The intricacy of plots people hatch to make you feel like you're going crazy can make you feel like you're going crazy. Hammer dials gaslighting up to a gas inferno with 1964's Nightmare. Obviously influenced by Hitchcock, the plot is too absurd to have satisfied Hitchcock's obsession with detail but it's a delightful entry to the genre of gothic films about women in nightgowns creeping around opulent mansions.
Janet (Jennie Linden) is having nightmares about her mother who was committed to an asylum after murdering Janet's father on Janet's birthday. She's afraid she's likely to go mad too, madness being in the family and all, something which puts her in a constant state of anxiety. So her teacher at the finishing school, Miss Lewis (Brenda Bruce), takes Janet back to her family home, a sprawling manor house where her guardian, a young man named Henry (David Knight), lives now. Though he's mysteriously absent. The film never explains how and why he became Janet's legal guardian.
Janet's not home for long before she starts seeing a woman with a scar on her cheek roaming the place in a white gown. Turns of plot involving murder and duplicity show things aren't at all what they seem, of course, and then a whole new plot involving Janet's nurse, Grace, takes off. Grace is played by Moira Redmond who gives a better performance than Jennie Linden so the second half of the film is a bit more absorbing. Shot from her point of view, we join her on the maddening journey arranged for her by another set of conspirators plotting her downfall.
But the whole movie's pretty good. Directed by Freddie Francis with cinematography by John Wilcox, the film's a banquet of shadows and expensive knick-knacks crowding in on fearful victims, wandering this nightmare in nightgowns.
Twitter Sonnet #1049
As ankles grow in graves the forests part.
Inside a room that wasn't there it runs.
The orchestras in apprehension start.
At night the cards foresee the pumpkin suns.
Presiding points of yellow eyes ignite.
A gleeful grin's aglow through sugar smoke.
In wav'ring voice the spirits now recite.
The rusted fence by toothsome vine is broke.
A mist reveals a castle made of webs.
The parting clouds display a bloody sphere.
The spirits can't delay the tide that ebbs.
A swinging hinge is laughing cross the mere.
A spirit shakes the bones below the sky.
Behind its stone a socket wants an eye.