London is being terrorized by the necktie strangler.
In 1972’s “Frenzy”, Alfred Hitchcock hearkened back to his killer classic themes remembered from “Psycho.” Only this time he is much more macabre with his material. “Frenzy” is Hitchcock’s only R rated film and his first movie to show outright nudity. Naturally, it’s all pretty eye opening, and considering that the film’s killer is regarded as a “sex maniac,” necessary as well.
Richard Blaney (John Finch) is not doing so well. He’s broke and he’s just lost his barkeep job. Subsequent from that he turns to his ex wife Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), a successful marriage and friendship counselor for comfort. It does not help that Brenda’s secretary overhears Richard violently losing his temper. Nor does it do any good when he has an outburst while dining with Brenda in a crowded restaurant. Why, this could only make him look suspicious of a crime, and the infamous, serial necktie strangler has yet to be caught.
When Brenda turns up dead by means of a necktie around her throat, all accounts point to Richard. Once again, Hitchcock’s protagonist is the Everyman caught up in an unwelcome conspiracy.
“Frenzy” is thankfully like many of Hitchcock’s best films. It gets straight to the point. Just as the film begins, the naked body of a dead girl floats up from The River Thames. Then it follows through with Richard and introduces likely suspects and or villains including Richard’s friend Robert Rusk (Barry Foster) and his bar waitress co-worker Baba Milligan (Anna Massey)
Hitch goes more horrifying than he might have had the liberty to do so a decade prior to this release. The necktie strangler’s rape and murder of the first victim is quite graphic and disturbing. This is a deranged individual and his victim is rendered helpless.
What keeps viewers interested in a good Hitchcock yarn is the suspense he manufactures for the one who is blamed, as well as for the killer. Hitchcock doesn’t dwell on mystery. Rather, he focuses on what his principal characters are going to do next, now that they are swept up in intrigue. The strangler continues his killing spree but overlooks one thing that could implicate him. The man who is blamed seems to get little help from anyone. Richard is in quite a pickle after all. As well, how will these two people encounter one another to wrap up the storyline?
Humor also comes through quite nicely with Chief Inspector Timothy Oxford (Alec McCowen) who is blessed with a loving wife who relishes analyzing the gruesome details of his investigation while preparing dinner time meals that look awfully worse than the corpses the Inspector encounters; quail with raisins for example. To look at her concoctions will certainly make you wince. It’s great side humor for the suspense at play.
A film like “Frenzy” hardly explores dimension in its characters. Many of Hitchcock’s films never get weighed down with too much material. The stories he directs are lean, only focusing on the central plot at play. The fun is in the disturbing angles he uses like a woman’s outstretched hand or frozen expression after succumbing to strangulation. Overhead shots of a man imprisoned in a small room can also be jarring. He keeps you engaged as tightly as the fingers of a dead body gripping a significant piece of evidence.
Films like “Frenzy” or “Psycho” cannot be made today. There are too many advances in technology and science to undo the developments of simple, yet grossly disturbing stories like this. DNA evidence and cell phones would wrap up any of these plot lines in five minutes. It’s fortunate that we can still transport ourselves to the period when these tales of suspense were originally developed. It doesn’t make it easy for the innocent man, the victims or the killer. I wonder how Hitch would approach today’s conveniences of modern science. If anything, he’d likely make his signature cameo on the wallpaper of someone’s iPhone. Nevertheless, I’m sure he’d find a way to continue to build his suspense. He had such an eye for his camera, his captions and his edits.
“Frenzy” is a demonstration of classic Hitchcockian thrills.