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By 1972 Alfred Hitchcock's career had went into decline. He had
suffered several box office failures in the 60's, including the
lacklustre cold war thrillers Torn Curtain and Topaz, the films that
immediately preceded this one. So it was perhaps not entirely through
choice that Hitchcock returned to Britain to make his next film. Frenzy
is noticeably lower budget than his other films, while it featured
British character actors as opposed to movie stars. As it turned out,
this set of circumstances led to the best film from the last decade of
The London setting is pretty far removed from the glossy locations he had become used to using. The gritty streets and washed out colour scheme contributed to the atmosphere of unpleasantness. Hitchcock also made the most of the changes in film censorship that had recently taken place. These were the days when major studios released violent and disturbing films such as A Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry and Straw Dogs. With Frenzy, Hitchcock certainly responded to this change in the cultural climate. It's easily the most explicitly violent film of his career and indicates that his natural sensibilities may have tended towards this earlier in his career if censorship restrictions had allowed it.
Its screenplay was by Anthony Shaffer who was also responsible for Sleuth (1972) and The Wicker Man (1973). Frenzy doesn't equate to those two masterpieces though it has to be said. But irrespective of who actually wrote it, it does contain a pretty standard Hitchcock narrative - an innocent man is wrongly accused of a crime and thrust in the middle of dangerous situation in which he must fight to prove his innocence. It's a storyline used in many of the director's films. It's just that on this occasion it is within a story with explicit sexual violence. There are some moments of the director's stylistic genius, such as the chilling tracking shot that takes us out the killer's stairwell and into the busy street; we are left looking up at the apartment where we know a horrible act of rape and murder is happening. It's an especially disturbing moment in that it forces the viewer to confront the horror that lies behind normality. The technique contrasts with the depiction of the first brutal murder. In showing the horror explicitly first then implicitly later both approaches ultimate compliment each other. While, there are also some moments of pulse-pounding suspense too such as the scene in the potato wagon, which shows that Hitchcock still knew how to pace a thrilling scene for high impact. Ultimately, Frenzy isn't one of the director's best but it is his last very good film.
Hitchcock at his most lurid; the perverse, slyly satirical abstractions
of Psycho (1960) brought into shocking, sensational colour. The
heightened stylisation and implicit prevision presented on screen in a
way that is still shocking nearly forty years on. It might not be his
greatest film, but Frenzy (1972) is nonetheless an important work for
the filmmaker; standing as his penultimate film - his first shot in the
UK for more than a decade - and one that utilises many of his most
common themes and preoccupations, such as murder, rivalry, mistaken
identity and the presentable face of evil. It doesn't quite compare to
the films he made in the 30's, 40's and 50's, however, it does,
nonetheless remain a powerful achievement on Hitchcock's part, with at
least three single scenes of exciting technical innovation alongside
the more recognisable aspects that we've come to expect from the
Unlike the more glamorous pictures that he produced in Hollywood, the return to Britain and the more relaxed approach to censorship of the time seem to have brought out the grittiness of Hitchcock's vision; giving us a film that takes place in a number grey, cramped and damp-looking locations that are cold and uninviting. Creating a squalid, slightly loveless feeling that is perfect for a film of this nature; reminding us of Michael Powell's masterpiece Peeping Tom (1960) - a film famously released around the same time as the aforementioned Psycho and one that presents a number of similar themes and ideas - as well as fitting into the sub-genre of films produced in the late 60's and early 70's that were incorporating the on-the-streets grit and confusion of the more radical European films of the 1960's. The tone of the film is fairly severe and austere throughout; shockingly so when we see the film in the context of Hitchcock's career, with the wit and humour reserved mostly for the scenes between the police inspector and his morbidly interested and yet still entirely cheerful wife.
These particularly scenes really don't work that well within the context of the overall film; being far too extreme when we see them in direct contrast with the scenes of murder and rape that are still incredibly scandalous, not least by Hitchcock's standards - with the violence here seeming to be far more perverse and uncomfortable as a result of the director's keen, cinematic stylisations - but even in comparison to the similar violence of other films of this era, in particular A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Devils (1971) and Straw Dogs (1971). Without question, this is an ugly film; the ugliest Hitchcock ever made and one that strives to show rape and murder as if part of an exhibitions at a carnival sideshow. Some would perhaps argue that elements of the film are gratuitous, and indeed, this was the critical opinion of the time, but for me, it reinforces this hellish world that Hitchcock creates for these characters, alive with the daily grind of drab, everyday existence, and yet, cast beneath this shadow of murder and sexual assault.
