FRENZY—if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is ugliness: this 1972 shocker is Alfred Hitchcock’s ugliest movie, visually and thematically, featuring his most graphic and disturbing murder, a sex crime early in the plot that’s so intensely intimate you almost feel dirty if you watch it with someone else in the room. Macabre is one thing: perverse is another. Things recover a bit and then there’s another brutish treatment meted out to an innocent and likable character. Critics clapped that the suspense master had recovered his touch after the disappointments—to critics anyway, big woof—of Marnie (now appreciated) Torn Curtain and Topaz. Thanks to the supporting players and some interjected humor around food it almost balances out the off-putting nastiness.
“Mr. Rusk, you’re not wearing your tie.”
“You’re my type of woman.”
The “Necktie Murderer” is plaguing London with his sex assault strangulations. Circumstantial evidence places ex-RAF officer ‘Richard Blaney’ (Jon Finch) in the crosshairs, but he’s another of Hitchcock’s innocent men trapped in a merry-go-round of mayhem. The trouble with this delve into darkness is tone and casting. Blaney is a decidedly unlikable jerk and Finch is the least appealing lead the director ever picked: we like the supporting players, but don’t care a whit about the innocent man. The tone hits the taste-optional button and holds it down with the two scenes that show repulsive abuse of victims: one in the murder as it’s being committed, the other a post-mortem violation that literally treats a sympathetic character like a sack of potatoes. Juxtaposed with these hard-to-shake jolts are some devilishly dry exchanges between the Scotland Yard inspector (Alec McCowen) and his wife (Vivien Merchant) who insists on trying out exotic dishes on the polite but disgusted husband. Barry Foster is superb in the crucial role of the accused man’s “friend”. The use of non-stars (Finch excepted) works to advantage. Anthony Shaffer was chosen to adapt Arthur La Bern’s 1966 novel “Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square”. After roasting Hitchcock over his temerity to be less-than-magnificent in his three previous pictures critics slobbered over this “return to form”.
Shooting on location in London, done on a relative shoestring of $2,000,000, audiences turned up to be absorbed and appalled to the tune of $21,000,000. Sir Alfred’s contribution to The new Mean ranked 18th place in a year awash in graphic violence, from class-act items The Godfather and Deliverance to Blaxploitation actioners like Across 110th Street, down to sewer offal such as The Last House On The Left. Compared to the last one, Frenzy is a walk in the park, even if it’s Jekyll & Hyde Park, followed by a shower in the Bates Motel.
With Anna Massey, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Billie Whitelaw (excellent, soon to employ those piercing eyes on The Omen), Bernard Cribbins, Michael Bates, Jean Marsh, Clive Swift, Gerald Sim, Rita Webb.