Thursday, September 16, 2010

PARANOIAC (Freddie Francis, 1963)

A dysfunctional family feud becomes a funeral procession as an ancient organ bleats a tormented tune. Freddie Francis imprints this delightfully paranoid celluloid with his signature touch, juxtaposing suspense and melodrama into a sordid mixture of horror where a family’s fortune is an inheritance of nihilism.

Oliver Reed as Simon the drunken antagonist steals nearly every scene, chewing up the scenery with devilish delight, his sharp eyes and Cheshire grin reflecting a playful yet pugnacious nature, like a bully with a grim sense of humor. Simon says and the deranged Aunt follows, her masquerade a chilling falsetto echoing through an empty cathedral, abandoned by both god and sanity. As Simon plans to drive his sister to her grave, his journey ends in his own final resting place of brimstone and hellfire.

The beautiful black and white Scope cinematography is often utilized for triptych compositions, as deep focus allows mise-en-scene to impart information through background events. Francis’ skewed angles are scored with eerie etude, and the pacing induces just the right amount of suspense without overzealous exposition. The opening scene is wonderful, as Francis introduces the family members one at a time (even the grave of the dead ones) with an unbroken crane shot, focusing upon each character and alluding to their unique personality traits. It is the perfect setup for the mystery to come.

The convoluted plot points an accusing finger at each character except Eleanor, who remains the femme whose fate seems written in blood, her sanity cursed and stripped away without last rights. Traumatized by the death of her parents and the suicide, years before, of her little brother Tony, she is now haunted by the grown up image of her sibling who proves more flesh than bloodline. Invested by an incestuous affair, Eleanor nearly completes Simon’s murderous recipe for inheritance. But the truth sets her free and condemns Simon, self-medicating his malignant guilt with an excess of alcohol, to a burning embrace with his desiccated brother, evermore.

Final Grade: (B+)

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