Frenzy (1972)

An amalgam of Hitchcock tropes, the wrong man, the Freudian killer and the morbid humor, Frenzy plays as a weird, self-aware homage to the films of Hitchcock, but lack the consistency and the creative spark of the director’s finest work.

London’s latest dark sensation is a serial killer who strangles his nubile female victims to death with neckties. Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), a down on his luck war veteran, becomes the prime suspect when he happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. His close friend and potential lover Babs (Anna Massey, who one might recognize from Peeping Tom) doesn’t believe he’s the man and the two go on the run as Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) searches for the man.

Richard Blaney is a nuanced protagonist, with more to him than the initial impression he leaves. He’s hot-headed, short-tempered and, at times insufferable. But it quickly becomes clear he’s the wrong man, which makes him sympathetic. He also stands as a man of strong honor and while his tempers are fierce, there’s a softness to him. In many ways he’s the inverse of the boyish killers of Psycho and Peeping Tom, it’s his boyishness that simmers underneath while his fits of rage manifest themselves in public places.

Beyond that, Frenzy’s plot isn’t particularly compelling. The psychotic killer is almost mundane, as are the killings. Perhaps that’s the point, to subvert the highly-tense mater classes in editing and pacing of Hitchcock’s earlier films, but they almost become more mundane because the killings don’t come across as all that disturbing even though the scenes are far more intimate and explicit than other moments. The audience is either given too much of a scene or too little, never enough to get the imagination pumping.

The best moments in Frenzy are recurring scenes where Inspector Oxford is “treated” to the dainty cuisine of his wife. Her cooking class inspires her to make a number of exotic dishes. The grotesque display of pheasant and fish coupled with the almost obscene scenes of Oxford trying to eat the food are gleefully comic and grotesque.

Frenzy is a film half-peppered with greatness. The protagonist is a strong hook into the film, and the idea for a killer could make for a great story, but Hitchcock is never able to grip the audience like his greatest films. And by showing too much, he fails to leave enough to the imagination to rattle the audience. There are moments when the charm shines through, but they’re caught in the frantic mediocrity of Frenzy.

© 2012 James Blake Ewing