‘Nightmare’ Blu-ray Review: Hitchcock by Way of Hammer

Scream Factory has done an outstanding job of bringing so many Hammer titles home in excellent editions.

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After starting his career as a cinematographer Freddie Francis made the leap to directing in the early ‘60s. There, he’s best known to horror fans having helmed features for both Hammer and Amicus. In 1980, Francis went back to being primarily a director of photography, famously collaborating with David Lynch on films such as The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984), and The Straight Story (1999), his final feature. It wasn’t long after his turn to directing he took the reins on Nightmare (1964), his third picture with Hammer Films.

Clearly drawing inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) Francis’ film makes an abrupt turn midway through the picture. But unlike Hitch’s classic Nightmare doesn’t have a lead as compelling as Anthony Perkins. The first half is mysterious, drawing viewers into a maybe-haunted tale about a tenuously sane woman trying to get her life back. However, the second half asks us to follow and sympathize with a character that, frankly, isn’t to be pitied. The result is an uneven film that only half works.

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Nightmares have plagued Janet (Jennie Linden) for over six years ever since she saw her mother stab her father to death. After completing her finishing school her teacher Miss Lewis (Brenda Bruce) takes Janet to her former countryside home. There she hopes the change in scenery might do Janet’s mind some good. Janet’s guardian, Henry Baxter (David Knight) is away. But in his stead are a chauffeur, a housekeeper, and Grace (Moira Redmond), a sorta-nurse hired by Mr. Baxter to see to Janet. Despite the peaceful bucolic setting the nightmares not only persist but grow worse. Janet seesa spectral figure throughout the house. Her madness grows until an event triggers her and she snaps. This brings about the film’s second half, in which secrets are revealed and alliances are broken.

To speak more of the plot would give away the key conceit. But suffice it to say the script, written by the often dependable Jimmy Sangster, asks too much of viewers when it comes to the focal change. Even if some viewers aren’t bothered or are genuinely sympathetic to the new lead the other problem is the lack of suspense. Once the twist is revealed and all cards lay bare what occurs in the second half feels like a retread of past events. And we already know what’s behind them. From that point, that story seems tedious as we impatiently wait for the you-know-it’s-coming moment when all is shown.

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I do think both Linden and Redmond give strong performances as twisted women with powerful motivating factors in their lives. Even though Francis didn’t photograph the film— John Wilcox is the credited cinematographer—the black-and-white imagery is often beautifully captured. Don Banks’s score brings a classic Hammer sound. So, there are good aspects to the picture even if it isn’t successful as a thrilling mystery the whole way through.  

Scream Factory has produced a new 2K scan from the interpositive and the results for this black-and-white endeavor are excellent. Presented in 2.35:1—“HammerScope”—the 1080p picture offers smooth, clean visuals without distraction from noise, dirt, debris, or other anomalies. Black levels remain dark and the contrast is consistent in its stability. There are a couple of scratches and the occasional soft shot, but this is likely the best presentation for the film which has seen multiple Blu-ray releases in both the U.S. and U.K. throughout the years.  

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The lone audio track is in English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo. Dialogue sounds clear, though there is some hissing at sporadic points. Love the classic Hammer horror score, provided here by composer Don Banks. Subtitles are available in English.

An audio commentary with film historian Bruce Hallenbeck is included.

“Sleepless Nights – Reflecting on a Nightmare Movie” (1080p) runs for 16 minutes and 47 seconds, film critic and author Kim Newman offers an overview of the film and discusses Hammer’s history & output.

“Slice and Fright – Jonathan Rigby Remembers Nightmare” (1080p) runs for 25 minutes and 29 seconds, the film historian/author recollects on the feature. I will say the man has a great voice.

“Nightmare in the Making” (1080p) is a video essay on the film that runs for 27 minutes and 14 seconds.

“Jennie Linden Memories” (1080p) runs for 14 minutes and 16 seconds, with the actress covering not only this film but her career at large.

“Madhouse: Inside Hammer’s Nightmare” (1080p) runs for 14 minutes and 12 seconds, featuring various critics weighing in on the film.

“Reliving the Nightmare” runs for 16 minutes and 12 seconds, with a trio of interviews from people with interesting jobs on set – actress Julie Samuel (she plays the maid), script supervisor Pauline Wise, and focus puller Geoff Glover. It’s great to hear perspectives from below-the-line crew.

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 55 seconds. There is also a still gallery (1080p) that runs for 2 minutes and 53 seconds.

Special Features:

  • NEW 2K RESTORATION OF THE FILM from the interpositive
  • NEW audio commentary with film historian Bruce Hallenbeck
  • NEW Sleepless Nights – an interview with author/film historian Kim Newman
  • NEW Slice and Fright – an interview with author/film historian Jonathan Rigby
  • NEW Reliving the Nightmare – including interviews with actress Julie Samuel, continuity person Pauline Wise and focus puller Geoff Glover
  • Nightmare …in the Making – including interviews with actress Jennie Linden, writer Jimmy Sangster and art director Don Mingaye, hosted by author Wayne Kinsey
  • Jennie Linden Remembers – the full interview with actress Jennie Linden
  • Madhouse: Inside Hammer’s NIGHTMARE featuring interviews with film historians Jonathan Rigby, Kevin Lyons, Alan Barnes and John J. Johnson
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery
  • Optional English subtitles for the main feature
  • Nightmare
  • Special Features
3.0

Summary

Despite a strong first half Nightmare almost totally lost me in the second, where the focus is on an unsympathetic character and anyone halfway versed in cinema can tell exactly where things are headed. Hammer tried the Psycho formula and whiffed it. Still, catching up on these old classics is always a joy and Scream Factory has done an outstanding job of bringing so many Hammer titles home in excellent editions.

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