Legendary hellraiser Oliver Reed may be better remembered for his drinking antics than his acting credits, but having just seen the latest Eureka! Classics release, I think a reappraisal of the spirited thespian’s cinematic roles is long overdue.
Having made his name in Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf after a string of minor roles – key being playing a camp chorus boy in The League of Gentlemen, and five years short of achieving stardom as Bill Sikes’ in Oliver!, Reed gives a terrifically OTT turn in Hammer’s Paranoiac!
Loosely adapted from a 1949 crime novel, Brat Farrar, by Hammer stalwart Jimmy Sangster, this Psycho-inspired chiller sees Reed take on the role of the greedy, egotistical Simon Ashby, the spoilt heir to a family fortune. Janette Scott (of The Day of the Triffids fame) is his mentally fragile sister Eleanor, while Sheila Burrell plays aunt Harriett, who acts as the siblings’ guardian following the death of their parents.
With the family fortune about to be split, Simon psychologically tortures his sister in a bid to have her declared unfit. But his plans come royally unstuck when his supposedly dead brother Tony (Alexander Davion) returns. Simon knows Tony is impostor and sets out to kill him before the truth behind the real Tony’s death is uncovered.
Twists and turns abound in this gripping chiller that fuses an Agatha Christie-type mystery with gothic horror scares – particularly a ‘what the Hell’ moment involving the family chapel, a wheezing organ and a very creepy masked figure – and adding a dash of fratricide, incest and insanity for good measure.
As the deranged Simon, Reed is stand out and the scenes where he is drinking and lashing out are weirdly prophetic. Making his directorial debut is Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, who has a real eye for creating scenes of suspense – helped greatly by the eerie lighting and the stunning Dorset locations.
The restored Cinemascope HD transfer here is stunning – exactly what you’d expect from Eureka! I hope they do the same with Hammer’s Scream of Fear and Fanatic sometime soon.