In our continuing series of articles 'The bloke down the pub' will tell us all about his favourite Hammer Horror films. In his sixth weekly review he's thinking about the nature of insanity in Nightmare from 1964. Enjoy!
Women, eh? They can have a bit of a rough go of it in Hammer films, can’t they? They’re either being chased through chilly forests in unsuitable attire, beckoning young men with ridiculous sideburns towards certain doom, or being abandoned in frilly drawing rooms to wonder ‘what is he doing up there?’
But not all Hammer horror movies are about monsters, you know. Some of them, like Nightmare, are about a more real life sort of horror; like how destructive and terrible your own mind can be, which is much more of interest to your feminine sensibility.
I mean, let me ask you this, what’s more scary? A mythical monster that can be defeated by a number of easy to understand, historically successful (if not necessarily permanent) ways, or your own mind trying with all its might to destroy itself leaving you a gibbering wreck, in a broken shell of a body, whose soul has essentially committed suicide? Exactly.
Unfortunately, when poor Janet in Nightmare starts worrying about going insane, all the English can do is say things like ‘Do try not to go insane, there’s a good girl.’ But given she saw her own mum kill her dad in front of her, and has regular nightmares about being locked up just like her mum, it’s a bit like being asked not to think about penguins. To try not to worry about going crazy is, let’s face it, only going to make you worry that the only reason you’re worrying about going crazy is maybe because you’re going crazy. You might very well end up penguining yourself to death. Even if it’s only a question of mathematics – if there’s only a 2 percent ratio of people who worry about going insane actually going insane, well then you’re already at risk just by worrying. Factor in your homicidally crazy mother, and the whole genetics argument, well things aren’t beginning to look so good for you are they? And perhaps being crazy is only worrying you’re going crazy all the time anyway. All in all, a pretty horrifying situation, I’m sure you would agree.
But what if during a particularly bad time of it - so bad that you’re being sent home because every night at school you wake up screaming and it’s starting to annoy the other girls in your dormitory (there’s a cruel English practicality right there for you - yes, yes, we all have problems; but we also need to sleep so why don’t you just bugger off until you’re better, alright? I mean, blimey, not much in the way of compassion in that school is there? This is a girl who watched her mum kill her dad - on her birthday too! - let’s not forget) anyway, where was I? Oh yes! What if, during all these nightmares, after you were sent home, what if you started being actually properly haunted? And not by your mum, or your dad, or even yourself. No, something much worse. Listen, there you are – genuinely and frankly quite reasonably worried that you’re going insane, and some ghost starts bloody haunting you and you don’t even know who it is! Just some random spooky woman with a massive scar on her cheek who is not only haunting you every night but also steadfastly refusing you tell you why she’s haunting you. I mean, come on! No-one should be expected to deal with more than one terrifying event that undoes the fabric of their own reality at a time, right? And this does not end well, let me tell you. A vicious, cruel, very human sort of not well. Because as women know better than anyone, you don’t need to make up monsters to be frightened when your friends, your family and even you yourself could tear you apart from the inside out should the inclination take them. But you know what would be worse, even than that? Deserving it.
Yeah, Nightmare is a different kind of Hammer horror. But it’s still a bloody scary one. The sort of movie that makes any thinking fellow develop a powerful thirst for blissful ignorance.
Speaking of which… Another pint?