Thursday, August 26, 2010

NIGHTMARE (Freddie Francis, 1964)

Janet wanders the chiaroscuro corridors of a disordered mind, her sanity never far removed from the madding crowd. Freddie Francis directs this fearful tale of a young woman consumed with the fear of inheriting her mother’s mental illness, and still suffering the vertiginous trauma of domestic violence.

Francis directs the film but must have greatly influenced every Scope composition as it bears his intense and intriguing visual signature. The imbalanced and schizophrenic structure that leads to an EC Comics style payoff is less seducing than the cinematography, the wonderful mise-en-scene and deep focus photography, which allows characters to stay in focus as they disappear from the screen like ghosts. Bold lighting effects transform a mansion into a gothic sepulcher, with ghastly shadows haunting the walls and disembodied voices whispering hushed secrets from beyond. It also sports one of the creepiest dolls ever, its plastic face a malignant chorus of silent accusation.

The first half of the story focuses upon Janet, a teenager whose visceral nightmares carry the viscous weight of reality, and soon she fails to differentiate the two. Her past trauma is revealed and soon we learn the secret: she has been manipulated into madness and murder. The second half concerns those responsible and it immediately becomes evident that someone is intent upon poetic justice. The story remains intriguing and intense while Janet treads the dark waters of sanity, but becomes mundane when the crime is revealed. The usual suspects are so unlikable and shrill that the only pleasure is in discovering who is taunting them, playing them against one another: unfortunately, it’s not very difficult to guess. NIGHTMARE is a minor thriller that shines with elegant black and white cinematography.

Final Grade: (B-)

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