DVD Round-up, 3 August 2010: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Paranoiac, Emergency Call, Marilyn & Stock Car

Based on Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel of the same name, telling the story of a group of Australian teenage schoolgirls who mysteriously vanish while on a day trip in the Victorian bush, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (Second Sight) finally arrives on Blu-ray in a Director’s Cut.

Set in 1900, the film introduces us to Mrs Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), the tough headmistress of a girls school in the Australian bush. When a day trip, composed of pupils and teachers, sets out on Valentines Day, fails to return intact, confusion reigns as to the reason behind their disappearance.

Setting up the various personalities of the staff and students with some care and attention, the script then carefully weaves in layers of mystery around subsequent events, a gradual build-up of tension ensuring the viewer is effortlessly pulled into the drama.

Were they killed by human hands or was it something more supernatural that led to their disappearance? Complete with an eerie backdrop and a dreamlike state hanging over proceedings, Picnic is unique amongst both Australian and thrillers, and as such deserves being given a spin on this new hi-def edition which ensures Weir’s landscape looks its best.

With a new documentary which runs longer than the film itself, as well as numerous extras taken from the vaults which help increase the viewers understanding of the production process and feelings of cast and crew during shooting, this is a gorgeously crafted package which manages to enhance the main feature.

Hammer Horror may be best known for its many outings for Dracula and other assorted ghouls, but Paranoiac (Eureka!), a nifty little psychological thriller from 1963, proves there was more to the house that dripped blood than, well, blood.

Oliver Reed is Simon Ashby, a playboy with a trust fund which is rapidly running out. Simon’s plan to send his sister, Eleanor (Janette Scott), insane so he can inherit the full inheritance from his dead parents, stalls somewhat when his supposedly dead brother, Tony (Alexander Davion) arrives on the scene claiming to be very much alive.

The scene is set for a battle of wits between Simon and Tony, Simon understandably confused by events due to the fact he personally murdered Tony years earlier, a memory which still haunts him today and which appears to have driven him more than a touch mad in the process.

Director Freddie Francis ensures that the film’s crisp black and white photography impresses throughout, while Jimmy Sangster, better known for his work on The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula, produces a dark script with shades of Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Oliver Reed is also on good form, his over-the-top style perfectly suited for the mentally unstable Simon. Reed verges on the edge of taking his portrayal too far, Francis putting him to the fore of most scenes to keep things fresh. Scott may be overly hysterical at times and Davion hardly the most engaging, but the film holds attention till the bitter end.

Also out this week are three British B-movies from Renown Pictures which show that it wasn’t just glossy high-end features that were bothering our cinemas in the 1950s. 

Emergency Call, from 1952, is a melodramatic thriller starring TV’s PC George Dixon himself, Jack Warner, as a police inspector sent to track down a missing man who holds the key to the survival of a young girl who is dying from leukaemia. Anthony Steel and Sid James co-star, as the coppers move from boxing ring to hospital and onto the mean streets to find their man.

Directed and co-written by future James Bond director Lewis Gilbert, the curious nature of the plot is offset by the admirable attempt at race relations and brief commentary on the state of the NHS. Sid James, a familiar face in these old B-movies, is a welcome presence, and this is an enjoyable little tale which, as the DVD cover proud announces, was at one time elevated to first feature on the cinema circuit.

The other release, a double bill directed by Wolf Rilla featuring 1953’s Marilyn, aka Road House Girl, and 1955’s Stock Car, proves to be a less rewarding experience, though not without its merits.

Marlilyn features Sandra Dorne as Marilyn and Leslie Dwyer as George, a married couple whose relationship is put under duress by the latter’s suspicion that his wife is having an affair with his mechanic, Tom (Maxwell Reid). When the jealousy comes to a head and George is killed, the pair go on the run and bring a whole heap of trouble upon themselves.

Stock Car is a grittier tale of lies and double dealing as young Katie Glebe (Edinburgh’s own Rona Anderson) fights to save her father’s garage after his death.

The appearance of an American saviour, Larry (Paul Carpenter), is tainted when Turk McNeil (Paul Whitsun-Jones) decides to take back the garage, violence soon following.

It’s a heady mix of drama and romance, albeit one diluted by the rules governing on-screen violence which ensure it’s never too bloodthirsty. Both films are a welcome insight into the filmmaking styles of yesteryear and a glimpse of the less polished titles which appeared at local cinemas while the blockbusters stormed ahead in the popularity stakes.

Head over to www.renownpicturesltd.com for more on these films.

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