Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bloody Hell! It's British Horror Week! - Happy Birthday Hammer! Nightmare (Freddie Francis, 1964)

Sorry for the slight hiatus there folks, life intrudes! As I said in a previous post, the British horror blogging is probably gonna run till the end of the month anyway. So then, as I also mentioned earlier, Hammer Films is celebrating its 80th anniversary this month. We'll be looking at quite a few of their movies before November is through but first up I figured I'd share some of my initial impressions of one I saw for the first time recently and it's a film that's 50 years young this year... the Hitchcock inspired Nightmare.

Apparently Hammer produced a few suspense thrillers in the wake of Psycho and this is the first I've seen... but if it's any indication of what the others are like, I'm very excited to see them. I don't want to give anything away so here's a brief synopsis: Janet (Jennie Linden) is a boarding school student plagued by recurring nightmares regarding her mother, who went bonkers and killed her father on her birthday when she was a child. Her frequent cries in the night get to the other girls and it's eventually agreed it would be to the benefit of all for her to return home... and when she does, the nightmares inevitably continue. She starts to see a mysterious woman around the house and begins to wonder if she too is cursed to go the way of her mother.

I'll say no more as if you haven't seen this you really want to go in knowing as little as possible plot wise. Admittedly in terms of narrative it's nothing earth shatteringly original, and if we really want to be critical, it was probably slightly old hat even back then but this bothers me not in the slightest. For one thing, the derivative nature of most genre films has often been part of the pleasure in watching for me, but more importantly, Nightmare is arguably well above par for this sort of thing. 

The first thing to recommend about it (as far as I'm concerned at least) is the stunning black and white scope photography. One of the things that seems to be mostly closely associated with Hammer (or that I hear people mention most) are the bold bright colours that fill many of their films, so this is obviously something of a departure. But don't be put off by that... I think it was as nice to look at as any of its all singing, all dancing, full colour brothers. I'd say it compares favourably with the likes of Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much (which would make for a killer double feature with this now that I think about it) as one of the most striking black and white films I've seen. So kudos to both director Freddie Francis and cinematographer John Wilcox.

Another way this is atypical for a Hammer movie is (aside from the contemporary setting) the lack of icons like Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. The cast, who are all unfamiliar to me were all pretty good though I thought. Some have criticised the performances of Jennie Linden and Moira Redmond especially as being over the top but personally I didn't see it that way, a fevered, borderline hysterical approach seeming to be what their roles called for at times.

And finally, the film sort of anticipates some later genre movies and especially slashers... Happy Birthday to Me and Madhouse (the Italian one, not the Vincent Price one I looked at in my previous post) being the two that come to mind (and funnily enough, they'd also make for a great double bill).  

All in all a thoroughly entertaining thriller (props are also due to Hammer regular Jimmy Sangster who wrote it) that I'd highly recommend to anyone with a predilection for ye olde suspense movies.  

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