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Paranoiac! (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000132197
Added by: David Beckett
Added on: 22/7/2010 15:30
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    8 / 10

    Such is the nature of British films that you think you have seen them all when another one pops up on DVD or BD. Sadly, many great British films are lost, forgotten or have succumbed to the ravages of time and the original nitrate has just disintegrated. Fortunately there are people who love and cherish films enough to restore them to their former glory and put them out for viewing for the first time numerous decades. This is the case with the great Hammer Productions horror film Paranoiac.

    In order to prevent any clumsy exposition later on in the film, renowned screenwriter Jimmy Sangster very carefully and cleverly opens the film with a church service which is a remembrance for a couple who tragically died and has a young son who, in his grief, took his own life. The vicar explains how many years have passed and who is left of the Ashby family so you know exactly who is who, why they feel the way they do and what motive someone might have for murder most foul. It transpires that the Ashby family is extremely rich but that the parents left a clause in their will preventing their fortune to be immediately transferred to their children but enough time has elapsed so that Simon and his sister Eleanor are about to come into a huge fortune.

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    Time has obviously not been kind to the siblings as Eleanor is a nervous wreck, cared for night and day by a nurse and Simon has grown up to be a brutish, fast living alcoholic. He is utterly sick of living on the handouts from their guardian which he considers paltry as there is barely enough to cover his whiskey intake and fast cars he routinely writes off whilst well over the limit. This unhappy existence become something even worse when Antony, the they thought had drowned himself years ago, turns up claiming to have faked his death.

    Although everyone is initially sceptical, the man seems to know everything that the real Antony should now and persuades Eleanor that he is who he claims to be, but Simon is another matter. It transpires that not everyone is entirely and 100% sane and, when we find out something about Antony that is kept from the rest of the Ashby family, you realised that it is only a matter of time before this game of claim and counter claim, of psychological warfare and lust turns into something much more sinister: a tale of madness, intrigue and murder.

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    Paranoiac has everything going for it, with Hammer stalwarts Jimmy Sangster as the screenwriter and the great Freddie Francis in the director's chair. In terms of casting, there was something almost prophetic about Oliver Reed in the role of Simon as, although he was a young man then, if you wanted someone to play a hard drinking, hard living womaniser, you really couldn't get much better than Oliver Reed! The other roles are beautifully cast with a stunning performance by Janette Scott as Eleanor who is utterly convincing as a woman with severe mental problems and there are great performances by the likes of Sheila Burrell, Alexander Davion and Liliane Brousse.

    If the opening credits didn't say so, you would probably guess quite easily that this was a Hammer picture as it has just about everything associated with the studio: stark black-and-white photography, a wonderful Gothic setting and a memorable ensemble cast in a film about deceit, insanity and homicide. It really zips along the 80 minute running time even though there is quite a lot of information and plot twists to cover. Sangster's screenplay is extremely intelligent, treating the titular psychological disorder very well and working it into the mystery/horror genre with aplomb. It is a thoroughly engrossing watch and a film that has finally arrived on DVD and BD so that Hammer fans can add another slice of the great studio's wonderful output to their collection.

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    The Disc

    Extra Features
    In terms of supplementary material, all there really is is the theatrical trailer and an isolated music and effects track which really does showcase Elizabeth Lutyens' wonderfully sweeping score that drives the emotions and, when it really gets going, dominates the soundstage to fully emphasise the increasing insanity and horror. Additionally, under the heading 'ephemera', there is a series of 56 production stills, lobby cards and posters that have to be manually navigated through.

    The Picture
    Freddie Francis is a man who is regarded more as a cinematographer than a director so probably was a bit of a blessing in disguise (or perhaps a hindrance) for Arthur Grant to act as a cinematographer with Freddie Francis watching his every move. In any case, it led to a remarkably moody and Gothic look with very deep shadows, stark chiaroscuro lighting and an almost expressionist style.

    This has made the transition to high definition remarkably well and the disc really shows off the terrific cinematography - it doesn't look like a film near the end of its fifth decade, such is the clarity of the transfer.

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    The Sound
    The only audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track which is extremely sharp and presents the dialogue superbly; it helps that the actors all enunciate extremely well even when, as is often the case with Oliver Reed's Simon, they are blind drunk or full of emotion.

    There are brand-new English HoH (or, if you prefer, SDH) subtitles which are clear, easy to read and error free.

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    Final Thoughts
    I had never heard of Paranoiac prior to the press release from Eureka and, once I had read it, couldn't wait to see the film. It is a terrific British horror movie that any fan of Hammer's output will want to add to their collection with masterful direction, skilled writing and powerful performances by the entire cast with Oliver Reed standing out as a talent to be reckoned with.

    The disc is not exactly the greatest and, if I was being ultra picky, I would bemoan the lack of a commentary by one of the many experts on Hammer films but, other than that, there really isn't much that can be added as most of the members of the cast and crew have passed on so aren't available to provide an interview with their memories of the shoot. That being said, the AV package is absolutely terrific and the film is one of the best Gothic horrors that I have seen recently. As such, this is highly recommended.

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