Cult Film Club: Paranoiac

Oliver Reed turns it up to 11 in this, the first Hammer movie to be given the Blu-ray treatment.
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Oliver Reed turns it up to 11 in this, the first Hammer movie to be given the Blu-ray treatment.

Thing is, you'd be paranoid if you'd shifted as much absinthe as Reed

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It's hard to believe Oliver Reed was once beautiful. Before the hell-raising became an occupation and the booze completely took hold, Ollie was amongst the most dashing leading men in British film. Alas, 'Mr England' - as he liked to be called - received his first whack from the ugly stick shortly after the commendable, Psycho-inspired Paranoiac hit the cinemas.

In a pub (naturally), Reed got into an argument with a couple of young bucks. Keen to relieve himself, our man headed for the toilets, pursued by his aggressors. Aware that he had company, Reed turned round and enquired, "Have you come to help me take a piss?" One beating and 36 stitches later, Oliver Reed was no longer the pretty boy about town.

It says a lot about Oliver Reed's chaotic existence that an injury that could have ruined his career transformed him into a terrific movie tough-guy - his prominent scars making him look like a man who could both give and take a beating. In truth, Ken Russell's favourite actor had always been good at playing the villain, as Paranoiac proves. Amongst the last films he made for Hammer Productions - whose Curse Of The Werewolf had made him an international star - Reed plays Simon Ashby, a man whose wealth is only matched by the extent of his mental illness. Indeed, Simon goes completely hatstand when a man shows up claiming to be his long-lost brother and true heir to the family fortune. Still, there's nothing the odd murder can't make right...

Loosely adapted from the Josephine Tey novel Brat Farrar by Hammer regular Jimmy Sangster, Paranoiac was directed by Freddie Francis. A two-time Oscar winning cinematographer, Francis is both better known and more widely praised for his collaborations with David Lynch (Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man) and Martin Scorsese (Cape Fear) than his days directing movies for Hammer and its rival horror studio Amicus. Which is a shame since there is lots to like about Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and Dr Terror's House Of Horrors, even if the films aren't especially scary.

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Paranoiac's not particularly frightening either. However, it is often disturbing, thanks in large part to the unrestrained performance of a certain Mr Reed. The film also features a customary excellent turn from Maurice Denham, the man who voiced the livestock in Animal Farm and played the judge who jailed Fletch in Porridge only to end up sharing a cell with Norman Stanley.

As was mentioned earlier, Paranoiac is the first Hammer movie to be granted a Blu-ray release. For this, we must thank the good people at Eureka! Now let's hope someone pulls their socks up and gets round to giving the studio's Dracula and Frankenstein pictures the same treatment. All that Kensington gore is sure to look decent in high-def.