I simply can't say enough good things about Hammer's series of suspense films. Each addition seems to improve upon the previous one in acting, story and overall suspense and Paranoiac is no different. I heard quite a few good things about this film prior to viewing it and some have even listed it as one of their Top Ten Hammer films, if not at least one of Hammer's top thrillers. With Paranoiac becoming the first Hammer film to be released on Blu-ray at the end of the month I figured it was time to see how it stacked up against the thrillers that preceded it and if it was worth taking the plunge in purchasing.
Paranoiac is the story of the Ashby family. Eleven years ago John and Mary Ashby were killed in a plane crash, leaving behind three children who were cared for by their Aunt Harriet. Three years after their death the youngest boy, Tony, took his life by supposedly jumping into the sea and drowning, although his body was never found. Ever since that time the remaining members of the family have held a yearly memorial to remember their brother and parents, although through the years it's become a show put on by Aunt Harriet to keep up the family name. The Ashby family was rather wealthy, yet the escapades of Simon Ashby (Oliver Reed) continually threaten the good family name. Simon has become a loose canon, wasting away his monthly allowance from the family trust on boose and fancy cars, racking up debts without the slightest intention or financial ability to pay them. All he cares about he receiving his cut of the family fortune which is soon to be divided among the remaining family members, but two people stand in his way.
His sister Eleanor has been in a state of depression ever since the death of their brother Tony, who was her best friend, Simon attempts to use this to delve her deeper into despair hoping to convince her and everyone else that's she's mentally unstable and therefore not fit for her share of the money. Everything seems to be going according to plan until Tony shows up. Thought to be dead for eight years Tony returns after saving Eleanor from an attempt at suicide and Simon's plans of inheriting the full family fortune are quickly dashed as Tony's return sparks new life in Eleanor, and cuts the slice of the pie even smaller. As the time of the dispersion of the family fortune grows closer Simon begins to become more desperate and is willing to do anything to ensure that he is the sole beneficiary.
Paranoiac was ten years in the making as Hammer originally purchased the rights to the novel Brat Farrar, in which the film was based on, in 1954. After a few cancellations and story changes Academy Award winning cinematographer Freddie Francis took the reigns in directing his first of five Hammer films. Paranoiac is thought to be Freddie's best Hammer directorial and lead actor Oliver Reed's best performance before his mainstream career began to take off. For those unfamiliar with Oliver Reed, you'll undoubtedly recognize him in his final role as Proximo in Ridley Scott's Gladiator, yet prior to that Reed had quite an extensive career in the UK. Hammer is where Reed began his first leading roles and from these early films it's quite clear he had a wealth of talent. As Simon Ashby, Reed's performance is nothing short of freakishly brilliant, in fact his performance oddly reminds me a lot of Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus in Gladiator, the young Reed even bizarrely looks and acts like Phoenix which makes me wonder if this film wasn't an inspiration for Phoenix's portrayal of Commodus.
As a whole Paranoiac easily tops The Snorkel and Maniac. While the supporting cast isn't anything to brag about, Reed stands out as the best performance in any of the Hammer films I've seen thus far. The story has more twists and turns than both previously mentioned thrillers combined, with there never being a dull moment, and even quite a few shocking moments such as the scene with Simon playing the organ and the disturbing masked character lurking next to him. Overall, Hammer's thriller's once again top my list and Paranoiac becomes the first Hammer film I've seen that's truly worthy of a perfect score (which I rarely give out). If you have an opportunity to check this film out take it, you may not love it as much as I did but I'm almost certain you'll get some enjoyment out of it.