Director Freddie Francis and writer Jimmy Sangster teamed up for another Hammer psychological thriller after Paranoiac with 1964’s Nightmare. Here, they were primarily concerned with two topics: the first being the hereditary inheritance of madness, the second being the comeuppance of those that wage psychological warfare on unsuspecting victims. Similar to some of the other releases Hammer was producing at the time, Nightmare relies on unreliable protagonists, shady individuals, and a couple of reality-bending twists to produce its thrills, but it’s mostly an effective suspense drama that adheres to some tried-and-true formulas.
Nightmare‘s initial storyline revolves around Janet (Jennie Linden), who has come home from school to her guardian Henry’s (David Knight) estate to have some bedrest after a few nightmares about her murderous, insane mother. Henry doesn’t stay with her, but enlists the help of nurse Grace (Moira Redmond) to keep tabs on Janet. Unfortunately, though, her nightmares turn into lucid reality after Janet continues to see a woman haunting the estate and dead bodies appearing in the same manner as when she saw her own father murdered by her mother.
These quiet moments are the most effective, though some might immediately see through the hallucination element feeding into Janet’s insanity. Sangster identifies Janet’s nervous condition as the anxiety behind potential congenital insanity; her psychological malaise is at first attributed to the byproduct of genetic inheritance, and that ultimately leads Janet to a shocking murder that, the audience later finds, was the ill intention of Janet’s tormentors all along. While this has been the study of narratives before – and in fact H.P. Lovecraft often wrote of inherited madness due to his obsession with his own familial lineage – Nightmare does something great with it by immediately pivoting to new protagonists immediately after Janet’s breakdown.
This twist follows Henry and Grace, who planned the whole thing by having Grace pretend to be Henry’s wife so Janet, upon meeting the real woman, would murder her in a fit of hysterics. Once this pivot occurs, Francis paves the way for a new bout of insanity – this time with Grace, who is plagued with the knowledge that her new husband Henry has been seeing other women and going behind her back as well. Nightmare toys with its criminals in an attempt to make a moral lesson out of it: lovers with riches can never be truly happy with their ill-gotten gains. The theme rings true, and watching Redmond spiral out of control becomes a great comparison to Janet’s the ultimately ends in a loop that recalls Janet’s father’s murder.
Nightmare is a bit slow, but its two distinct plots and pivoting twists should keep viewers engaged throughout its runtime. Redmond puts in a compelling performance and Linden does too, though she’s a bit overshadowed. The conclusion is satisfying, and ultimately this thriller should conjure bad dreams provided the viewer can forgive the film’s unrealistic mask usage.
Scream Factory has released Nightmare on Blu-ray as part of their Collector’s Edition with a new 2K transfer of the interpositive. This film did get a release as part of Powerhouse Films’ Hammer boxset collection in volume 6; unfortunately, I do not own that release so we cannot make comparisons, though it’s important to note that that offering was an HD remaster.
Regardless of previous releases, Nightmare looks good with this new 2K scan, featuring strong textures and skin tones throughout, with the occasional soft focus. The black-and-white transfer truly highlights Francis’ masterful use of chiaroscuro in the darkest scenes, and the whiteness of the snow in the opening frames pops with contrast. Vertical lines are visible in minor moments, particularly towards the beginning of the movie where they are the most apparent; however, the interpositive seems to have been kept in fairly good condition. This release should certainly meet the expectations of Hammer film fans with a solid representation of the movie.
Audio is presented with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track that sounds strong with no dips or drops in volume. Score is rich and dialogue remains consistent throughout. No audible hiss or sibilance issues. English subtitles are also included.
Extra features provide a few new extras, primarily from film critics discussing the merits and context behind the making of the film. A new audio commentary with Bruce Hallenbeck does just that, documenting historical elements of the movie and Hammer iconography. Similarly, Kim Newman provides an interview in which he gives some interesting information about the making of the movie, Sangster’s re-selling of the script as a TV movie, and more. Jonathan Rigby gives yet another deep-dive on the Hammer chronology and amusingly shares his disdain for the inappropriate film title.
More new interviews with actress Julie Samuel, continuity person Pauline Wise, and focus puller Geoff Glover give further insight into the behind-the-scenes of the film in abbreviated chunks with each of the interviewees. Also included are various archival featurettes like a making-of offering with various cast and crew interviews, more historical analysis from film historians, and an interview with Jennie Linden. It is important to note that the new bonus content done by Powerhouse is not included on this release.
- NEW 2K Scan From The Interpositive
- NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historian Bruce Hallenbeck
- NEW Sleepless Nights – An Interview With Author/Film Historian Kim Newman (1080p; 16:47)
- NEW Slice And Fright – An Interview With Author/Film Historian Jonathan Rigby (1080p; 25:29)
- NEW Reliving The Nightmare – Including Interviews With Actress Julie Samuel, Continuity Person Pauline Wise, And Focus Puller Geoff Glover (1080p; 16:12)
- Nightmare…In The Making – Including Interviews With Actress Jennie Linden, Writer Jimmy Sangster, And Art Director Don Mingaye, Hosted By Author Wayne Kinsey (1080p; 27:14)
- Jennie Linden Remembers – The Full Interview With Actress Jennie Linden (1080p; 14:16)
- Madhouse: Inside Hammer’s NIGHTMARE Featuring Interviews With Film Historians Jonathan Rigby, Kevin Lyons, Alan Barnes, And John J. Johnson (1080p; 14:12)
- Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 0:55)
- Still Gallery (no chapter breaks; 2:53)
What’s missing?Show Features
Powerhouse Films Blu-ray Boxset
- Audio commentary with film historians Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby (2021)
- The BEHP Interview with Freddie Francis (1994, 83 mins): career-spanning audio interview, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring Francis in conversation with Alan Lawson and Syd Wilson
- Hammer’s Women: Moira Redmond (2021, 10 mins): profile of the film, television and theatre actor by critic and film historian Pamela Hutchinson
- Kim Newman Introduces ‘Nightmare’ (2021, 8 mins): appreciation by the critic and author
- Something Lurking in the Chords (2021, 30 mins): appreciation of Don Banks’ score by David Huckvale, author of Hammer Film Scores and the Musical Avant-Garde
This Collector’s Edition release is a great option for those that did not shell out the import costs for the Powerhouse Films Hammer boxset collecting Nightmare. As a standalone disc, this has a large number of new extras and a very good transfer with a new 2K scan. If you’re a fan of these Francis/Sangster psychogical thrillers, do yourself a favor and nab this one.