I finally get around to watching a film from the Hitchcock box-set I bought last September and, surprise, surprise, its not Vertigo– its Frenzy instead. Go figure. I watched this film many years ago late at night, when it was aired on tv, and found it quite enjoyable, albeit one of Hitchcock’s lesser films. Watching it again on this fair-to-middling Blu-ray (chances of a proper restoration/remaster of a film like this virtually none), I found that its a better film than I remembered, with plenty to offer.
His penultimate film, made when Hitchcock was well into the unfortunate artistic and commercial slump that would define his latter years, Frenzy found him returning to the London of his roots and was a definite return to form. Its a thoroughly nasty film though – two lawyers discussing the serial murders in a pub finally agree that at least the victims had a good time first as they were raped prior to being finally murdered. Try getting away with saying that in a modern movie! Its ghoulish indeed and likely also the most graphic of all Hitchcock’s films- a sign perhaps that the Master of Suspense was acknowledging that films were moving on and leaving his own tastes/sensibilities behind? As I say, its a nasty film and quite unlike what you might expect of Hitchcock on evidence of his other, superior films.
Frenzy has many pleasures, particularly its humour (Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) being gently tortured at home by his wife’s horrible cooking) and the performances are very good, especially Barry Foster’s serial killer Rusk. But its the films dark undercurrents that run deep and resonate long after the viewing. Two scenes are particularly astonishing- the first rape/murder film is surprisingly graphic but so brilliantly, beautifully staged that the audience can’t turn their eyes away, only witness the horror unfold. For another rape/murder, Hitchcock then goes completely the other way- we know, from what we have seen prior, what is happening inside the apartment, and Hitchcock pulls the camera away, backing down the staircase in a silence haunted by what we imagine is happening, silently withdrawing further, out into the noisy street, busy with people oblivious to the horror occurring beyond the windows above them. What we don’t see, but instead imagine, is worse/more effective than the graphic crime we witnessed earlier. Its a master class in direction and suspense and quite remarkable film-making.