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Awesome: 40%
Worth A Look48.57%
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Pretty Bad: 5.71%
Total Crap: 5.71%

2 reviews, 23 user ratings

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Frenzy (1972)
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by Jay Seaver

"The movies change, Hitchcock adapts and thrives."
4 stars

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of change and upheaval in the world of film; the naturalistic style and grittier realism that emerged seeming to render the old Hollywood of just a few years earlier instantly dated. Alfred Hitchcock was undeniably a part of that earlier mode of filmmaking, but "Frenzy" provides a tantalizing glimpse at him working in the new reality without missing much of a step.

This movie focuses on Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), once a great pilot in the RAF, now a barman getting fired for drinking the merchandise. Though he's got a nice thing going with his co-worker Babs (Anna Massey) and a good friend in Robert Rusk (Barry Foster) at the nearby produce warehouse, he's often a wellspring of anger just waiting to be tapped, as happens when he pays a visit to his ex-wife Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt). Sounds like a likely suspect to be the "necktie murderer" who is killing London women, doesn't he?

It's not him, as it turns out, but the circumstances surrounding the latest victim to be found make him the prime suspect, and the police pursuing the wrong man in a series of sexually-charged crimes certainly puts this story right in Hitchcock's wheelhouse. Frenzy is an engrossing little thriller in that mode, set up so that all manner of terrible things can happen at any time even as the basic structure of the story comes across as fairly familiar. It's cleverly-built enough that it doesn't seem overly reliant on coincidence or a needlessly complicated master plan, although - whether by the design of Hitchcock, screenwriter Anthony Shaffer, or original novelist Arthur La Bern - it allows for the audience to see either cruelly blind fate or diabolically directed evil as fits their preferences. It's a neat trick to not explain everything but feel like nothing has gone unexplained.

While the story is classically Hitchcock, it's also a surprisingly modern-feeling film, both in terms of reflecting what was going on in cinema in 1972 and how serial-killer moves play today. While it wasn't long before that he was implying things much worse than the audience could actually be allowed to see, he's able to use nudity, rape, and other graphic violence without dancing around it here, along with some nasty business with the corpses that feel like they wouldn't make the jump from exploitation to the mainstream for another few years (so, perhaps, he was still pushing the boundaries as with Psycho).

On top of that, Richard, Robert, and Babs especially are rather working-class folks played by relatively unknown internationally British stage actors compared to the movie stars in the roles of well-to-do people that Hitchcock had utilized over much of the previous twenty years or so. The way they talk feels more realistic and less exaggerated for comic or dramatic effect, and they do it rather well: Jon Finch essays a protagonist whose angry, surly nature has no problem with encouraging the audience to turn on him even when he's in the right, while Barry Foster makes Robert's jovial, impossibly-smooth persona quite appealing even after the viewer can see that it's but a mere part of the man - and Foster's even better when the mask comes down. The women don't quite get that sort of complexity - although Leigh-Hunt does demonstrate that Brenda's feelings for Richard are believably conflicted, Massey has a fairly uncomplicated but strong-willed girlfriend to play.

Some of the supporting parts are rather a mixed bag, and they come in pairs. Alec McCowen makes a pleasantly capable detective investigating the case, but is often paired with an absurdly broad Vivien Merchant as his one-joke wife (although that one joke can work; I'm still laughing at the way she says "ta-kwee-la" a few days later). That's flipped a bit for Clive Swift and Billie Whitelaw as an old comrade-in-arms of Blaney's and his wife - he's offhandedly dismissive of the charges against his friend while she's angrily sensible. It's a pairing that seems like it should be a little funnier than it is.

Humor is where Hitchcock falters a bit in Frenzy; while the script occasionally has structural problems, especially in the last act, they don't grind things to an awkward stop the way misplaced broad comic relief does. That's especially noticeable because the pitch-black bits of comedy work so well, from a politician talking about ridding the Thames of contamination as a body floats in to the killer's suspenseful and desperate but also absurd attempt to retrieve a damning piece of evidence. The finale has a couple of the most horribly hilarious gags in Hitchcock's career, making the audience feel terrible for laughing.

It's well worth a few flaws to get to that moment, which would still feel a bit edgy if dropped into a movie today. That is, if it were executed so well, which is no guarantee - Hitchcock may have had to change with the times, but he still made this sort of movie as well as anybody.

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originally posted: 07/19/13 01:19:57
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User Comments

6/28/18 Louise English-style Hitchcock thriller. Excellent! 4 stars
2/13/17 morris campbell another Hitchcock gem 4 stars
8/12/16 Bents reflects a more outwardly bleak world than previous films 4 stars
9/12/12 keith miron I liked it, I don't know what else to say 4 stars
4/02/09 action movie fan good hitchcock thriller set in england 4 stars
10/30/08 Dan Navarro Outstanding visuals and a startling double twist at the end. 5 stars
2/04/08 Pamela White Suspense and more creepy, funky clothing 5 stars
7/16/07 action movie fan good hitchcock thriller 4 stars
2/15/05 Tracie Smegelski Creepy, kooky, & altogether ooky. I'll never hear the adverb "lovely" the same way again! 5 stars
6/11/04 Sean Scanlan Hitchcock makes the best movies 5 stars
5/20/04 Sean Scanlan Superb movie 5 stars
12/11/03 john without doubt one of hitchcock's best - intense and suspense to burn! 5 stars
9/24/03 Mario Matos Flat story, poor dialogues, no genious at all 1 stars
7/23/03 Double G BARBARBARBARBRABARANN!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
7/26/02 Bluto Great ending 4 stars
6/25/02 Charles Tatum A good departure for Hitch 4 stars
5/16/02 Monday Morning Overrated as hell. 2 stars
4/25/02 Amaia Goņi Liked it because depicts a living, beautiful London. But what a strange cast!!! 4 stars
8/07/01 Mr. Hat The beginning sucks, but it ends up being pretty good. 4 stars
4/13/01 Andrew Carden Extremly well done from what I've seen. 5 stars
2/19/01 R.W. Welch The only problem here is thare is nobody in the cast your really care much about. 4 stars
4/24/00 lucas jackson thrilling ot the end 5 stars
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  21-Jun-1972 (R)
  DVD: 20-Jun-2006

  25-May-1972 (18)

  02-Jul-1972 (M)

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