The Jimmy Sangster-penned Nightmare from Hammer Studios in 1964 sees a young girl driven to madness and murder with the film then delivering a bit of a twist when her tormentors are dealt with in the very same manner. Even though there is a small note of sunshine and hope at the end of the film, it is still somewhat bleak and cold and it makes you wonder just how it is that man can treat their fellow human beings like that. Be that as it may, the film is deliciously dark in more ways than one and should provide enough entertainment for those that like their horror peppered with the evil that only man can deliver unto each other.
Freddie Francis directs this descent into madness and being a cinematographer as well as a director, the man knows how to get the best shot possible when it is called for. Here he is aided by John Wilcox who takes over as director of photography and the two produce a thrilling picture rife with tension and suspense as the film leaves you guessing as to who or what is driving Janet mad. Set primarily in her family’s home and more often at night then during the day, the house is dark and quiet and always unsettling. For the first part of the film, you would almost think that it is haunted as it is so eerie and spooky. Visually, the film is beautiful having been shot masterfully in black and white. The shadows and the darkness play perfectly to the subject matter and intensify the horror aspects of the film, making that feeling of creeping dread and paranoia all the more powerful. If the movie had been shot in colour, it would have ended up being an entirely different picture and not half as effective as what Francis ended up churning out.
The subject of one’s journey into the dark recesses of their mind had been explored by Hammer in previous films like the Frankenstein series and afterwards as well in pictures like Hands of the Ripper and to a lesser extent, Crescendo, but none quite so elegant as this film managed to do. Jennie Linden was a smart bit of casting for the role of Janet, a girl who experienced a trauma that few are ever likely to when she was but a girl. At times, it was quite frightening to watch her when the dreams came at night or when the madness had a hold of her, sometimes making you unsure as to which was which. These events and more would then be mirrored later on in the film in the form of retribution for young Janet, more akin to ‘an eye for an eye’ than flat-out revenge.
One of the more interesting parts of the film is how you would think that it would conclude with Janet’s incarceration at the mental hospital, a logical choice if there were one and instead, the movie continues on with the story while still managing to keep your attention as well as that tension, suspense and horror which you would think would diminish. Joining Linden in this exercise would be Moira Redmond, David Knight, Brenda Bruce and George A. Cooper. All would do a fine job of it, some more than others, and sell the material quite effectively. Delving into the pits of mania, whether real or imagined, always makes for a compelling film when done right. Here, with Sangster and Francis at the helm, Nightmare turned out to be just that – a movie that grabbed you from the start and refused to let go until that final, shocking moment.