Paranoiac Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Jimmy Sangster
1963, 80 minutes, Not Rated
Released on February 8th, 2022
Janette Scott as Eleanor Ashby
Oliver Reed as Simon Ashby
Sheila Burrell as Aunt Harriet
Alexander Davion as Tony Ashby
Maurice Denham as John Kossett
Liliane Brousse as Françoise
John Bonney as Keith Kossett
The Ashby family has suffered its share of sorrow and loss, starting with the plane crash that claimed parents John and Mary eleven years ago, leaving behind three young children – Tony, Simon and Eleanor – under the loving care of Aunt Harriet. Tragedy struck again three years later when fifteen-year-old Tony committed suicide by jumping from the cliffs into the sea. His body was never recovered, but he left a note. Eleanor never fully recovered from the loss and has been under the care of medical professionals ever since. Now she is having visions of her long-dead brother, convinced he is coming for her. A distraught Eleanor jumps from the same cliff only to be rescued by Tony himself. He takes her home and everyone is shocked by his return. Simon and Aunt Harriet believe him to be an impostor showing up just in time to claim his inheritance. Could this really be their missing sibling or is there something underhanded going on?
With titles including The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula, 1958), The Mummy (1959) and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), Hammer Films became the studio most closely associated with the horror genre since the Universal era of classic monsters of the 1930s and ‘40s. Gothic chillers were a huge success, but the studio was also known for its contemporary black-and-white thrillers like the deeply unsettling Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960), The Snorkel (1958), Cash on Demand (1961) and Scream of Fear (aka Taste of Fear, 1961).
Hammer had acquired the rights to Josephine Tey’s popular novel Brat Farrar, but the project languished for years as various adaptations were written and rejected. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster (The Legacy, Dracula: Prince of Darkness) was brought on board for a fresh take and kept the basic structure of the novel, but altered the story dramatically by introducing elements of mental instability and incest. The result is Paranoiac, a haunting tale that isn’t so much a horror film, though it does find inspiration in both Les Diaboliques (1955) directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).
In Paranoiac nothing is as it seems, as lies run deep and dark family secrets are revealed. Academy Award-winning cinematographer-turned-director, Freddie Francis (Tales from the Crypt, 1972) shows tremendous talent with both the stylistic camera work and excellent performances he draws from his cast. Janette Scott (Day of the Triffids) stars as the mentally unstable Eleanor, a delicate woman frequently suffering some sort of emotional distress. She brings a vulnerability to the role that the film hinges on. Sheila Burrell (Afraid of the Dark) makes quite an impression as Aunt Harriet, a strict guardian and fierce protector of the family.
The powerhouse known as Oliver Reed (The Devils) chews mad scenery as Simon, the magnetic but devastatingly cruel wretch. He delights in pushing people’s buttons and being an insufferable asshole with a talent for racking up unpaid debts and starting bar fights. His passion lies in having his sister committed so he can claim her share of the inheritance. Simon’s plans are complicated when brother Tony (Alexander Davion, The Plague of the Zombies) returns and Eleanor seems to improve immediately. In terms of “is he or isn’t he”, Davion plays Tony with a sincerity that doesn’t reveal the truth until Sangster is ready to tip his hand.
Outside of Eleanor and the servants, there are not a lot of likeable characters in this picture, but the cast is strong enough to keep you fully engaged, particularly Reed’s command performance. The studio never made great use of him while they had him under contract in the early ‘60s before he went on to achieve international fame for his work in Oliver! (1968). The film moves at a steady pace and offers some great moments of suspense, including one scene involving someone trapped in a car teetering on the edge of a cliff.
The Hammer library is filled with a vast number of easy-to-recommend titles, most starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in a long-running series of Dracula and Frankenstein pictures, but the studio put out so much more. Paranoiac is a quality thriller that may not be its best release, but it contains a decent mystery that still holds up and is solidly entertaining. The film stands on its own as a thriller but does include some horrific elements in its surprising finale. For fans of Reed this is an easy sell, and if you’re looking for something a little grim and twisted, you might also want to give this one a look.
Video and Audio:
Scream Factory delivers another gorgeous restoration of a classic Hammer title with its 2K scan of the original interpositive. Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the black-and-white image is rock-solid and free from any signs of scratches or other damage. Contrast levels are rich with nice representation in the shadows of the Ashby household.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix gets the job done with crystal-clear dialogue levels and a surprisingly engaging soundtrack. The track is free from any hiss or other distortion and English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Author/film historian Bruce G. Hallenbeck’s audio commentary provides a look at the history of this film, primarily through readings of director Freddie Francis’ memoir. He shares information on the producers, the cast, the script and direction among other topics.
In the featurette Drink to Deception: Kim Newman on Crafting a Cunning Tale of Double Dealing (2021, 15 minutes), the famed author/historian provides a detailed history of Hammer Film. He goes on to discuss the source novel, the cast – especially Oliver Reed – and other production stories.
A Toast to Terror: Remembering Paranoiac (2021, 25 minutes) is an interview with author/film historian Jonathan Rigby in which he examines all aspects of the film, starting with a look at how screenwriter Jimmy Sangster inserted satirical elements of the upper class and how he worked with the censorship board concerning some of the more shocking elements. He goes on to talk about the source novel, the score by Elizabeth Lutyens (My Nights with Susan, Sarah, Olga and Julie), the set design, direction and cinematography.
The Making of Paranoiac (2017, 28 minutes) is an archival piece hosted by author Wayne Kinsey from Bray Studios where the film was shot. Kinsey points to key exterior locations and shares the history of the studio before it closed and fell into disrepair following a fire. We get a lot of informative behind-the-scenes stories from members of the crew as well as clips from the finished film.
The theatrical trailer has been included.
A still gallery plays as a slideshow (6 minutes) featuring publicity shots, production stills, international posters and lobby cards.
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