Paranoiac Blu-ray Review
Eureka's disc maintains Francis' gorgeous 2.35:1 Scope image via an impressive AVC MPEG-4 encode. The black and white photography is both lush and lustrous, and the transfer seems extremely faithful to me. I've seen only a couple of different versions of the film - one of which was pan-and-scan and the other a very respectable SD DVD - and this, naturally (and thankfully) blows them out of the water.
The print looks clean and strong, with only very minimal flickers of age-related wear and tear. The contrast is fine throughout. I think there could be some slight exaggeration during the exterior day-time scenes, as whites can gleam quite hot, but this was not a problem for me. Interiors are swept with well-delineated shadows and the film has many instances of highly atmospheric shadow-play to make the most of this. The scenes of people creeping about in the out-building where much of the action takes place are terrifically bolstered by very strong and reliable blacks that create fantastic pockets of ominous gloom for them to move through. The black levels are precise and consistent, too, and there appears to no incidents of crushing taking place. Grey scales are smooth, too.
Detail is very good, folks. Grain is light, but it hasn't been scrubbed away. Texture is revealed in clothing, faces and furniture, even the in the cliff-top grass, the manicured lawns and hedges and the rough masonry of the church and the tombstones. A corpse created by Ashton also has some degree of texture and detail adorning its decrepit features. Close-ups are very good, and the image seems to retain the resolution of backgrounds - cliffs, rocky shorelines, houses, chimneys, windows etc - with surprisingly clarity.
However, there are some slightly distracting elements. I found there to be lots of shimmering taking place on patterns such as the herringbone suits, the tweed jackets, the grills on fireplaces and other such tightly uniformed lines. It may be a little picky, but some of this was actually quite bothersome at times. There is a touch of edge enhancement around some of the roof-lines, chimneys and the outlines of characters. Now, this was not too noticeable, and some of it is possibly down to the actual photography of darker objects set against some very bright backgrounds, but it is there, just the same. I wasn't concerned about any aliasing or any compression artefacts at all.
One thing that you will notice, however, is a curious curved edge of shadow that loiters around the left hand side of the frame during certain pivotal moments. It is in the trailer, too, so this is definitely a deliberate element of the film's visual look, but it does look a touch odd. Not the way that it has been transferred, but rather its stylistic importance. This occurs several times and, with only a couple of exceptions when the frame is neatly transformed into an oval, or eye, shape, usually only on one side of the frame. Although I have masses of information on Hammer's output, I can find nothing that references this visual trait.
Eureka have delivered Paranoiac with a very fine transfer that, shimmering aside, looks quite glorious and showcases some exquisite black and white cinematography with respect.
We receive Paranoiac on BD with a delicious little DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that does the business without any fuss. The presentation is clean, clear of background hiss or any other age-related audio anomaly, and dynamic enough within its limited range to deliver the requisite frisson of unease and a pitch-perfect rendition of the intricately character-based dialogue. Naturally, it is Oliver Reed's highly distinctive tones that shine through most affectingly, but dialogue, as a whole, is splendidly conveyed with clarity, presence and only a slight submission to the locked-down restrictions of the limited soundstage.
The score from Lutyens isn't one of Hammer's most aggressive - but just you wait until we get to hear a lossless presentation of James Bernard's music (The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires is sure to bring the house down!) - but it is carried out from the front smoothly and with depth. Things like the crashing of the car, which actually goes unseen, is dealt with quite nicely - we hear a subdued impact as it lands at the base of the cliff. The shattering of glass - in the pub and especially when Simon wrecks the drinks cabinet in his fury back at the house - is also pretty keenly presented in a track that is, for the most, subtle and underplayed, yet active and violent when called for.
Of course, this is limited stuff, but Eureka have presented the track very well indeed.
Well, no retro-commentary, then. Something from Kim Newman, Alan Jones or Stephen Jones would have been quite appropriate, but c'est la vie. Eureka do make some efforts to add something to the package for one of Hammer's most unsung movies, though. Besides the ace cover art, we get an isolated music and effects track that, whilst being an odd choice for a less-bombastic offering from the more usually brash and energetic studio, is welcome, nonetheless.
Then we get the chance to peruse 56 intriguing and rare stills from the production, including some terrifically over-the-top gurning and leering from Oliver Reed.
And the film's original theatrical trailer also appears. Apparently unseen for a great many years, this gives away a lot of the plot, but also, rather crucially, allows us to see that the stylish curved matting of the frame was, indeed, part and parcel of the film's look right from the start.
I wish there could have been more material but, hey, at least we got something.
Always one of Hammer's lost gems, and so rarely ever discussed or written about, Paranoiac makes an enormously welcome return ... and looks wonderful on Blu-ray. Well worth the wait. It won't immediately draw-in the more casual fans who will be salivating at the prospect of the studio's later and much more lurid titles to appear (and, ahem, who can blame them?), but this is a supremely well-mounted minor classic that stands head and shoulders above most of their other psychological thrillers. Good performances abound. The story bounces ideas and motivations around in a determined effort to keep you guessing as to how it will all come together. Freddie Francis shows an assured hand with the material and the cinematography from Arthur Grant is often remarkable and strikingly composed. Mashing-up intense and traumatic hang-ups with a genuinely perverse and macabre finale, Paranoiac is a sly little piece that makes you switch allegiances and doubt absolutely everyone.
Eureka present the film with only a couple of small niggles. The shimmering is a little bit distracting but the image, on the whole, is extremely rewarding. The lossless mix is fine too, and sound clean and crisp. The extras aren't plentiful, but at least we get some.
Given the quality of this less-renowned feature, we can only anticipate what Hammer delights will follow on Blu-ray.
Paranoiac comes highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99
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