Frenzy (UK, 1972)

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock. * Coming close to the end here, Late Hitchcock in full bloom, and this one, his second last film, was kind of seen as a return to form, a relative success after two fairly dry, Cold War spy, semi-duds in Torn Curtain and Topaz. This is a straight serial killer film set in London, and you could say it’s Hitch going back to form, to his first undisputed success, The Lodger. And as far as that goes, it is a pretty compelling film, an unconventional story structure, you never quite know what’s going to happen, and up to the very last moment, the very end scene with the strong possibility of a macabre O. Henry-by-way-of Rod Serling ending, you genuinely don’t know how it’s going to turn out. In other words—it’s suspenseful! And that’s what we mean, it’s a return to form, on home turf again to give it an interesting dimension that he hadn’t done in a while, and I think it’s overall a successful movie. The main thing, again, is that Hitchcock was trying to be relevant in new circumstances, he was trying to fight against the things that made him irrelevant, and he wanted to have big smash successes. But in trying to emulate all of the things that made Peckinpah and A Clockwork Orange and Bonnie and Clyde so successful, I think he kind of threw out the window the very thing that made Hitchcock Hitchcock. This film is the first time he boldly went for explicit sex and violence, showing a woman being raped and murdered, baring nudity, and generally being “shocking” in a way that he thought audiences wanted. And maybe they did, I think the film did okay at the box office, relative to his other late stuff. But to me, the overall impact is evident when you compare the death face of Janet Leigh in that shower scene in Psycho with the ghastly, open-tongue death face of Barbara Leigh-Hunt in this film. One is a brutally shocking, haunting image that endures for decades, and the other is a grotesque, shocking image that lives merely as a cinematic curiosity for those with a particular devotion to Hitchcock’s cinema, like myself. And aside from that, it’s just not a terrific film. It’s certainly the best in this Late period to me, but that isn’t saying much. All of that slapstick stuff with the killer in the back of the potato truck with the dead body, that’s all too much to me, and it weakens the overall film. This could have been a pretty successful film if it was committed to being dark, but in a smarter way than it is. It didn’t send chills up my spine, it just felt gratuitous, the whole film. It feels like Hitchcock should have simply stopped by this point, but he didn’t. And of course, this isn’t a bad film or anything, it’s still really interesting as an artifact, but it’s getting harder and harder to defend these films as each one unfolds. Luckily for all of us, there’s only one left.

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One response to “Frenzy (UK, 1972)

  1. Pingback: Family Plot (USA, 1976) | Offhand Reviews·

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