A gravedigger goes about his business in the dead of night (wonder why they always work in the dark, in films at least?). Suddenly a fist wallops him from behind and he falls to the ground. The hooded figure opens the fresh coffin beside the unconscious digger and quivers with excitement upon finding a fresh young female corpse inside.

Then we meet Dr Hitchcock (Robert Flemyng), a prominent surgeon who is so respected for his work to the point that he assists Commissioner Scott with his enquiries into the bodies that are going missing from the local graveyard.

When not working or helping the police, Hitchcock lives in a grand old home with his wife Margaretha (Maria Teresa Vianello). She likes to play spooky tunes on the piano. Well, she won't have much else to do - creepy housemaid Martha (Harriet Medin) presumably tends to all the housework.

It's not long before this seemingly cosy set-up reveals sinister goings-on beneath its respectable surface. Once the Hitchcock's dinner parties finish and the rest of the household goes to bed, the doctor and his missus like to sneak to their basement lair where they indulge in sexual games which involve him drugging her. Then, as she lies dead-like in an open coffin, he has his wicked way with her ...

They get along fine with this scenario for a while. But then one night the pair has a go at this odd form of nookie and it all gets nasty. Margaretha begins to gasp and, to his horror, Hitchcock realises he has given her an overdose. She dies in his arms and, following a rain-soaked funeral, is laid to rest in a coffin in the family vault.

Hitchcock takes the accident badly. He resigns from his occupation at the local hospital and buggers off on a 12-year Sabbatical.

Fast-forward a dozen years and Hitchcock returns home with a new love on his arm - the comely Cynthia (Barbara Steele). By this time, Martha has acquired unconvincing grey hair and moved her deranged sister in for company.

Cynthia seems a little perturbed. But allows Hitchcock to lead her up to his late wife's bedroom regardless.

Oh Cynthia, you should have run as fast as you could. Because the second half of Riccardo Freda's horror classic is going to really put you through the mill ...

Quaint in its relative tameness compared to modern horrors, you can but imagine the shocking effect HITCHCOCK had on audiences upon its 1963 release. The suggestion of necrophilia is quite implicit, as are the references to the married couple's sex games in the film's earlier moments. A simple clasping of Margherita's clothed breast is all it takes to clue the audience in on precisely what's going on.

Freda works with these contentious themes and delves deeper, exploring the human tragedy behind the scandal - the weight of loss; the correlations between love, sex and death - while never taking his eye off stunningly colourful aesthetics that would prove to have a huge influence on his successor, Mario Bava.

Indeed, the film is a lesson in how to make a good Gothic horror film in colour. There can be no doubting that Argento didn't watch this a good few times as a nipper either.

Steele and Flemyng are on wonderful form as tormented and aggressor respectively, the sinister haunting of Cynthia exhibiting echoes of the sublime LES DIABOLIQUES.

The initial set-up is effortlessly cool: good straightforward storytelling that allows Freda to focus on his fascinating performers and gorgeous interior designs without ever compromising the brisk pace. But where the film really excels is in its nightmarish latter half, where events escalate and some truly iconic moments of 60s horror lay in store ...

HITCHCOCK is presented in a most agreeable 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which is enhanced for 16x9 televisions.

Images are relatively sharp while a thin layer of natural grain lends the movie that welcome film-like appearance. Colours are strong and blacks don't suffer from any compression issues. I'd only ever seen the film years ago on VHS (Stablecane's release ...) and catching it here was somewhat revelatory - noticing things such as Freda's superb colour designs, the careful framing of even the most inconsequential scenes, the detail of facial contours and raindrops on the screen ...

Italian audio is provided in a similarly good mix, proffering clean and consistent playback. Well-written brand new optional English subtitles have been prepared from the original source script for this edition.

One thing definitely worth commenting upon is the film's running time. It's 83 minutes and 48 seconds in length (PAL speed) which suggests the film is fully uncut.

The only extra offered was an excellent, good-looking trailer. Again, this was in Italian language with optional English subtitles. The trailer carries the Warner Bros logo and runs for 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

Sadly this English subtitled edition is not yet scheduled for release but I'm delighted by its existence as this film needs to be seen - and this certainly looks like the way to see it.

Rumours of an impending American DVD have been circulating for a couple of years now, but that doesn't seem any closer to transpiring at this time. In the meantime, this edition is very good indeed.

Review by Stuart Willis