In our continuing series of articles 'The bloke down the pub' tells us all about his favourite Hammer Horror films. In his seventeenth review he's finding out that maybe you don't try and infiltrate a wealthy English family, because they're probably all mad, in 1963's Paranoiac.
You get a fair bit of aristocracy knocking about in Hammer. Dracula’s a Count, Frankenstein’s a Baron, and Hammer’s Werewolf was conceived in the dungeons of a cruel Marquis. But the English aristocracy in the 1960s were a long way away from being able to sit about in Castles doing whatever the bloody hell they liked. Times had changed since the war, I suppose. There wasn’t really any land for them to live off anymore, and their whole way of life was coming to an end. So there’s this curious time in the sixties where the children of the last of the aristocrats were coming into the last of their family’s money, but having been made really quite peculiar by centuries of strict breeding protocols. Pretty fertile ground for horror movies frankly, because you can’t beat a family where each member is madder than the next. And I don’t mean productively mad like Frankenstein or devilishly mad like Dracula, embracing madness to achieve knowledge or power or just because it’s great fun. No I mean, like unhinged mad, lunatic mad, mad mad. Mad because they’re gripped by fin-de-siecle, that sort of thing only the French would have a name for. They’re the last of a line, the end of an era; they might be the last ones left to turn out the lights but they’re so far gone is there anybody really home? Staring into the blankness of their future from the blankness of their minds, they go round the bleeding twist.
These are the lads tottering around movies like Paranoiac; it starts off normally enough, long lost brother comes back home to a family who thought he’d topped himself a long time ago. Fair enough the sister’s really upset, the other brother’s a selfish cad and the aunt is a bit, well, stern. But the movie is all about, is this long lost bloke really the brother, right? That’s the sort of thriller we’re watching. No probs, this is quite good. I wonder if he is or not? That’s what you think.
But then, pretty damn fast, you find out he isn’t the brother! Turns out he doesn’t want to play this game anymore, he doesn’t care about the money or the nefarious scheme hatched by the family’s lawyer. And he doesn’t care because he realises that every damn person in that house is madder than a sock full of bees. The real brother is yelling so hard at the help that you can see his brain rattling around in his skull, the aunt is being just a touch too over-protective of the real brother, the sister is falling in love with the man she is absolutely convinced is her dead brother. You can see this bloke’s point, there’s no point in having a big payday if you’re too busy being covered in jam and nailed to a tree by a family that feel like they’re one piece of bad news away from doing just that to whatever poor sod happens to be within reach when they hear it. And, he’s a man, the sister’s very pretty, so of course this being a movie in the 1960’s, he’s fallen in love with her after twenty minutes. Which is fair enough, this chap is the first good bit of news the sister’s had in some time and even though she recovers from ‘it’s alright, I’m not your brother’ a little too fast to be completely healthy, you can’t begrudge the one member of the family who’s mad with grief as opposed to greed, or lust, or guilt finding a little bit of happiness. And yes, it’s always going to be an icky happiness when the man she falls in love with, and presumably lives happily ever after with, looks so much like her brother it fools absolutely everyone except the two people that have an extremely good reason to know he’s a fake. But it’s OK, because the movie doesn’t pretend she’s fixed, just that she’s better off out of there. Which, given the rest of her family, is a little hard to argue with.
But it’s definitely a good old horror movie. There’s some proper scares, shadowy tension, and a crazy person wielding a hook and wearing one of the creepiest masks I’ve ever seen. But most of all there’s a pervading fog of madness and decay that’s eating everyone in the house alive before your very eyes. Oliver Reed, the drunken violent reprobate brother (because, of course) starts out as a faintly likeable cad, the aunt seems like a fierce protector in the absence of the parents, and the sister is fragile with a deep and understandable grief over the death of her parents and the subsequent suicide of her best friend, her brother. But the longer it goes on, the more their facades crumble as the truth of who they really are gets harder and harder to control. And by the end they’re too far gone even for metaphor, as they dig up their skeletons and try to burn down the past.
They’re pretty interesting these modern psychological horrors of Hammer, that could only have been made in England as the last of a dying breed rages and claws and shrieks at the dying of the light in their heads. You can certainly understand that the moment that tips Oli over in the movie is when he finds out they’re out of booze.
Speaking of which, another pint?