|Starring||Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Anna Massey|
In 1972, Alfred Hitchcock returned home to England after decades of goofin' around in Hollywood to direct his second-to-last film, the astonishingly brutal and extremely British FRENZY. Like a greatest-hits of Hitchcock themes and ideas, FRENZY is a homecoming not only to dirty old England, but to the cinematic territory of his earliest movies. The story of a down-on-his-luck bartender (Jon Finch) falsely suspected as the psychotic sex killer behind a string of recent crimes known as the "necktie murders", FRENZY is full of familiar motifs - the wrong-man, insidiously banal evil lurking in our midst -- and pitch black humor that instantly recall his early films like THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, THE LODGER and YOUNG AND INNOCENT. Only none of those films prominently feature such an agonizingly drawn out, explicitly photographed rape and murder. The horrors and obsessions that lurk at the edges of all his films, suggested and implied, are made viciously explicit in FRENZY. What PSYCHO hid with shower curtains and clever cutting, FRENZY stares at and wallows in. The new freedoms allowed by the recently instituted R-rating are instantly challenged by Hitchcock and pushed to their limits. He can't help but try to get away with something.
Abandoning class and restraint, this is Hitchcock getting dirty. It's an old man's movie in the sense that it feels like a summation and reflection on all that's come before. But at the same time, there's a renewed intensity in the subversion of form and expectation; a ramping up rather than a winding down of his dark and cynical worldview. And though it lacks the sort of refined and grim elegance that characterizes his more beloved classics, FRENZY is an impossibly perfect application of pure moviemaking technique. The involvement and participation that Hitchcock demands from his audiences in the most shocking and sinister scenarios is ratcheted up to new highs. One sequence in particular -- a masterwork of gallows humor taking place in the back of a potato truck, following the killer's desperate efforts to recover an incriminating pin from the stiffened clutches of his latest victim -- is one of the greatest things the morbid old fat man ever directed. We've seen the killer at work, we still hate and fear him, but we're on the edges of our seats, sweating along with him, sharing his anxiety as he tries to collect the evidence. Hitchcock is playing us with nasty enthusiasm and an assured mastery of the craft.
He makes his customary cameo at the start of the film as the only non-cheering member of a crowd listening to a speech about cleaning up pollution in the Thames. Moments later a corpse washes up on the banks. It's clear that Hitchcock has always preferred to swim in dirty waters.