31 Days of Halloween #24 – Frenzy (1972) is the most controversial Hitchcock movie ever made
Frenzy is the most controversial movie Hitchcock ever made. It’s certainly not spoken of in the same breath as Psycho and Vertigo, and I think that’s largely because of the controversy surrounding its content. It has all the same hallmarks as other Hitchcock films and the film design is good. The story is about a sex-crazed murderer who attacks and kills women. The heart of the film isn’t the mystery of who the killer is, as in a detective film, but the struggle of the main character (played by Jon Finch) to prove his innocence, when he is accused of killing his wife.
There have been a number of articles about this film over the years decrying the violence against women. For one, The New York Times wrote a scathing article during its initial release, which pointed out the misogynistic tendencies toward the female characters. I tend to agree. The tone suggests a vulnerability shown only in women, probably because it’s easier and more dramatic to show women in peril than men in peril. I think it’s also more generally accepted to show women in peril.
Other Hitchcock movies follow the same tropes so I’m not sure why Frenzy gets all the heat. Psycho also has women in peril and misogynistic tendencies, but it could be that the rape-murder in Frenzy is a less discreet way of showing the same subject, which draws more attention to it. The rape-murder of one of the characters takes place early in the film and shoves the violence right to the forefront, possibly on purpose, so we can linger on it and think about it for the rest of the film.
Roger Ebert gave this movie four stars. He attributes the violence and nudity to the 1970s themselves, as Psycho seemed to have the same kind of violence, as I also noted before, so I think he’s on the same page as me. However, I think following the killer is really different and sometimes sick. The movie shows the killer and asks us to identify with him. For example, when he’s in the back of a truck, he realizes he’s stuck there with his latest victim and needs to cover his crime. I’m not sure what the point of this scene is. Yes, there is tension, but is the audience supposed to identify with the killer? Why is so much time spent building tension if he’s going to be caught or not? He’s a killer, he’s supposed to be caught. Why would we want anything else? Usually when there’s peril, the victim is innocent, not guilty.
The actors do well with the script and the dialogue is pretty good. As noted by others, the dinner scene is an example of good dialogue and builds the characters. Many of the scenes feel crowded but that doesn’t stop the camera from soaking in the atmosphere. The location camerawork is good.
Overall, I’m not sure if this movie deserves four stars or one star. It’s a decent example of a typical Hitchcock thriller, with some over-the-top violence and nudity thrown in. The film is redundant with psychological analysis, almost apologetic in nature for the crimes of the killer. In contrast, Halloween has no such explanation and Michael Myers is still a frightening killer, but we’re never asked to identify with him or feel for him personally (we have the remake for that). We also know Myers is the killer early on, although his true character is never revealed. It doesn’t really matter in Halloween, because the murders build enough tension alone. The narrative structure in Frenzy does everything in reverse, showing us who the killer us, tracking after him as he eludes suspicion and employing black humor in place of suspense. Because of this, the killer and the movie as a whole is less interesting to me than more straightforward narrative efforts like Halloween, despite Hitchcock’s apparent reputation for being more complex and suspenseful.
31 Days of Halloween 2016
31. Young Frankenstein (1974)
30. Jason X (2001)
29. Cloverfield (2008)
28. The Monster Squad (1987)
27. Bad Moon (1996)
26. The Haunting (1963)
25. Splinter (2008)
24. Frenzy (1972) – This post
23. Aggression Scale (2012)
22. The Exorcist III
21. At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1963)
20. Silver Bullet (1985)
19. Joy Ride (2001)
18. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
17. The Funhouse (1981) by Tobe Hooper
16. Videodrome (1983)
15. Re-Animator (1985)
14. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
13. Cube (1997)
12. Evil Dead
11. Day of the Dead (1985)
10. Tales of Halloween (2015)
9. They Live (1988)
8. The Innocents (1961)
7. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
6. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
5. I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle (1990)
4. Hatchet (2006)
3. The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
2. Halloween II
1. Silence of the Lambs