Although the indecency and uncomfortable violence (which is often more psychological than merely physical) of the film's central rape scene and the later depiction of murder in all it's complicated ordeal-like abandon are uncharacteristic of Hitchcock, the themes behind the film are some of his most successful and recognisable. So, as the wheels of the plot being to turn we have the issues of paranoia, suspicion and escalating tension being continually pushed as characters end up in the presence of the most ordinary of evils. Again, there's that element of grit, often lacking from Hitchcock's glossier, more mainstream features, such as those of the 50's and 60's, which again, adds to the atmosphere and the somewhat ill feeling of the film, which leaves us as used and beaten down as the central character himself. Really, this is an incredibly bleak and unpleasant film when you really get into it, with Hitchcock seemingly free of the interference of Hollywood producers and the rigid confines of American censorship and finally able to present his ultimate treatise on murder at its most basic and disturbed.
The helplessness of the central character, as played vividly by Jon Finch, mirrors our own helplessness when faced with Hitchcock's cold manipulation; confounding us with expectation and taking influence from the then quite radical exploitation cinema to confront the depiction of violence in a way that had rarely been presented in a mainstream thriller. It is flawed to some extent, with the aforementioned scenes between the police inspector and his wife seemingly plucked from a macabre Ealing comedy, whilst the film is so dark, drab and ultimately unpleasant that it will no doubt turn many potential viewers away (particularly in the more darkly comic moments). However, fans of Hitchcock and those that understand cinema on a visceral level will be able to appreciate the impeccable style, with the use of sound in particular really helping to maintain that cold and claustrophobic depiction of the world that is further explored by that naturalistic, yet subtly stylised approach to editing and cinematography.
On the surface, Alfred Hitchcock's FRENZY seems to be a compelling thriller
about a serial killer stalking young London girls. It almost is a horror
film about film. Jon Finch is a London Bartender caught stealing DRINKS,
and is fired. His best pal, Rusk (where are you, Barry Foster?) a
GREEN-GROCER, offers him FOOD and encouragment. Meanwhile Scotland Yard is
seeking a serial killer who rapes and strangles his victims. The head
detective on the case has to endure his wife's HIDEOUS GOURMET COOKING while
tracing clues such as a body found in a POTATO SACK, or the half eaten APPLE
at a murder site. Also the food refernces abound in the dialog "Don't
squeeze the goods till they are yours" the killer tells his victim, or the
cop saying "We have to catch him before his appetite is wetted again."
All this makes FRENZY a rich, creepy classic thriller. The food refrences aren't overdone. They are cooked just perfect. Delicious!
For those of you who haven't seen this, I won't spoil the "surprise" for you, except to say that I've owned FRENZY on VHS for two years now and it is quite a powerful Hitch murder thriller, making extremely fine use of its Central London locations and featuring many suspenseful moments which are enhanced by excellent camera work. Jon 'MacBeth' Finch gives a convincing portrayal as Dick Blaney, a down-on-his-luck ex-RAF officer who has just been sacked as a barman after 'stealing' some gin. He is penniless and he can't even afford to bet on a winning horse recommended to him by his best pal, Bob Rusk (Barry Foster), a well-dressed fruit and veg merchant. Meanwhile, a series of gruesome killings are plaguing the area. All the victims are young women who are stripped of their clothes and strangled with neckties. The killer is an impotent psycho-fiend who gets his pleasure from brutalising his victims. As if things can't get any worse for him, Dick becomes prime suspect after both his ex-wife Brenda and sexy girlfriend Babs are found dead. I won't reveal who the killer is, but you'll find out for yourselves anyway 30-40 minutes into the film. The supporting actors do an able job, considering none of them were very famous (maybe with the exception of Bernard Cribbins, cast against type as a seedy landlord). Alec McCowan is effective as the detective on the trail of the Necktie killer, Billie Whitelaw makes for a willing adversary against Finch and Anna Massey provides some brief warmth as the beautiful girl who stands by Blaney as he goes on the run and faces persecution.
