- Monthly Theme: Erotic Thrillers
- The Film: Frenzy
- Country of origin: U.K.
- Date of U.K. release: May 25, 1972
- Date of U.S. release: June 21, 1972
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Distributer: Universal Pictures
- Domestic Gross: ?
- Budget: $2 million (estimated)
- Director: Alfred Hitchcock
- Producer: William Hill & Alfred Hitchcock
- Screenwriter: Anthony Shaffer
- Adaptation? Yes, of the 1966 novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square by Arthur La Bern.
- Cinematographers: Gilbert Taylor & Leonard J. South
- Make-Up/FX: Albert Whitlock, et al.
- Music: Ron Goodwin
- Part of a series? No.
- Remakes? No.
- Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. British genre stars Anna Massey (Peeping Tom, The Vault of Horror, etc.) and Billie Whitelaw (Twisted Nerve, Night Watch, etc.).
- Other notables?: No.
- Awards?: Best Foreign Film at the 1973 Cinema Writers Circle Awards. Top Ten by the 1972 National Board of Review.
- Tagline: “From the Master of Shock… A shocking masterpiece!”
- The Lowdown: Alfred Hitchcock’s penultimate movie is a serial killer shocker about a rash of sex murders in London. The movie stars Jon Finch as Richard Blaney, a retired RAF serviceman who finds himself on the run from the police after he’s implicated in the serial stranglings when his ex-wife – who he’d been seen publicly arguing with the previous evening – is found murdered. Meanwhile, the real killer – who is actually Blaney’s good friend Bob Rusk (Barry Foster, in a role Michael Caine was offered but turned down because he found the part “disgusting”) – uses Blaney’s implication to begin to cover his own tracks and frame Blaney in the process. Will Blaney be able to clear his own name and bring the real killer to justice? Frenzy was the last film Hitchcock made in his native England (and the first since 1950’s Stage Fright).
If you haven’t seen Frenzy our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.
Sean: My boyfriend’s capsule review of Frenzy was “Ugly teeth, ugly clothes, ugly people.” Can you believe it? He also thought it “didn’t feel like Hitchcock,” which I thought was interesting because I do see how he could feel that way.
Kristine: One of my responses to the movie was to do some research on the Christie murders.
Sean: I don’t even know what those are. Was the movie based on a real case?
Kristine: I think they are significant, because do you remember the pub scene? When the detectives are next to Richard Blaney and they say, “It’s been too long since the Christie murders; a good colorful crime spree is good for tourism”?
Sean: I do remember that, but I didn’t even think about the significance.
Kristine: It turns out there are a lot of similarities between the Necktie Killer and the Christie Murders. Including, of course, the media frenzy.
Sean: I love the title’s double/triple meanings: Media frenzy/sexual frenzy/etc.
Kristine: I love that as well. Of course, the first serial killer that really started a media circus was Jack the Ripper and I had a thought (though this is probably overreaching), Do you think Bob Rusk’s monogrammed “R” pin – the one Babs’ corpse has in her fist – could also be homage to Jack the Ripper, the greatest London serial killer of them all? The “R” could stand for… Ripper.
Sean: Well, sure. Why not, right? I do not think you can ignore that the specter of Jack the Ripper hangs over any London-killing-spree movie.
Kristine: Can I tell you about the Christie case and the similarities with the Necktie Killer?
Kristine: John Christie was this impotent maniac who killed lots of ladies (including his wife) and lived in plain sight in London. He “hid” all the bodies in his house and garden, but hardly hid them at all. Like there was a lady’s skull out in the open in his garden.
Sean: Oh my god. Did he strangle them?
Kristine: He did strangle them. He would gas them first until they were unconscious, then sexually assault them (he couldn’t consummate the act if they were conscious) then strangle them.
Sean: Men and their malfunctioning dicks. When did the Christie murders take place? The ‘50s? ‘60s?
Kristine: The 1940s and ‘50s.
Sean: That skull detail is out of control.
Kristine: Yeah, I guess the only time he could do the sex was if they were unconscious or prostitutes. And the skull detail is significant because another man, a tenant of Christie’s, was accused of killing his own wife and child and hung for the crime – but Christie actually did it. See all the similarities to the Necktie Killer? When the police were “investigating,” they missed the skull out in the garden and the bodies hidden in the walls and Christie’s criminal record which included violence against women. So Scotland Yard looked like total idiots and they were ashamed.
Sean: Holy shit. That is crazy (the innocent man angle). It makes sense that Hitch would be attracted to that story, because so many of his films are about an innocent man on the run for a crime he didn’t commit. North by Northwest. The 39 Steps. Saboteur. [Editor’s Note: It turns out there is a 1971 movie about the Christie murders, 10 Rillington Place, directed by Richard Fleischer, the prolific director of lots of mid-century film noirs & sci-fi movies like The Narrow Margin, Fantastic Voyage, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Soylent Green. He also made two other pictures based on true crime: The Boston Strangler (1968) and the Palm D’or-nominated Compulsion (1959) about the Leopold & Loeb murders that were also the inspiration for Hitch’s Rope (1948).]
