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Alfred Hitchock's Frenzy (1972)

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Alfred Hitchock's Frenzy (1972)

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By the time Alfred Hitchcock's second-to-last picture came out in 1972, the censorship restrictions under which he had laboured during his long career had eased up. Now he could give full sway to his lurid fantasies, and that may explain why Frenzy is the director's most violent movie by far–outstripping even Psycho for sheer brutality. Adapted by playwright Anthony Shaffer, the story concerns a series of rape-murders committed by suave fruit-merchant Bob Rusk (Barry Foster), who gets his kicks from throttling women with a necktie. This being a Hitchcock thriller, suspicion naturally falls on the wrong man–ill-tempered publican Richard Blaney (Jon Finch). Enter Inspector Oxford from New Scotland Yard (Alex McCowan), who thrashes out the finer points of the case with his wife (Vivian Merchant), whose tireless enthusiasm for indigestible delicacies like quail with grapes supplies a classic running gag.

Frenzy was the first film Hitchcock had shot entirely in his native Britain since Jamaica Inn (1939), and many contemporary critics used that fact to account for what seemed to them a glorious return to form after a string of Hollywood duds (Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz). Hitchcock specialists are often less wild about it, judging the detective plot mechanical and the oh-so-English tone insufferable. But at least three sequences rank among the most skin-crawling the maestro ever put on celluloid. There is an astonishing moment when the camera backs away from a room in which a murder is occurring, down the stairs, through the front door and then across the street to join the crowd milling indifferently on the pavement. There is also the killer's nerve-wracking attempt to retrieve his tiepin from a corpse stuffed into a sack of potatoes. Finally, there is one act of strangulation so prolonged and gruesome it verges on the pornographic. Was the veteran film-maker a rampant misogynist as feminist observers have frequently charged? Sit through this appealling scene if you dare and decide for yourself. –Peter Matthews

Actors: Jon Finch, Alec McCowen, Barry Foster, Billie Whitelaw, Anna Massey
Directors: Alfred Hitchcock
Language: English
Studio: Universal Pictures Video
Run Time: 110 minutes

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