"Frenzy" is yet another excellent demonstration of Hitchcock's skills. His
cool professionalism is evident throughout the film; just observe the
camera movements and tricky angles. There is a notable amount of macabre
humor which Hitch seems to love. The cast is adequate, with Barry Foster a
Some may find the film a bit too sick and it's understandably one of Hitchcock's most controversial movies. On the whole it's quite enjoyable and provides plenty of memorable moments from the jaw-dropping opening to the deadly funny scene on the potato truck.
This is the sort of film that Hitch would have made more often had he been born twenty years later. Some might be put off by the violent nature of the film and the unusually blunt sexual themes, but Hitch always pushed the envelope when it came to the subject of sex. In "Torn Curtain", he depicted an unmarried Paul Newman and Julie Andrews in bed together, and in "Blackmail", made in 1929, he showed a rather graphic attempted rape scene. In the case of "Frenzy", one must simply accept that Hitchcock was, as always, making the most of what the standards of the day would allow. All that aside, what we have here is a tremendously suspenseful film, and one that is often hysterically funny. Granted, the laughs are often guilty ones, but that's the sort of thing that made Hitchcock Hitchcock. If there's a downside to the film, it's the fact that the "hero" isn't all that likeable. True enough, but that makes the film more realistic. In real life, we don't often have Cary Grant handy in times of trouble. Tough, gritty, blunt, funny, and shot by a man who knew how to use a camera like few others before or since. Not to be missed. *** 1/2
Post-Psycho, it is at first apparent that perhaps Hitchcock had lost
his touch on how to hook an audience and keep them intact. There was
the mediocre The Birds, the psychological thriller Marnie which I
didn't care for, and the politically-charged Torn Curtain. Here, Hitch
moves back to his roots, that is the busy and bussling streets of
In terms of all of Hitchcock's thrillers, this may be the most grim and dark. It not only is the story of a serial killer but also that of a man being falsely accused, which Hitchcock used in several of his films, and also of a man who cannot seem to catch a break or get his side of the story out. There is a seemingly graphic murder sequence, but it reminded me more of the shower scene from Psycho. Hitch was not a sadist, but rather was able to convey the worst emotions and feelings through the camera and the quickness of his editing. Just as terrifying and beautiful as that sequence is clever and terrific shot of the camera moving down a stairwell after two characters enter a room.
What also intrigued me was how much I got involved in the story. Hitch gives us many characters and really touches into their lives. Jon Finch is fine as the lead man and is able to raise adequate sympathy for his character despite his shortcomings. In my mind, the best performance came not from the dark Barry Foster who was great, but from the sensible and understanding Chief of Police Oxford played by Alec McCowen. It is something to watch he and his wife eat dinner after following a murder story. There is a lot to digest here, and more than one viewing may be needed. But, for me it is worth it as this is certainly the best of Hitchcock's later in his career and I think deserves to be considered among some of his best.
Frenzy is a very atypical Hitchcock film. The men aren't charming, the
women are neither blonde nor beautiful, lines like "He's been pulling
your tits" and "I let you finger me!" are fired off casually, while
Hitchcock's black humour descends into borderline tastelessness ("I
hear he rapes the women before he strangles them," "Well at least this
cloud has a silver lining hahahaha"). That said there still some
typical Hitchcock tropes present, mainly the idea of the wrongly
accused man, but it's clear that Hitchcock is intent on challenging
audiences' perception of him with a more atypical style of direction
and scenes of remarkable brutality.
Oh yes there is brutality. Free from Hays Code restrictions, Hitchcock seems to have gone wild with the possibilities of shocking the audience. Nudity, swearing and violence litter the film, but it's the disturbing, excruciating, almost painful rape scene cum asphyxiation that really stands out. Even by today's standards this scene is brutal, so imagine how it would have been in 1972. In fact, along with A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs which emerged around the same time, it must be one of the most disturbing rape scenes in cinematic history, and a point of concern for critics who have often labelled Hitchcock as a misogynist. It's mainly this scene that explains why Frenzy remains Hitchcock's only 18 rated film in the UK.
