Frenzy, the penultimate film from Alfred Hitchcock, is a far cry from the director’s classics. Hitch had, after all, held a strangle hold on Hollywood for most of the 60’s. He defined cinematic espionage, the psychological thriller, even helped legitimize and popularize the horror film. But Frenzy offers a different kind of Hitchcock. It feels like a ‘greatest hits’ cocktail which draws flavors from his best moments and aims them at the tastes of an early 70s audience.
One of the first things that hits home is the surprisingly gratuitous nature of the violence and dialogue. Frenzy reveals that the insinuation and surgical editing so synonymous with Psycho were simply pragmatic tools used to slip Hitchcock’s opus past the censors. The 70’s, however, were more permissible and whether through attempting to keep up with the times, or simply doing what he’d always wanted to do, Hitchcock delivers a crueler, meaner, and more overtly explicit film.
It makes sense. The swinging 60s had flown sky high and come to a somewhat brutal end. Vietnam, the Manson family, and economic depression suddenly reminded a generation of hopefuls that the world could be a cold harsh place. Frenzy feels like a film trying to cater for the hardened audience.
It’s a film which shows the raw cruel horror of sex crime and murder, never shying from its brutality, but also a film which flags up the inherent pitfalls of the justice system. Frenzy takes place in an unfair world, where circumstance, stereotypes, and bad timing result in an innocent man being hounded for a more presentable man’s sadism. Hitchcock brings the back alleys of London to vibrant life, setting this thriller in the noisy markets and pubs of the East End. It’s a place where solicitors and doctors drink meters away from the destitute and the ever-present legacy of murder has colored daily life. Locals, like the tourists, are hungry for the next big gruesome spectacle and Hitchcock provides.
Hitchcock’s camera work is always a pleasure to behold, and Frenzy flaunts the director’s signature mastery. Each frame is perfectly arranged and the movements, at times intimate and at others birds’ eye, put the audience in a position of helpless voyeurism. It’s a classic Hitchcock trick; to make the audience culpable.
After flat forays into new territory Hitchcock’s Frenzy feels like a refreshing return to form. The perfectly calibrated thrillers of the 40s and 50s find new life, and a touch of flagrant exploitation, under Hitchcock’s characteristic sense of Devilish humor.
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Stars. Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Anna Massey, Billie Whitelaw, Bernard Cribbins, Jean Marsh,