Director: Freddie Francis
Cast: David Knight, Moira Redmond, Jennie Linden,Brenda Bruce, Irene Richmond
Within the first 30 seconds of this film a realization dawns that this is the work of those who have a love of craftsmanship and a love of cinema. The opening tracking shot followed by the dissolves in a gorgeous shimmering Black and White and framed in a 70mm-like ratio but called “Hammer-Scope” is intoxicating cinema. The camera settles into a very gothic building and what appears to be girls boarding school in the English Countryside where young Janet wanders the halls while the rest of the world is fast asleep. She is drawn to a particular door and explores within to discover less of a room and more of a jail or asylum cell with an inmate who turns to her, welcoming her with a maniacal cackle “both mad aren’t we?”. The inmate is her real mother, who had been locked up for brutally stabbing her husband on young and innocent Janet’s 11th birthday. The world had been told she was dead, but she keeps appearing in young Janet’s terrifying nightmares. Once again, her screams disturb the sleep of all the other long suffering girls in her dorm and Janet is taken to a separate room as the girls had clearly had enough!
Janet tries to find comfort in the arms of her childhood “security blanket”, a Gollywog and also attempts to drown her sorrows in some loud pop music on her transistor radio. However a decision is made for her to leave her school (Mid Term!!) to return home as she is unable to concentrate on her studies and her condition is a disturbance to the other students.
On the way home it Janet keeps enquiring about Mr. Baxter, her guardian, but he never seems to appear. John the Chauffeur and Mrs. Gibbs are old house staff and appear to take Miss Janet with a pinch of salt, as though they realize she has a problem. Janet has a new room-mate Grace Maddox, assigned to keep her company by Mr. Baxter. Everything appears to be just fine other than the frequent references to the elusive Mr. Baxter and then Janet starts to have those terrible nightmares again, possessed and haunted by her fears that she could turn out to be like her mother; murderous and mad!
The nurses and staff all appear to be extra helpful yet the mysterious Mr. Baxter never seems to materialize. Something seems a wee fishy as the nightmares and walkabouts return with growing frequency. There are new components to the nightmares; a scarred woman and a birthday cake.
As the nightmares worsen and get out of hand the high strung Janet is forced to confront the fact that she may indeed have gone mad as her mother had before her. Yes, there is a smack of conspiracy in the air that is undeniable and soon matters unravel in an engaging manner. The film has been beautifully lit and shot by John Wilcox in what was coined “Hammerscope” at the time which roughly translated to 70mm style scope. Hammer stalwarts Jimmy Sangster wrote and produced while Freddie Francis directed. Nightmare was to star Julie Christie as Janet but she left the movie just days before the start of the shoot by Jennie Linden who performs adequately and is supported by a sterling cast and an excellent score by Don Banks.
Mr. Baxter finally does show up, seeking Doctor’s advice about Janet’s paranoia about inheriting her mother’s insanity. He also reveals a dangerous triangle while for Janet the dreams worsen to the point that cannot distinguish them from reality and finally she snaps, attacking those around her in a murderous rage just as her mother had on her birthday all those years ago. Janet is institutionalized and then slowly the dark truth emerges with one final and stunning twist in the tail that nobody had expected.
Nightmare was shot just a few years after Psycho and arrives in the shadow of Les Diaboliques where a similar black and white monochrome palette is served up. The shadows and shades are superbly captured by some deft cinematography and lighting and is one of the memorable aspects of this well-crafted and acted and thoroughly engaging thriller from the House of Hammer. One cannot but regret that Julie Christie left the cast at the 11th hour on her way to becoming a Hollywood star, yet even without her, the film has enough quality to shine on its own merit.