Friday 1 June 2012

Movie Review: Frenzy (1972)

Alfred Hitchcock returns to his London roots for a story of a gruesome killer on the loose, and a down-on-his-luck wrongly accused man. Frenzy impresses with its street-level coarseness, Hitchcock foregoing star names and focusing on the contrast between the comforts of earthiness and the dangers of the falsely suave.

London is in the grips of hysteria due to the terror caused by a serial killer preying on women, using neckties to strangle his victims. Meanwhile, Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) is having a bad day. Fired from his job at a pub, he drinks himself into anger and fails to bet on a winning long-shot horse after his friend Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) gives him a hot tip. Blaney stumbles into the office of his ex-wife Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), a professional matchmaker, and they have a loud argument.

Apparently a stand-up member of society, Rusk runs a successful produce business in bustling Covent Garden. His sophisticated airs help him hide the fact that he is a sexual deviant and the necktie killer, and he chooses Brenda to be his latest victim. Suspicion immediately descends onto Blaney, and he has to go into hiding. But his troubles just multiply: Rusk commits another murder designed to further incriminate Blaney. Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) appears to have an easy case, but he also possesses a sharp eye for detail as he attempts to stop the killings and find his way to the real killer.

With plenty of flair, Hitchcock builds Frenzy around two macabre scenes. The first is the disturbing murder of Brenda: Frenzy jumps from build-up to outright horror in one scene, Rusk forcing himself on Brenda and strangling her in a difficult to watch sequence, Hitchcock not flinching from the brutality of a ruthless killer and hammering home the agony of the victim when confronted with a monster.

The second memorable scene is Rusk's desperate quest to retrieve his lapel pin from the hands of his latest victim in the back of a potato truck hurtling down the highway. With rigor mortis having set in, the dead naked woman has the pin firmly clenched, and Rusk faces his own horror attempting to pry her fist open while trying to avoid her flailing limbs and potatoes flying in all directions.

Frenzy has fun with Inspector Oxford's suffering at the hands of his wife: she is experimenting with fancy cuisine lessons, and subjecting him to a succession of the most unappetizing dishes. Oxford's interactions with his wife reveal his patience and diplomacy, while imparting the subtle message that complexity and modernity do not necessarily signify improvement. The parallel is drawn with the relationship between Rusk and Blaney: Rusk is slick, jovial, rich and a cold-blooded murderer. Blaney is gruff, honest and guilty of nothing more than raising his voice in an argument.

The son of a greengrocer, Hitchcock captures a neighbourhood market prior to its evolution into a tourist haven. In Frenzy, Covent Garden is a working class, ramshackle produce market, colourful, energetic and full of character. The crowded sidewalks, narrow lanes, unexpected notches, small staircases and dank loading zones provide a perfect backdrop for Hitchcock's dangerous twists. It may not be quite in the same class as his classic movies, but Frenzy is still full of the delightfully disturbing dreadful dead.

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