After this gratuitous scene of exploitation however, Hitchcock seems content with disturbing us in other ways. The next 'event' is a masterpiece of how to show nothing but elicit everything. The murderer escorts an unassuming young woman up to his flat, and lets her in, remarking "You know, you're just my type " As the door closes, the camera slowly backs away, creeps down the stairs, floats out the door and angles across the street as people go about their hectic daily business. It's arguably the most meaningful, disturbing, economic tracking shot ever performed, and shows Hitchcock can genuinely chill without flamboyant rape and asphyxiation scenes.
Frenzy is by no means top tier Hitchcock, but it does contain enough flashes of brilliance to put it close and justify its position as 'the last great Hitchcock film'.
Just watched "Frenzy" from 1972 and clearly it's not one of Hitchcock's better films, in fact unless you are probably a die hard Alfred fan you may not even have heard of it. Still the film has enough suspense blended in with raw humor(especially the dead body being in potato sacks scene!) and wit to make it a watch. Plus the plot and story is interesting enough to make the viewer think a little bit. The setting was London, England for one of Hitchcock's last films the city is all of a sudden terrorized as a sadistic and crazy killer is preying on women leaving them dead. His method is to leave them them totally nude stripped of clothing and he leaves the necktie around their necks after he has strangled them! It starts off with Jon Finch as a fired bartender Richard who's down in the dumps as many think he could be the killer as he's accused falsely he must prove his innocence. Watch for the Barry Foster character a man who's shady with plenty to hide and he will have his true colors revealed. Overall nothing great the good story and suspense still makes it a watch for Hitchcock fans. So check it out if you haven't.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As with most of Alfred Hitchcock's films, I find myself in a quandary
regarding just how significant this film ought to be considered. Back
in 1999, "Frenzy" was voted eighth among Hitch's best films by a panel
of top directors, surpassing even "Rear Window" and "Strangers On A
Train" which didn't make the Top Ten cut. I don't know, maybe it's me,
but I'm generally in agreement with the majority of viewers for most of
the pictures I review on the IMDb, but for some reason, I'm out there
in left field when it comes to Hitchcock. And yet I don't deny his
greatness among the world's top directors of all time, so maybe it's
just a matter of taste, and I'll leave it at that.
The first thing to turn me off here was the rather rude, actually downright vulgar description of rape attributed to a businessman in a bar scene discussing the necktie murders. With a barmaid present, the man opined that - "I suppose it's nice to know every cloud has a silver lining". I actually had to replay that scene to understand if I had it right. Now I'm sure that there are any number of Neanderthals out there who would offer a comment along those lines, but actually hearing it to describe a brutal rape and murder as presented in one of the film's early scenes seemed to be way beyond the measure of good sense and good taste for someone of Hitchcock's caliber. So what was he thinking?
Then there's that murder scene when Rusk (Barry Foster) dispatches his first on screen victim, Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt). I know it wasn't meant to be comical, but geez, couldn't the dead woman's expression be presented any less goofy than with her tongue lolling out the way it was shown. It seemed so amateurish and totally unconvincing, even though I've never really seen a dead strangled woman, so who am I to say.
On the flip side, there are a lot of scenes that work well, particularly those that by virtue of mere seconds, manage to paint Dick Blaney (Jon Finch) into a corner while implicating him in the murder of his ex-wife. The film needed more of that kind of tension to be truly memorable to my mind, with a resolution that didn't place Blaney in even more jeopardy with the authorities. Consider, even though the girl in the final scene was already dead, Blaney began clubbing her with a rod thinking it was Rusk. Given the circumstances, didn't it seem a bit more than odd that Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) simply hushed him to be quiet while anticipating Rusk's arrival? How does the law deal with attempted murder on an already dead person? Just wondering.
Given that Hitch returned to his British roots for this film, what I probably found most interesting was the unique use of English colloquialisms in the story, and good old Mrs. Oxford's attempts at culinary mastery. The fish head in the soup was particularly appealing, while I actually wound up googling the word 'pilchard' to see what that was. Helps me understand the Beatles' 'I Am The Walrus' even better now.
One last thing to consider - does it make sense that Rusk would put Babs (Anna Massey) in a sack full of potatoes before placing it on the truck? You think he had them in his apartment, or did he take the time to go all the way back to the market just to pull that one off?
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