Frenzy at 50: Hitchcock’s Most Violent Movie Ever

“I always tend to go back to the idea that Hitchcock was the supremely calculating exploiter of the medium’s full gamut of possibilities. Mainstream and avant-garde, Hollywood and non-Hollywood, editing and feature film, silent and sound, male focus and female accent, and much more,” Charles Barr, author of English Hitchcock, told BBC Culture. “Post-1960 freedoms allowed him to expand his canvas, so to speak, but without giving up the eloquently allusive methods he had used and honed throughout his career.”

Frenzy premiered as the closing film at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival and received a largely rave critical response. Many contemporary reviews betrayed a sense of relief that the great Hitchcock had not produced another dud. Gene Siskel wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “Hitchcock, after a series of four indifferent films, is back to provide great entertainment”, while Jay Cocks’ headline review in Time Magazine declared that the director was “always the master”. The film would go on to surpass Psycho at the box office and become Hitchcock’s most financially successful work for Universal.

Fifty years later, Frenzy remains a chillingly effective thriller and a curious ending to the murderous saga that began with The Lodger. It is imbued with Hitchcockian verve and, paradoxically, unlike anything he had done before. “Frenzy is steeped in the (English) past, yet contemporary in some of its ambitions, a testament to a director less encumbered by codes (of all kinds), but with complicated results that leave us wondering how much we really got to know Hitchcock himself,” Christine Sprengler, author of Hitchcock and Contemporary Art, told BBC Culture.

Hitchcock has always been famous for his visions of male violence in aggressive patriarchal worlds, but with Frenzy he chose not to sugarcoat the pill. Perhaps the film’s savagery suggests that its director could always have operated in a less censored industry – but his last film, 1976’s Family Plot, contains little of the villainy that characterizes Frenzy. It’s more likely that Hitchcock was reluctant to grow old in the role of an antiquated heritage act, and even in the abrasive age of New Hollywood, giallo and exploitation cinema, the septuagenarian genius was still looking for new ways to horrify his audience.

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