl witnessed her mother killing her father years ago and has nightmares of the event. She believes that she has the same mania and starts seeing her mother, other apparitions, and various things connected with the event that happened on her birthday so long ago. She is heir to the house, but her uncle manages her estate. A nurse is supplied for her and the home is run by an elderly couple of servants that have been with the family for a long time. What starts out as something you keep thinking you have seen before - swiftly and adroitly changes direction and becomes something I had never seen before. This is above all a well-crafted film made with creating suspense and maintaining suspense as its primary objectives. Director Freddie Francis, the Hammer stalwart, directs with his usual keen, meticulous detail for the lens. He paces the film very nicely, and he is aided by very good performances from all concerned. The real credit for the film's success though must go to veteran Hammer writer Jimmy Sangster. Above all this is a script-driven vehicle. Certainly one of the lesser known Hammer horror films but definitely one of the better psycho films I have seen.
Jimmy Sangster's screenplay for "Nightmare" is an excellent contemporary
(early 1960s) thriller with Gothic touches. However, the script falters
about halfway through when the young heroine Janet, who has been driven
almost out of her mind by a series of terrifying events, is removed from the
action of the story.
Instead of centering the action of the second half on characters sympathetic to the heroine who might take up her cause, identify the conspirators and bring them to justice - as happens in, for example, "Psycho" - the script reveals to the audience who the conspirators are, and then, until the final scene, makes them the center of the action.
It is asking a lot of an audience to identify with those whose machinations have brought about the committal of a sympathetic heroine, and this may well explain why the second half of "Nightmare" is less gripping than the first - especially as the plot of the second half is a variation on what has gone before, this time with an unsympathetic character experiencing terrifying events. This part of the screenplay also stretches credibility, since it seems unlikely that an antagonist with an alert and cunning mind would not detect a plot which is dividing him from his female accomplice.
The real strength of "Nightmare", however, is in director Freddie Francis' visual flair. A former cameraman/director of photography, using black and white 'scope and obviously influenced by his work on Jack Clayton's "The Innocents", he succeeds in creating a real sense of fear and isolation around his vulnerable heroine.
He achieves this by using the expanse of the 'scope frame, often surrounding Janet with shadows or, in daylight, setting her in a frame devoid of anything or anybody reassuring. For example: when Janet travels home from school, the railway station is almost deserted; we do not see the departing train from which she has presumably just alighted. There are no other cars on the road as she is driven home. As they pass the asylum she dreads, there are no signs of human activity within the grounds. Once back home she is dwarfed by the mansion "High Towers" she has become heir to, and her isolation is compounded by her home being located in remote snow-covered countryside.
Janet's isolation is social as well as physical; ostracized at boarding school in the early scenes, and clinging to a grotesque doll and a small transistor radio, she is never seen with anyone her own age (mid-teens). Her only friend at the school is a sympathetic teacher. At "High Towers" the guardian she dotes on, Henry Baxter, is at least twice her age - as are her other household companions.
In addition to traditional Gothic trappings (heroines wandering dark corridors in flowing night-dresses, candlelight illumination, door handles seen turning slowly and ghostly nocturnal figures) Freddie Francis endows several everyday objects with fearful connotations - Janet's doll, her transistor radio that forever blares out fast jazz, and above all, a birthday cake with lighted candles. The latter becomes a powerful image of dread, since it was on Janet's eleventh birthday the horrific event occurred that started the cycle of nightmares and fear of inherited insanity.
"Nightmare" has a particularly bleak atmosphere: most of the action is set during a harsh winter, the dialogue has virtually no humor and the ending - which should give the audience a sense of satisfaction - is grimly downbeat. This is probably because in achieving justice for Janet, her sympathizers have virtually duplicated the methods of the conspirators and brought about a similar result - a gruesome death and a woman on the edge of madness.
Highly recommended viewing.
I first saw this little seen and somehow very memorable film, when I was around thirteen or so. The opening asylum and subsequent 'corridor' scenes quite petrified me at the time. Viewing it now, it still sends a chill down the spine! it is a superbly photographed film, the crisp black and white images and contrast augment the 'in the shadows' feel of the film. The stunning outdoor scenes were shot over the freezing British winter of 1962-63. The scenes where Janet is trapped with her Mother are truly chilling and the suspense rarely lets up from there. The outstanding cinematography of this film deserves it to be watched in a darkened room... Do not miss.
