"He wanted to become more explicitly violent." states screenwriter Anthony Shaffer concerning Alfred Hitchcock’s approach to the making of his 1972 thriller "Frenzy". As "Frenzy" was the first Hitchcock film to earn an "R" rating, the Master of Suspense definitely succeeded at his goal of becoming more overtly violent. The man who became famous for a "less is more" approach, goes for the jugular (Iiterally) in this dark thriller, his next-to-last film. As part of the new "Alfred Hitchcock Collection," "Frenzy" has found it’s way to DVD, so that fans of Hitchcock can decide how this film fits into his stable of classics.
"Frenzy" stars Jon Finch as Richard Blaney, a retired Air Force pilot who is a bit down on his luck. He’s just been fired from his job at a pub, which also happened to be his residence. Due to the dismissal from his job, Blaney won’t be able to spend as much time with his co-worker and sweetheart Babs (Anna Massey). To make matters worse, Blaney is low on cash, and refuses to take a handout from his friend Bob Rusk (Barry Foster). After spending the night in a Salvation Army shelter, Blaney pays a visit to his ex-wife Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), whom he hasn’t seen in over a year. Brenda is nice enough to buy Blaney dinner and give him some cash. During all of these scenes, we witness Blaney becoming increasingly angry, unstable, and violent.
You see, London is in the grip of terror as a sexual predator known as the "Necktie Murderer" (due to his propensity to strangle women with neckwear). The unpredictable behaviors, which Blaney displays certainly make him a likely candidate to be the "Necktie Murderer". But is he?
"Frenzy" is a difficult film to judge. If it had come from any other director, it would be hailed as a top-notch suspense-thriller. The story of the "Necktie Murderer" and Blaney’s behavior early in the film, immediately draws the viewer into the story, as we try to guess who the killer is. Hitchcock intentionally cast unknowns so that the audience would be left in the dark as to who was guilty, and wouldn’t assume that the "big star" couldn’t be the murderer.
The visuals in the film show that Hitchcock hadn’t lost any of his gift for true cinema. The sweeping shot of the River Thames, which opens the film, is very impressive. But, the coup de grace comes with a tracking shot which begins at the 1:04:47 mark and goes until the 1:06:10 point, in which we witness the killer take a woman into his flat. (The trickery used to perform this shot is revealed in the documentary on the DVD.) Hitchcock also demonstrates his mastery for orchestrating film, as there are some genuinely suspenseful moments in the film.
However, there are many elements of "Frenzy" that make it feel like a poor imitation of a Hitchcock film. The most obvious element is the use of graphic violence and nudity. While Hitchcock has pushed the envelope before with films such as "Psycho", here he wraps a necktie around the envelope and strangles it to death. The one onscreen murder is incredibly graphic and repellant, as the killer rapes, then murders his victim. While this scene shows the same amount of physical violence that one could see in any film today, it comes across as especially shocking considering the air of class that surrounds most of Hitchcock’s films. While Hitchcock’s films have always displayed his black sense of humor, the attempts at dark humor in "Frenzy" come off as simply mean-spirited. Another problem with "Frenzy" is the pacing. The films two hour running time seems padded and there are several scenes, such as when the murderer is trying to retrieve a valuable item, that simply run on for too long. In addition, there is a subplot concerning a policeman and his gourmet chef wife, which is cute at first, but then proceeds to take up a staggering amount of screen time. But, the film’s biggest sin concerns the character of Richard Blaney. His outlandish and boorish behavior during the first 20 minutes of the film make him a completely unsympathetic character. Later on in the film, when the audience is supposed to be cheering for him, most will probably be remembering what an ass he was at the beginning.
As noted earlier, "Frenzy" is part of the upcoming "Alfred Hitchcock Collection" from Universal Home Video. The DVD presents the film in an anamorphic widescreen, and the image is letterboxed at 1.85:1. The film is very clear, and in surprisingly good shape considering its age. There are some noticeable defects on the source print, but these are mostly white or black spots -- there are no scratches or cuts. The image displays only a subtle amount of grain. And while it looks like a modestly budgeted European film from the 1970s, this transfer of "Frenzy" offers a very nice color palette, displaying natural looking skin tones, and nicely balanced reds, greens, and blues. The framing appears to be accurate, and despite the amount of extras on the DVD, there are no overt problems created by compression.
The audio on the "Frenzy" DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono track. This provides clear and intelligible dialogue, which isn’t drowned out by the sound effects. Also, this provides a nice forum for Ron Goodwin’s sweeping soundtrack. (Note: If you listen to the film on headphones, notice how the ambient sounds changes during the cuts in each scene.)
While "Frenzy" isn’t officially one of Universal’s "Collector’s Editions", it does boast some nice extras. The crown jewel on this release is a 45-minute documentary entitled "The Story of ’Frenzy’". Hosted by DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau, "The Story of ’Frenzy’" offers recent interviews with cast members Barry Foster, Jon Finch, & Anna Massey, screenwriter Anthony Shaffer, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, and Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter. Through these interviews, along with scenes from "Frenzy", we learn a great deal about the production of the film. The highlight of this documentary are the rare behind-the-scenes segments which show Hitchcock at work. Any Hitchcock fan is going to love "The Story of ’Frenzy’".
More secrets are revealed in the still gallery, which contains nearly 100 photographs from "Frenzy". The first 30 or so stills are explicit shots from the murder, but if you can get through those, you will find a treat. Following a card with a note from DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau, we are treated to stills from three deleted scenes. One of these scenes is apparently an epilogue, which is hinted at in the film, but never shown.
Also included on the DVD are production notes, and cast & crew profiles. By far the most delightful extra is the theatrical trailer for the film. Presented in full-frame, the trailer for "Frenzy" recalls the preview for "Psycho" as Hitchcock himself (whom we first see floating on the Thames), gives the audience a guided tour of some of the more important locations for the film. The trailer clearly didn’t receive the kind of restoration work that the film, but for being 30 years old, it looks just fine.
While "Frenzy" cannot compare to Hitchcock’s better known films, such as "Suspicion" or "The Birds", it does work as a thriller. Just keep in mind that "Frenzy" is much more explicit and violent than any of Hitch’s other movies. The "Frenzy" DVD brings us a first class transfer of the film, and Hitchcock buffs will simply eat up the extra features. Now, if only someone would strangle the creator of the necktie.