This is one of the best Hammer Horrors that doesn't feature a monster (psychological horror by any other term), because in essence it's terrifying! Also, not one of the characters is likable. And while in modern slasher films this is the norm (7 faceless beautiful people seriously lacking personality go into a... and get killed off one by one by ... in a mask with an 'insert weapon here'), in original horror cinema, most directors and writers usually spent some time building up at least one sympathetic character. In "The Nanny" none of the characters are really very likable, but it works because they're all very real and the idea behind the film is all too possible!
An upper-middle-class couple, Virgie (Wendy Craig) and Bill (James Villiers) Fane are having to come to terms with the fact that their young son Joey (William Dix) is returning from his boarding school/child's prison after serving his sentence for the part he played in the death of his toddler sister, Susy (Angharad Aubrey). Hint, they think he's insane. Joey's a bratish child who enjoys tormenting middle aged women (although when you discover why, can you really blame him?) and his hysterical mother cannot deal with anything, never mind her son's disturbing abruptness and apparent hatred of everyone, especially Nanny (the fantastic Bette Davis).
Bill is a distant father, as was accepted in the day, and a bit of a bully, he spends a lot of time at work. This is why, despite there having been no children in the house, Nanny, has remained to look after Virgie.
Virgie's ailing but independent sister Penelope, or 'Aunt Pen' (Jill Bennett) as she's known, is a jealous woman and has a short temper and an annoyingly direct manner that mirrors Joey's precisely.
In fact, you're pretty much made to feel sorry for Nanny, when seeing the film for the first time. She tries hard to win Joey over, and deal with the distraught Virgie, but you soon see the cracks in her armour as her idea of reality crumbles and the tragic events of the past are revealed. Also, she is trying to kill an innocent little boy, brat though he is, it's hardly the Nanny-like thing to do! What would the neighbours think!?
Joey's little friend from upstairs, Sarah (Sandra Power) is an obnoxious character, but I remember being a young teen, and I'm pretty sure I was the same!
The film starts as a slow burner, but action slowly picks up and the revealing scenes, if you can let yourself fall into the film, are quite shocking and sad.
I recommend giving this film a try, it's an original plot and the simplicity of the horror is cutting.
[Image: Hammer Film Productions]