If any director deserves a tribute film of any sort, it's Alfred Hitchcock. The Master of Suspense pioneered a great change in dramatic and suspense cinema (for the better), and is unrivaled in the effectiveness of his film canon.
And if any director deserved to spoof the master, it's one of the masters of comedy, Mel Brooks. And he did just that with 'High Anxiety.' Not a direct parody (as other Brooks films are), 'Anxiety' creates an entire world that beckoned of Hitchcockian lore, with many odd references and characters that don't exactly fit together cohesively. But the film, dedicated to the master, certainly shows great admiration (unlike modern parodies, which brazenly insult any film they spoof).
The inmates aren't running the asylum...someone even nuttier is! Richard H. Thorndyke (Brooks) is the new administrator of the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, VERY Nervous, replacing the deceased/murdered previous head. Things aren't as they seem at the hospital, as the other attendants (including Cloris Leachman as Nurse Diesel, Harvey Korman as Dr. Charles Montague, Dick Van Patten as Dr. Wentworth, and Howard Morris as Professor Lilloman) have secrets and agendas hidden around every corner. Thorndyke accidentally stumbles across a plot involving the inmates, and along with the daughter (Madeline Kahn) of one "tenant," and his driver (Ron Carey), he must overcome his own fears in order to save the day.
One of the strengths of 'High Anxiety' is that, while it has many allusions to Hitchcock's films, it stands on its own two feet. Viewers don't have to be well versed in their classics to get a laugh or have fun, though the enjoyment is sure to double for those in the know.
The cast is superb, with Leachman's Diesel seemingly reminiscent of a twisted evil matriarch, with a light hint of Nurse Ratched, while Korman is still a sniveling manipulative/manipulated fool, much like in 'Blazing Saddles.' Kahn's talents seem wasted on her bit part, but naturally, the star of the show is the leading man, as Brooks does a great job as a psycho psychotherapist.
While fun, funny, and witty, 'High Anxiety' is hardly amazing. The film meanders, and not just due to MacGuffins, sometimes straying too far from comedy in the moments to develop the plot. The suspense element is fairly weak, possibly due to the gags or the homages/references, as well. It's still a perfectly fine film, just not becoming of the master himself.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'High Anxiety' was initially available exclusively in 'The Mel Brooks Collection' box set, but has been given a standalone release for those not interested in buying all nine movies. The disc is identical in every way, down to the numbers on the barcodes on the underside of the disc, just like 'Robin Hood: Men in Tights' and 'History of the World: Part I.'
With an AVC MPEG-4 1080p encode at the natural 1.85:1 ratio, 'High Anxiety' looks quite decent, but won't earn any high scores from me. The opening stock footage is abysmal, with soupy grain and artifacts, but the rest of the film (not counting stock footage and horrible matte paintings) is quite clean, with little noticeable grain and no apparent compression issues. There is a fair speckling of dirt and debris, and some light scratches, but they're somewhat ignorable. What isn't ignorable in this transfer is the light ringing and black levels that are more than just a hair too bright. The picture jumps between fairly sharp to not sharp at all, especially in facial features (particularly puzzling is the case of Nurse Diesel's disappearing mustache). Skin tones are natural throughout the film, though. The transfer is passable, but with the soft contrast and dull colors, it isn't pretty by any means.
Presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (with the original stereo mix available in lossy), 'High Anxiety' is passable but not memorable by any means in the audio department. Dialogue is crisp and clear, with a constant volume level that leaves no line in the dust. The mix is incredibly front heavy, but noise mixes quite nicely, with no fighting between elements for dominance. Score bleed is somewhat light in the rears, but it also stays front and center throughout. There's no real localization or movement effects in this mix, so don't expect 'em.
The lone extra found on the DVD release of 'High Anxiety' was the theatrical trailer, which is also included on this release. The remaineder of the extras are new and exclusive to this Blu-ray.
'High Anxiety' has its fans, but I'm not necessarily one of them. The classic Brooks-style comedy isn't on full display, and there are too many flat moments for this one to rank anywhere above middle of the road. With average, if not plodding audio and video qualities, and a small pile of extras, this release isn't exactly the stuff a purchase is made of. Rent it.