‘Paranoiac’ or — Sibling Rivalry?
Oliver Reed is Simon, an alcoholic, organ-playing maniac who is attempting to have his highly-strung sister, Eleanor, committed to an insane asylum so he can claim all of their dead parent’s inheritance. Yet when their presumed long dead brother, Tony, seems to have returned from the grave cracks start showing in both Eleanor’s mental stability and Simon’s plan. Has Tony returned from the dead and, if so, for what reason?
What’s really cool about Freddie Francis’ ‘Paranoiac’ (1963) is that it’s one of those movies where a revelation about one character totally alters the entire chess-board and how all the pieces relate to each other, keeping us constantly on our toes. Our allegiances and sympathies are shifted and manipulated, even if we can sometimes feel the gears grinding at some of the more outrageous reveals. But it’s that outrageousness that’s we’ve come for after all, isn’t it?
To ramp up the insanity to the max script-writer Jimmy Sangster (slight spoilers) introduces the element of incest, something that along with ‘The Innocents’ (1961) and ‘The Old, Dark House’ (1932) seems to be something of a recurring motif in emotionally repressed, upper-class families in British horror tales. It’s not a big surprise but it’s still unnerving and effective and although it’s something that can be can be used as a cheap way to elicit shudders and disgust in other films and TV shows, here it works well, also allowing for huge character shifts in seconds when needed. None of this is subtle and it makes for a weird central romance no matter how you explain any of it away but this is a horror movie we’re watching after all and not ‘Casablanca’ or ‘When Harry Met Sally…’. It needs to be messed up and freaky.
‘Paranoiac’ is also beautifully shot, directed by acclaimed cinematographer Freddie Francis who provides some truly striking and disorientating images. For example, there’s a wonderful moment where Eleanor is unburdening her delusional feelings and it’s only as we start to slowly realise that she might be going out of her mind that we also notice, behind her on the wall, there are rows of knives and forks pointing to her head. There’s also a nicely executed sequence when we are left alone with ‘Tony’ for the first time giving us, we presume, the chance to see him act as his true self and let his identity slip. But Francis doesn’t give us that satisfaction, teasing everything out and revealing nothing. It’s great.
But the movie belongs to Oliver Reed who is, once again, in full on bonkers mode swinging violently from furiously pent up craziness to furiously unleashed craziness, and when we discover the family’s dark secret it’s all suitably macabre and demented.
‘Paranoiac’ is another one of those British psychological horror films heavily influenced by Hitchcock and Clouzot where the character’s psyches are as twisted as the plot. If you’re a fan of beautifully shot tales of crazy families, dark secrets, madness and death then you’ll get a kick out of ‘Paranoiac’.