I've been a fan of Hammer horror for a while, and have only recently
discovered this whole new side of theirs. Hammer have become synonymous
with fun horror films, but their serious little black and white flicks
show that they're certainly not limited to doing just what we know
they're good at! Like Freddie Francis' Paranoiac a year earlier,
Freddie Francis' Nightmare works through it's thick macabre atmosphere,
tight plotting and great acting performances. The film is also very
paranoid, which helps you to get under the skin of the plot and into
the heads of the characters. The film starts off following young Janet.
Janet's mother stabbed her father to death on her birthday many years
ago and has spent her life in an insane asylum ever since. Janet is now
having horrible dreams of her mother, and fears that she may go the
same way...but after being sent home, her problems really start. The
plot for this film is odd because once we reach the half-way point, it
makes a full turnaround and we begin following two of the smaller
characters from the first part of the film.
The second half of the story is definitely more interesting than the first, so the switch is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. This film appears to have been an obvious influence on Pete Walker's exploitation flick 'Frightmare', as the two follow pretty much the same theme. Hammer's version of the story is far better, though. The ensemble cast here are excellent, with everyone giving a terrific performance. Jennie Linden is convincing as the young girl being terrified by her dreams and more than does justice to the role. The greatness of the plot can be summed up by the fact that I often find myself giving low ratings to Hammer's black and white films, simply because I love to see the colours that Hammer do so well. This film is so professionally handled, however, that the lack of colour doesn't harm the film at all - and actually helps it. The atmosphere would never be the same in colour, and the colours are made up for anyway by the wonderful use of lighting. On the whole, this isn't one of Hammer's most important films - but it is a very good one, and I highly recommend it! Just one thing to note...it's not recommended that you watch this film with a headache - there's a lot of screaming!
The legendary British Hammer Studios perhaps spent most of their time exploiting classic horror stories through numerous sequels (EIGHT entries in the "Dracula"-series, SEVEN misadventures of Baron "Frankenstein") and serving up other grotesque monster-mash movies, but they also produced a handful of genuinely convoluted psychological thrillers in the likes of "Diabolique" and even Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". These obscure films (apart from "Nightmare", there's also "Hysteria", "Paranoiac" and "Fanatic") may not be very popular by today's standards, because they're not that bloody and don't have highly recognizable names in the casts, but their scripts are extremely engaging and often give insightful information regarding the darkest corners of the human mind. "Nightmare" is basically another simplistic story about greed and conspiracy, but the imaginative elaboration courtesy of Hammer regulars Freddie Francis and Jimmy Sangster makes it a compelling mystery oozing with a Gothic atmosphere. The intro alone is quite petrifying, as it shows an uncanny lady luring her own daughter into a morbid asylum. We then learn this is a recurring dream young Janet suffers from ever since, on her eleventh birthday, she witnessed how her mother killed her father with a kitchen knife. Since Janet's fear of inheriting her mother's mental illness becomes uncontrollable, her teachers at the boarding school decide to sent her back to the parental home under the supervision of the family's attorney Henry Baxter and the charming young nurse Grace. Back at the estate, someone deliberately intends to push the emotionally vulnerable young girl over a mental edge by carefully re-enacting the events of that traumatizing night. Whoever it is attempting to harm Janet; they may succeed but they will also be punished for it! Jimmy Sangster neatly divided his screenplay into two equally strong chapters, one revolving on the conspiracy against poor Janet and the other focusing on the well-deserved downfall of the villains. Especially the second half of the film is terrific, since it's dealing with a fairly new and innovative theme. Usually in these psychological thrillers, the screenplay just builds up towards one complex climax, but there's two in "Nightmare". The plot twists and red herrings are cleverly executed and there are several moments of genuine suspense. The film also benefices from a superb black and white photography as well as excellent locations, like the old country house and the aforementioned images of the eerie asylum. The acting performances are a bit wooden, though. David Knight fails to impress and Moira Redmond is unable to carry the film on her own as soon as the other female lead Jennie Linden disappears from the set. Highly recommended to the more experienced Hammer fan.
