Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Frenzy marked Hitch’s proud return to England, after a good thirty year stretch in Hollywood (minus the Man Who Knew Too Much remake, which doesn‘t count since its stars were all firmly American). It also marks the fist and only time the director would snag an R rating in his career, in the second film he made after the creation of the current ratings system. While it wound up being a deeply flawed film, it still showed that even at the tail end of his career he was still trying out new approaches and new methods.

Once more we are treated to the Wrong Man storyline, as star Jon Finch is mistaken for the Necktie Killer, a serial rapist/killer that’s been stalking London and dumping the naked bodies of his victims into the river. Incidentally, the nudity in the film is the sole reason for the R rating, as it’s a surprisingly bloodless film for one with a serial killer. In a curious twist, we quickly learn that his close friend Barry Foster is the actual killer, in what has to be the single most clumsily directed rape scene in all of film history. I don’t know if Hitchcock just didn’t have his heart in it at all and his studio was demanding an R rating, or what the deal was, but we have a rape scene here wherein:

a) The rapist never removes his pants (he does rip the top of her dress, so we get to see an obvious body double’s left breast, so there’s that I guess)
b) There’s not even an attempt at thrusting at any point, which leads me to assume that Hitchcock’s wife was being left very unsatisfied
c) in an attempt to avoid showing anything resembling thrusting, our rapist just keeps growling “Lovely” while she mutters a prayer in between each “lovely”
d) after he strangles her, we get a final shot of her corpse, with her eyes bugging out, mouth open, and tongue sticking out to the side as far as it can go

So right at the moment when we’re intended to feel the greatest amount of horror in the entire film, we instead are laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Indeed, I half suspect that Hitchcock intended this entire film to be a subtle parody of the serial killer genre, as we keep getting conversations with random characters constantly joking about the sex murders going on, as if he were aggressively trying to undermine his own efforts. The main plot feels like Hitch was torn halfway between trying to create a real thriller and wanting to simply goof on the entire process, giving us such things as an amazingly unlikable protagonist who seems to aggressively go out of his way at times to appear guilty. Even before he becomes a suspect he runs and hides whenever the police show up near him, he makes a big scene in a fancy restaurant while having dinner with his ex, to the point where he breaks a glass by gripping it too hard, then snarling at a waitress who tries to help clean him up, he berates every friend he has, and does acts like the exact sort of maniac you‘d expect to appear on the news for raping and killing a bunch of women.

It’s a baffling effort of a film, far too light-hearted to be a proper horror story (or even a proper thriller), but not consistently funny enough to achieve outright parody status. If he had been able to focus on one or the other, the film would have been a good deal better, but as it is, it simply ends up being a curious misfire for the director’s penultimate film. Fortunately (to paraphrase Ed Wood), his next film will be better!

Rating: Frenzy - **

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