Alfred Hitchcock’s “Frenzy”

Alfred Hitchcock is responsible for an amazing body of work in the genre of suspense, generating fear and thrills in his audience without resorting to today’s in-your-face tactics that are utilized by less talented filmmakers and aimed at less sophisticated, less demanding audiences. Many of his films are bona fide classics, known to generations of film lovers. Yet, in 1972, one of his last films, Frenzy, was released, and that film stands out, if for no other reason, because it is so “un-Hitchcock.”

Hitchcock actually used some of his favorite plot devices in Frenzy: an innocent man appears to be a vicious serial rape-murderer, and he must, on his own, avoid capture while hunting down the real criminal. However, contrary to the way he had told these kinds of stories before (The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Wrong Man), Hitchcock includes things in Frenzy that film goers had not seen from him before: graphic violence and nudity.

For instance, look at the Hitchcock classic, Psycho. Norman Bates is a madman, and he kills people while dressed in his dead mother’s clothes. But those murders were portrayed on screen with only subliminal violence; the stabbing of Janet Leigh in the shower is understood but never shown. Similarly, Martin Balsam is stabbed at the top of the stairs and falls backwards down them; again, there are no knife thrusts depicted. It all just happens–mostly in our minds.

Now, look at Frenzy. A shockingly graphic rape-murder is commited on screen, as the monster is revealed, and nudity is a big part of that scene. Later, the final victim of the killer is discovered, dead in his bed, and she is seen nude from the waist up. An earlier scene has the protagonist’s girlfriend get out of bed and cross the room in full-frontal nudity. Integral to the plot? No. Then why?

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My response the first time I saw the film unedited was that Hitchcock was not leading as much as following with Frenzy, that he was allowing the techniques of a new crop of filmmakers, and the style of the seventies, to influence his film. If so, what a mistake. In the end, Frenzy is not a classic; it is not even really Hitchcock as we think of his work. Except for The Shot, the one that starts outside in the street and continues uninterrupted into the house, up the stairs, and into the apartment, and that no one has yet been able to explain how he did it, this film has no great or lasting value as part of the Hitchcock portfolio.