Young Janet (Jennie Linden) saw her insane mother stab her father to
death when she was a little girl. Years later she's still traumatized
by it and is afraid she'll become insane like her mother. Her guardian
Henry (David Knight) and nurse Grace (Moira Redmond) try to help her
but she starts going mad...
This turns out to be nothing more than a reworking of the French film "Diabolique"--but it's pretty good. I have to admit I was actually surprised by one or two events that I should have seen coming. The film is shot in moody black & white (and Hammerscope) which helps immensely. Also there are good performances--especially by Knight and Redmond. This was a strange movie for Hammer--it wasn't shot in color and had no monsters. Still it works. Recommended. I give it a 7.
British director Freddie Francis is nowadays best known for his
excellent work as a cinematographer in films such as "Sons and Lovers"
(1960), "The Elephant Man" (1980), "Glory" (1989) and "The Straight
Story" (1999); but in the 60s, he directed several horror films for the
two most important horror films production companies in the United
Kingdom: Hammer and Amicus. While his career as a director looks uneven
when compared to his successful work as a cinematographer, he managed
to craft a few little gems for both companies that have slowly become
cult classics. Among them, "Nightmare" comes up as one of his best, an
elegant Gothic horror that tells a story about madness, death, and
The film is the story of Janet (Jennie Linden), a young student at a private school, who by nights is haunted by horrible nightmares about her insane mother, who is currently locked in an asylum. As the nightmares become more constant, she is sent back home for the winter in order to rest a while. But the nightmares keep haunting Janet's dreams and soon she becomes more and more convinced that somehow she has inherited her mother's insanity despite the efforts of her guardian Henry (David Knight) and her nurse Grace (Moira Redmond) to help her.
Written by another Hammer regular, Jimmy Sangster (who wrote the Hammer classics "Curse of Frankenstein" and "Dracula"), the plot is a terrific thriller with horror elements that adds psychological themes to the story, always questioning reality as Janet watches it. The suspense and the mystery are the key factors of the plot and Sangster handles both elements with excellent care and the whole setting (an old house during a winter) enhances the feeling of paranoia and madness the characters suffer. Some critics have pointed out that the film somehow loses steam by the second half, and while in my opinion this is relatively true to an extent, I think this doesn't really do any harm and it's still a wonderfully developed mystery.
"Nightmare" is visually a Hammer film that went against the conceptions of the so-called "Hammer style" and modernized their concept of Gothic horror by setting the film in contemporary times. The claustrophobic location looks wonderful in the beautiful black and white photography (another move away the "Hammer style") and Francis shows why he has a reputation as cinematographer. His eye for the visual is perfect and gives a whole new dimension to the "old dark house" element so common in Gothic horror. The style of the film looks like an enhanced version of his previous "Paranoiac", as here the mix of suspense, Gothic horror and British melodrama works in a near-perfect way.
The cast is entirely made up of non-Hammer regulars, which gave the film a fresh face and it really works. Jennie Linden was a last-minute choice for the role of Janet, and we can say that they got lucky with her, as her performance is top-notch and frightening believable. Moira Redmon is also superb, giving her character, the nurse Grace an aura of mystery that is both appealing and haunting. David Knight is not as lucky although fortunately, he does not appear too much in the film. Totally the opposite are the cases of George A. Cooper and Irene Richmond, who give remarkable performances in such a sadly limited screen time.
"Nightmare" is an excellent thriller that suffers from some small minor flaws that hurt the film a bit. The sudden division of the film in two parts works very well as an interesting plot device, but the second part of the film is a bit harder to follow as the change comes a bit too sudden (although in general it's still pretty good). Another minor complain (well, not exactly a complain), is that Francis at times puts a lot of emphasis on the atmosphere and style over the plot, although this is never too distracting.
Certainly Hammer will always be known for their excellent versions of Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Werewolf, but this little film is as good as those and maybe even more. "Nightmare" is part of that line of underrated classics that Hammer made and that hopefully will receive more appreciation now that they are finally available. 9/10. An excellent thriller!
One of Hammer Films' best psychological-shockers features a marvellous British cast, great black and white cinematography, and solid direction by veteran horror filmmaker Freddie Francis. Like so many of Hammer's psychological scare flicks, the plot-within-a-plot owes much to the 50's French classic DIABOLIQUE, but this is still a moderately creepy little thriller.
