Sunday, October 01, 2017

As Shapes in the House Transform

There's not really any paranoia in 1963's Paranoiac. One of many low budget thrillers, this one produced by Hammer, designed to capitalise on the success of Psycho, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster seems to have decided the way to outdo Hitchcock's film is to add more complications. The plot holds together and due to this, along with gorgeous cinematography by Arthur Grant, capable direction by Freddie Francis, and several nice performances, it's a pretty entertaining film in spite of some absurdities and weak characterisations.

Over the course of its brief run time, the premise of the film seems to change every fifteen minutes or so. Just as you start to think you're seeing the shape of the ultimate plot twist, that plot twist is immediately revealed and a new plot begins on top of it. The first part of the film is a kind of Shirley Jackson-ish setup.

A young woman named Eleanor (Janette Scott) lives with her aunt, Harriet (Sheila Burrell), her brother, Simon (Oliver Reed), and a nurse, Francoise (Liliane Brousse), in an enormous mansion. Eleanor's beloved older brother, Tony, had died some time earlier and now the reckless, alcoholic young Simon seeks to get Eleanor out of the way so he can inherit the whole fortune. But Eleanor has started having visions of Tony (Alexander Davion) wandering about all over the place.

Just as I was starting to think the end of the movie might be about how Simon is trying to drive his sister crazy with someone impersonating her brother, or it might be a haunting, Tony casually starts talking to the whole family, much to the shock of Simon and Harriet, very early on.

So a movie that seemed to be about the point of view of a young woman doubting her senses due to impossible visions and duplicitous, scheming family, suddenly becomes about a long lost brother returning home and questions about his authenticity. It might have been a been too derivative of Shirley Jackson to have the movie from Eleanor's point of view but I would have preferred it to what happens. After this, the whole movie is told from Tony's point of view, a man whose motives are never clearly establish played by an actor giving a surpassingly bland performance. Meanwhile, Eleanor turns into a background character.

I won't reveal the subsequent twists except to say those problems only get worse. But Oliver Reed is very good, of course, his eyes wide and his gestures sudden and quick while he fiendishly plays a pipe organ or abuses the butler for not bringing him more brandy. There are a couple effective jump scares in the movie, too.

Twitter Sonnet #1039

A cane in noble blessings cinched the bag.
Alerted soon, a single gourd awoke.
Because the painted eye was warm it sagged.
Of tiny child grains the stars bespoke.
A narrow stair ascends inside the gloom.
A gleam bespeaks an aging split ahead.
In clicking bursts the message came to doom.
A powder plus a paste awoke the dead.
A smoke replaced the sky beyond the hall.
A sinking sun conducts along the line.
In channels forced the water sure will fall.
Though seeming close the voice is down the mine.
The sounds emerges with electric step.
In static cords a drifting noise is kept.

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