Kristine: Yes, you are right. The last thing about the Christie case that struck me was this detail: they finally catch Christie and he is going to hang. Like he is walking to the gallows or whatever. His hands are bound and he complains that his nose itches, and the head of Scotland Yard says, “It won’t bother you for long.” It reminded me of Chief Inspector Oxford’s bon mot at the end of Frenzy, which I loved… “Mr Rusk, you’re not wearing your tie”. I love a wise-cracking detective. Very Law and Order.
Sean: Yes that’s another Hitchcock staple, the smart and slightly fuddy-duddyish cop, like Chief Inspector Hubbard in Dial M for Murder, who has a dry wit and keen intellect.
Kristine: Right. But the real star was… Mrs. Oxford, the inspector’s wife.
Sean: I love Mrs. Oxford.
Kristine: She should have won an Academy Award. She solved the case.
Sean: She is one of the most delightful aspects of the movie for me.
Kristine: Absolutely, and a source of comedy. I was all a-giggle during all of her scenes.
Sean: She is such a Hitchcock kind of character, that combination of mousy, steely, smart and airheaded.
Kristine: Yes, and also the gallows humor.
Sean: I actually wanted to roll my eyes at the whole “She’s a terrible cook – wah wah.” But then she is just so fabulous.
Kristine: Those dinners… That bouillabaisse soup. The quail with grapes? The quail is the same size as the grapes?
Sean: The dinners were sufficiently repugnant. Hitch has always had a strange attitude about domestic work and women who revel in domesticity – something that defines Grace Kelly’s Lisa Freemont in Rear Window is her ineptitude in, and unsuitability for, domestic life. She orders dinner from 21 because she doesn’t cook, etc.
Kristine: I think it’s less that Mrs. Oxford is a terrible cook and more that she has these upper class pretensions, right?
Sean: Right, she has all these pretensions, but she has no talent and no skill and she picks the most grotesque dishes. Perversely, upper class “cuisine” means offal and organs and disgusting pig’s feet slathered in vomit-sauce.
Kristine: It feels like more than any other movie we have watched, it’s really hard to talk about this without talking about the director. Why is that? Just because Hitchcock is a great auteur or because his movies are personal?
Sean: Hmmm, I’m not sure. He’s just so iconic. I am actually not sure what your Hitchcock background is. I have seen all the major and most of the minor films – the only “big” one I haven’t seen is I, Confess, and I’ve never caught up with most of the early silent-era ones also.
Kristine: I am not fully schooled on Hitch, sadly.
Sean: What have you seen? Just curious.
Kristine: I have seen some of his major movies, and some of his TV show. Psycho. The Birds. North by Northwest. Rear Window. Vertigo. That might be it.
Sean: Those are the Big Five, I’d say and the most iconic ones of the latter half of his career. Rear Window blew my mind and basically changed my personality and how my brain worked. It might be the most important movie I ever saw. It was, like, a religious experience.
Kristine: I have questions about Hitchcock for you.
Kristine: In Rear Window the protagonist is impotent because he is in the wheelchair and depressed, and then in Frenzy the killer is impotent. Was Hitch impotent?
Sean: Oh. Um…. I am not very well versed in that side of his personal life. He was married for a million years and had a daughter Pat, who plays a wonderful bit part in Strangers on a Train. I do not imagine him as a sexual carnivore, but who knows? I’m sure this information is out there.
Kristine: He had all these complicated relationships with his leading ladies.
Sean: His famous quote: “Torture the women.” He took that shit seriously.
Sean: In love with Grace Kelly. In love with Tippi Hedren. Obsessed with icy blondes.
Kristine: I think it’s interesting that male impotency is a reoccurring motif in his movies.
Sean: That’s true. There’s another side to that coin: the super-virile ladies’ man (like Cary Grant in North by Northwest or To Catch a Thief or Paul Newman in Torn Curtain). But you’re right, damaged masculinity is a feature of a lot of his movies. The uncle in Shadow of a Doubt, the widower in Rebecca, the mental patient in Spellbound, the obsessed detective in Vertigo. I think he had a fussy English obsession with prurience.
Kristine: I guess the sexy and suave role in Frenzy was supposed to be Richard Blaney, but he did not do it for me.
Sean: You mean…. Dick? Or, as Johnny Porter calls him: Dick-O?
Kristine: Yes, Dick-O. Harkening back to your boyfriend’s review, I thought this cast was uncharacteristically fug.