Title: Nightmare (1964)
Director: Freddie Francis (Dracula has Risen from the Grave)
Cast: Jennie Linden, David Knight, Moira Redmond
Review: Hammer Studios didn't just make movies about vampires, frankensteins creature and the mummy. Nope they also once in a while ventured into the territory of the suspenseful psychological thrillers. In my opinion these guys really suceeded in doing it! Nightmare is about this young girl named Janet who has been screwed in the head after she saw her own mother killing her father on the day of her birthday. So naturally the girl starts to experience horrendous nightmares of her mother repeatedly stabbing her father in the chest. And her mother continues to haunt her nightmares for years to the point where she cant even be in school anymore and has to be taken away to her legal guardians home. There she will try to grasp a bit of normality once again and calm down her nightmares...or will she? This movie was awesome! OK, first things off. Its fairly obvious that these guys were imitating Hithcocks style of directing. This movie came out just a few years after Hitchcocks Psycho did and it was just trying to ride on the tails of the popularity that Hitchcock had given to psychological thrillers. But so bleeping what? They did it right! I'm of the mind that if your going to imitate something you might as well do it the best way possible. And Freddi Francis did it with this here film.
The movie looks great. Freddie Francis has been known for filling his movies with beautiful scenes with lush and vivid colors (just see Dracula Has Risen From the Grave to understand what I mean) but here even though the film is in black and white, the movie looks incredibly beautiful. The house is perfectly illuminated to evoke dark feelings of fright. To chill you to the bone, hallways are filled with shadows and streaks of light...scenes only lit by the soft flame of candlelight. Perfectly eerie illumination that really helps makes the movie all that more nerve wrecking.
Standing true to its title, the film is filled with Nightmare-like sequences. Often times we will dwell into Janets mind and see the horrible nightmares that are tormenting her. Some of the sequences involving Janets vision were truly horrifying. There's this show stopping sequence in which Janet is seeing a lady in a long white dress and a scar on her face walking down a hallway that is incredibly creepy as hell! Anyhows, keeping its faithfulnes to Hitchcocks methods the film has a few twists and turns around the ending that end up being quite good. I enjoyed every second of them! The characters in the film (as they are in many of Hitchcocks films) are not squeaky clean perfectly honest people. I loved that about Hitchcocks films, how often times he would portray people as being really evil and not the "Leave it to Beaver" perfection that was seen back in those days. And here in Nightmare its no different. These characters are real scumbags and they will show their true colors by the end of the film.
This movie doesn't have any major stars, but they deliver great performances non the less. In fact the fact that I had never seen any of these actors before really helped in creating a tense mood. I had no idea what to expect from these characters.
All in all a really good suspenseful psychological thriller that will certainly not disappoint those in the mood for a good spooky mystery. Highly recommended.
Rating: 5 out of 5
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I recently wrote a review of Hammer's Paranoiac and, for the most part,
I feel like I could change the name and delete references to Oliver
Reed and post it as an original review for Nightmare. Oh, sure, there
are differences between the two when you start talking about specific
plot points, but the general theme is the same. Like Paranoiac,
Nightmare is the story of a young woman who is either going insane or
being driven insane as part of a fiendish plot. The girl has visions of
a woman roaming the halls of her house. When she follows the woman, she
inevitably finds her lying on a bed with a knife stuck in her chest.
If Nightmare excels at anything it's acting and atmosphere. The cast of non-Hammer regulars is wonderful. I've read that Jennie Linden was a last minute replacement to fill the role of the insane young woman. She's wonderfully believable in one of her first roles. I doubt that someone with considerable experience could have pulled it off so convincingly. As for atmosphere, I've always been of the belief that solid atmosphere is essential for an effective horror/thriller. And director Freddie Francis creates some very effective atmosphere. Everything from the sets to the cinematography to character reactions appears to have been designed to wring every last drop of atmosphere out of the script.
I couldn't be happier with the recently released eight-movie Hammer Horror Series. While most fans will surely purchase the set for the better known Frankenstein, Dracula, and Werewolf movies, I hope that most are as pleasantly surprised by the lesser known B&W Hammer films as I am.
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