A Movie A Day: Quint on FRENZY (1972) I don't know if you know it, Babs, but you're my type of woman.
Published at: July 16, 2008, 8:44 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Screenwriter/playwrite Anthony Shaffer bridges us from yesterday’s SLEUTH to today’s FRENZY, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Both are very British and balance black humor with some really twisted scenarios, but other than that they’re pretty far removed as stories go.
Hitch follows his old wrong man formula, but he tells the story in a much darker and intense way than before. FRENZY was advertised as Hitchcock’s first R-rated movie and it feels it. There’s some great ‘70s nudity (read bushy) and the kills we see are incredibly graphic. They’re not bloody, but definitely off-putting in their intensity.
He also plays with sound a lot in the movie (or lack thereof), playing some sequences in complete silence, which was great. There’s a murder scene we don’t see, that goes from a set to a location with one long track shot (with a hidden cut as an extra wipes the frame) that is played in complete silence. Very tense, actually. I was waiting for a scream that never came.
So, the flick is set in London as murdered women start popping up, attributed to The Neck-Tie Killer, someone who rapes and strangles women, leaving the murder weapon (a neck tie) twisted around his victim’s necks.
We follow a mustached Jon Finch as he constantly pops up in the wrong place at the wrong time and becomes the prime suspect for these murders. We’re shown in pretty short order who the real murderer is, but it’s pretty easy to guess. It’s always the likable characters that end up the villains in these movies, so when it’s revealed about half an hour in that Finch’s good friend Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) is the fiend it’s not much of a surprise.
Foster is incredibly likable and very good at playing comedy, which is important with this flick. Even if it has some of Hitch’s most intense killings, the real charm of the movie for me was seeing just how slapsticky he got with the black comedy aspect of it.
There’s a scene where Foster realizes he left a crucial bit of evidence with the body of his latest victim and the following 10 minutes is essentially a Jerry Lewis bit where he gets stuck in the back of a potato truck running down the road, fighting with the rigor mortis-ridden body in a potato sack. Gallows humor at its finest.
Finch is a bit bland as the lead, but Hitchcock surrounds him with enough colorful characters that you don’t mind too much.
Especially memorable are Clive Swift and Billie Whitelaw (remember her from HOT FUZZ? “Hag.”) as Johnny and Hetty Porter, good friends of Finch’s who put him up while on the run. Whitelaw is cold and vicious, certain he did it and it takes everything Swift can do to keep her from ratting Finch out.
Anna Massey is also well-used as Finch’s bar-maid girlfriend. She’s not super model gorgeous, but beautiful in a very English way.
Also of note is the detective hunting Finch down, played by Alec McCowen. They don’t play him up as knowing any better or looking through the evidence. He thinks he’s after the right guy, but when evidence starts to contradict itself, well… he simply keep an open mind.
What Shaffer and Hitchcock did here (smartly) was give most of McCowen’s exposition in another comedy setting, discussing the case with his wife (Vivien Merchant) over dinners that get increasingly more bizarre. She’s taking cooking classes and is always trying out some French dish comprised of eel heads or giant platters of pig feet.
So as McCowen is telling her about the case he’s trying to figure out a way to not eat the disgusting food in front of him.
I really wish TWISTED NERVE was out on DVD as it is the perfect companion piece to FRENZY. In fact, I believe Hitchcock hired both Whitelaw and Foster based on that film. You’ll remember that Tarantino used Bernard Herrman’s awesome theme song from TWISTED NERVE in KILL BILL. Daryl Hannah whistles it as she saunters down the hospital corridor in her hot nurse’s outfit.
Hitchcock Cameo Alert: Watch the crowd closely at the beginning as the dead girl washes up from the River Thames.
Final Thoughts: Even late in his career, Hitchcock still experimented and there’s a raw edge to this flick that really did make it enjoyable for me to watch. Despite Finch being a rather dull lead, the humor of the film makes it something to remember and recommend. Foster is the star of the movie as far as I’m concerned.