Although the quality of his movies can vary wildly, there are few directors out there with the resilience of Mel Brooks. His films have spanned generations and spanned nearly three decades worth of entertainment with some of the best, brightest, and funniest talent in Hollywood. Although you don’t see much of him anymore (aside from the rather disastrous attempt at a Spaceballs animated series), his catalog speaks for itself and this recent wave of his classics on Blu-ray is fantastic representation of his works (if you didn’t already pick up that box set from around Christmas at least…in which case if you did, you can ignore these individual releases) if you aren’t already well-versed in the world of Mel Brooks.
An outrageous homage to the Hitchcock thriller about a nut-job with a paralyzing fear of heights, High Anxiety stars the comic genius himself as renowned Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Richard Thorndyke who’s just become head of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very Very Nervous. Co-starring Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman and Madeline Kahn, High Anxiety is considered one of Brooks’ best.
How does one tackle what is essentially the life’s work of Mel Brooks? Well I guess you could point out that they left out one of his more prolific works (The Producers) and one of his worst works (Dracula Dead and Loving It) from the set for whatever reason, but instead we’ll focus on the absolutely groundbreaking and hilarious films that are included here. While I grew up with Mel Brooks films getting a lot of playtime in my house, I hadn’t seen all of them (notably History of the World – Part I) until recently. This recent wave of Mel Brooks re-releases includes all of those from the previous Blu-ray box set except for The Twelve Chairs, so if you don’t own any of the Blu’s from that set, then you’re better off picking it up rather than these individuals (assuming you want to own all of them anyway).
Honestly it was nothing short of a delight to go through each of these films again (or for the first time). I’d seen most of them all on worn out VHS or bad cable signal TV airings before, so the Blu-ray renditions were rather eye-opening (although they all aren’t impeccable). At the same time some of these films I’d only seen once or twice and watching a Mel Brooks film only once is to it a great disservice; I watched Robin Hood – Men in Tights recently for the eleventh or twelfth time and I still pick up on jokes or looks on characters faces that I’d never seen before.
High Anxiety never made much sense to me when I was younger, which is probably why my family was never big on renting it. It was also not a film of his you saw on TV much (that was reserved more for History of the World – Part I or Spaceballs), so my familiarity with it was about zero when that big box set came out last December. Still, when you put it in for the first time its painfully obvious what its spoofing: Alfred Hitchcock films. And considering I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single Hitchcock film (though I did watch the TV series when I was younger), it’s a testament to both Hitchcock and Brooks that the references used in this film were so engrained in popular culture already that even to non-Hitchcock fans it was pretty obvious what was being referenced/spoofed at any given time. Plus Brooks deviated a bit from the general Hitchcock ways and threw in some references to other popular films as well.
Overall High Anxiety may not be the most popular of Brooks earlier works, but it really was a hilarious film nonetheless. It could have definitely been more “accessible” to the average audience-goer, but like Spaceballs it works and plays out much better if you’re a fan of the source material that Mel Brooks himself is as you just get a lot more of the jokes, winks, and nods towards other films in the same genre as the core target of the film. Recommended.
With the DVD having been out of print for awhile, it’s nice that Fox has released the film singly on Blu-ray so fans of it aren’t forced to buy the pricier set (although if you like Brooks stuff, you should probably just bite the bullet since it’d be cheaper in the end likely). As is this a pretty decent release and is identical to the aforementioned (many times) Mel Brooks Collection, so if you’ve read a review of that box set then you know what to expect here from these individual releases.
Video is a solid effort and is quite a bit better than I expected from this film. The AVC encoded transfer starts out rather rough, with a copious amount of grain and a generally flat/soft looking image for the first portion of the film. As it proceeds along it inexplicably gets better looking (not sure what the reason for that is), though it never really takes that step into “wow” territory that Fox often pushes on the format. Still it’s not bad and the DTS-HD 5.1 MA track is surprisingly strong, even if it does focus itself in the front channels for pretty much the entire duration of the film. There’s really nothing else to say about this film—there are few memorable directional effects (if any) and it just really is focused on the center channels for the entirety of the film with little deviation.
Extras are, again, identical to the Mel Brooks Collection. Included:
• Hitchcock and Mel: Spoofing the Master of Suspense (29:20, 1080p)
• The “Am I Very Very Nervous?” Test
• Don’t Get Anxious! The Trivia of Hitchcock
• Theatrical Trailer (2:41, 1080p)
• Isolated Score Track (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)
As with a few of these Brooks re-releases, the DVD editions that existed previously were either bare bones or damn near close. These new Blu-ray releases don’t always sport the newest of material, but the half-hour recap of the production of this film is a nice addition. I could’ve gone for more, but overall it’s a satisfactory addition to what could have been a very barren release.
Overall a solid Blu-ray and one that’s Recommended as the bonus extras may warrant dumping the old DVD release for some (depending on how much you enjoy the film, I suppose).
High Anxiety is now available on Blu-ray.