The Psychopath (1966) Blu-ray Review: Columbo Goes Psycho

Robert Bloch and Freddie Francis' unique, offbeat thriller finally hits home video thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
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If you ever wondered what might happen if Columbo had been born in England, you needn't look any further than the 1966 Amicus production of The Psychopath. A joint effort between American author/screenwriter Robert Bloch and Britain's famed director/cinematographer Freddie Francis, the rampant success of Bloch's Psycho obviously paved the way for this tale of murder, revenge, and creepy dolls. One of several titles unfairly unavailable on home video for entirely too long, this almost-forgotten thriller from England's other horror studio ‒ Amicus Productions ‒ has finally found its way to Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

After the violinist of a local musical quartet is brutally run over in a dead-end alleyway and a doll bearing the victim's likeness is left behind, a calmly shrewd police detective named Inspector Holloway begins to investigate the grisly murder. It soon becomes quite apparent to the good Inspector that he is searching for a genuine Psychopath ‒ an unenviable task made all the more challenging by the fact every single suspect in the case has something to hide. But that all pales to Patrick Wymark's performance as the humble, intelligent gumshoe on the case. Clad in a rumpled beige raincoat, coat, and tie, the chain-smoking detective could give Peter Falk a run for his money.

Why, he even mutters a variation of Columbo's classic catchphrase at the beginning of the film, causing one to wonder exactly how much Bloch (or at least Wymark) had been inspired by William Link and Richard Levinson's famous creation. Or vice versa, perhaps. (Although, to be as precise as possible, Link and Levinson's Lt. Columbo had already appeared on an episode of The Chevy Mystery Show in the US six years before, followed by a Stateside stage-play tour in '62. Also see: The Assassin.) Either way, Wymark's characterization is nothing short of perfection here, no matter who he might have been imitating or inspiring in the process.

Anyway, back to the film at hand, The Psychopath continues to claim additional victims ‒ including a woman who is knifed in the streets to the all-too familiar strains of Bernard Herrmann-esque staccato musical stabbings ‒ always leaving a creepy little doll behind. A common connection in the killings dates back to Germany during the last days of World War II, leading the good Inspector Holloway to investigate a most peculiar family. Naturally, the unit consists of a nutty, wheelchair-bound elderly woman (Margaret Johnston, whose character also happens to be a dollmaker), and her overly-protected and overly-protective son (John Standing, in a delightful role).

Also starring the talents of Alexander Knox (The Sea Wolf) and Judy Huxtable (Scream and Scream Again), Hammer regular Thorley Walters, one-time "Canadian James Dean" Don Borisenko (The Laughing Policeman), and Robert Crewdson (Blood Beast from Outer Space), The Psychopath may not be the most original idea to escape from the mind of its famous writer, but the movie itself certainly possesses a number of atmospheric and unsettling moments. And we have the gifted eyes of Freddie Francis and his frequent cinematographer, John Wilcox (The Evil of Frankenstein, The Skull). Hammer/Amicus composer Elisabeth Lutyens provides the score.

Even with all of its pros taken into consideration, the most alluring aspect of this classic thriller from American-born Amicus heads Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky after all these years has probably been the film's elusiveness. Until now, the only digital home video releases have been European DVDs culled from old (and usually cropped) semi-widescreen prints which were probably from television broadcasts, which usually lacked the inclusion of original English-language audio. Thanks to Kino Lorber's new 4K scan of what appears to be an archival 35mm print, however, The Psychopath can now be seen in its intended 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio and with its native soundtrack.

And although the print used for this MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode sports some noticeable wear and tear throughout, it's still the best we've ever been blessed with to date. Truly, though, anyone who is eager to experience The Psychopath for the first time or fill in another spot in their Amicus collection will surely want to pick this one up. Kino Lorber has further sweetened the pot here a few extras, including an English (SDH) subtitle track and a feature-length audio commentary by film historian and fellow Columbo fan Troy Howarth, who ‒ not surprisingly ‒ also sees a noticeable similarity between characters. A handful of trailers for other thrillers and a reversible sleeve close the case.

Recommended.

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