The rich Ashby family has suffered its fair share of tragedy. The parents were killed eleven years ago and their younger son Anthony was so distraught he eventually threw himself off the nearby cliff face into the sea, leaving a suicide note although his body was never found. This left his sister Eleanor (Janette Scott) and brother Simon (Oliver Reed) to be brought up by their aunt Harriet (Sheila Burrell), and neither of them have grown up into mentally stable adults. Simon indulges heavily in drinking, fast cars and partying, while the fragile Eleanor lives in fear of going mad and is constantly tended to by her nurse, Francoise (Liliane Brousse).
And then Eleanor thinks she sees Anthony in a doorway at a church memorial service to her parents and brother, causing her to faint. This can mean only one thing, yes, it's one of those attempts by Hammer to cash in on the success of Les Diaboliques and Psycho, first with a title, Paranoiac, that sounds a lot like Psycho, and second with a twisty-turny plotline that leaves you uncertain of what is really going on until the grand finale. There's even a French actress, Brousse, to remind you of the continental hit, and a character who may have returned from the dead.
To keep things interesting, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster puts in a new twist or revelation every five minutes (you can practically set your watch by it) before the story starts to get too hackneyed, or at least before you think you've sussed the mystery. After Eleanor (Scott in thoroughly delicate and borderline hysterical mode) is taken home from church, it's clear that nobody else has seen Anthony, and she's put to bed only to get up again when she thinks she catches sight of him in the gardens. She goes downstairs to investigate, and seems to meet him there, but he doesn't say anything and quickly disappears.
Curiouser and curiouser, and the developments keep on coming. Hard-drinking Simon is due to be awarded his inheritance in a matter of weeks but his wasteful ways have not made him popular with the family lawyer (Maurice Denham) who refuses to lend him any more money to top up his allowance. Reed is on great form here, losing his temper, seducing the nurse and generally acting the bad boy to the hilt - he couldn't have been better cast. Meanwhile Eleanor has become so traumatised at the thought of going bonkers that she throws herself off the same cliff that Anthony did all those years ago.
And who should save her but... Anthony? The same man (Alexander Davion) she has been glimpsing over the past few hours dives in after her (offscreen) and carries her unconscious body up to the house, where he is recognised, first by the butler and then by Harriet. Simon nearly runs him over in his sports car, forcing the apparent brother to confront his supposed family. But what we all want to know is, is he an imposter or really who he says he is? In truth, we find that out too swiftly, but to compensate there are a bundle of other turns of events hot on this one's heels. What begins as a mystery thriller tips over into macabre horror by the end, and the whole is a neat, if derivative, suspense movie that benefits greatly from Reed's presence. Music by Elisabeth Lutyens.
A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).
Late in his career, he returned to cinematography with David Lynch's The Elephant Man, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Dune, Glory (winning his second Oscar), the Cape Fear remake and The Straight Story, his final work and one of his greatest.