Sean: They were tried and true Brits, haha. I watched this as a kid, I loved Babs and was devastated when she was killed. She is just such a twitchy, Cockney, uggie love.
Kristine: Oh, Babs. Her weak chin was killing me. Question for you: which murder was scarier – Brenda’s (where the viewer is forced to watched every horrible detail of her defilement and strangulation) or Babs’ (where the camera follows her and the killer up the stairs into the room, then the door closes, and the camera goes back down the stairs and out into the street)? I loved that second scene so much. So scary and bleak and hopeless yet still gorgeous.
Sean: They’re both masterfully constructed, but that Babs sequence is only so effective because we see Brenda die and we know what is going to happen to Babs, right?
Sean: The panning down the stairs and out into the street and then all the ambient street noise coming on the audio = brilliant.
Kristine: We’re there in the form of the camera but we can’t do anything.
Sean: Brenda’s strangulation scene is, I think, a companion piece to the shower scene in Psycho. Lots of quick cuts, very frenetic and dizzying and explosive.
Kristine: One thing I thought was really well done in Brenda’s death scene, which I think is tricky to pull off, is how Hitch shows all the varying degrees of terror. First she is totally terrified that he is sexually assaulting her, but then when he takes off his tie and she realizes he is going to kill her then her terror discernibly ratchets up.
Sean: That “Oh my…. you’re the…. you….. [SCREAM OF TERROR]” is very very melodramatic, in the best possible way. So, this is the only Hitchcock movie to feature explicit nudity.
Kristine: I found the nudity shocking. I found the indignities visited upon the female body to be horrifying.
Kristine: The way Babs is disposed of? In a fucking potato sack?
Sean: The female body gets, like, totally dissed by this movie. The movie has Hitch’s typical brand of black humor turned up to 11.
Kristine: The breaking of her fingers to retrieve the pin…
Sean: We were cracking up when dead Babs’ feet kept kicking Rusk in the face. But the fingers breaking literally made me curl up in the fetal position and rock.
Kristine: I loved that, just Bab’s general revenge upon Rusk during that whole scene. Which leads me to… You know I rarely read reviews of films we watch, but I read Ebert’s review of this and he was talking about the potato truck scene.
Sean: What did he say about it?
Kristine: He was talking about how even though we hate Rusk, during that scene we empathize with his panic and frustration and sort of hate Babs for being an uncooperative and cumbersome dead body that might incriminate him. I agree that it was a funny scene, and I was laughing and delighted that she was fucking with him from beyond the grave, but I also was stressed out FOR him.
Sean: Yeah. The scene is amazing because it fucks with our sense of identification.
Sean: I wanted him to get caught the whole time, but I was still stressed out.
Sean: What did dummy E-bear say about Frenzy? Did he love it?
Kristine: The great Roger Ebert loved it. He loved the wife, as we did. We have to mention the snapping of fingers/snapping of breadsticks scene. So ludicrous and over the top, but great.
Sean: The humor, again, is just so pitch black, and the breadsticks are a perfect example of that. Can I ask, did you think Dick-O was the killer in the first 20 minutes, like the movie wanted you to?
Kristine: No, I didn’t think that.
Sean: When Rusk shows up at Brenda’s office, did you know it was him?
Kristine: Oh, yes. His over-the-top sliminess and faux-generosity showed his hand very early. People who want to give you everything are generally people you can’t trust.
Sean: That whole scene is so claustrophobic and so effective. Depicting rape on screen is so fraught, and they’re often eroticized so that you’re both identifying with the victim even as you’re turned on by what’s happening to her (The Accused is a good example). It’s a razor-sharp line and this film walks it in more interesting and provocative ways than the average “watch his bare ass thrusting as she screams” shit. My theory is, if you see the guy thrusting, it’s turning people on, but maybe that’s just me. The super-close-up of her praying puts us in her position and makes her experience the focus of the scene and marginalizes his pleasure… maybe? His pleasure is rendered as truly grotesque, to my mind. So maybe it’s still eroticizing rape, but it’s doing a lot of more interesting stuff in addition.
Kristine: I liked how she was smart and tried various things to get out of the situation. Of course, I wanted her to be more physically assertive but… it’s a compelling scene.
Sean: Her tucking her breast back into her bra broke my heart to a thousand pieces. Oh Brenda! (sobs)
Kristine: Me too.
Sean: Rusk groaning “Lovely, lovely, lovely” made me want to puke.
Kristine: He was such a disgusting freak. Did he scare you?
Sean: Yes! I found Rusk terrifying and depraved in a very realistic and convincing way. Though I did find some of the “well, we cannot help your kind of people” dialogue with Brenda a bit on the nose.
Kristine: The fact that he seemed genuinely hurt that Brenda didn’t want him as a client, like he really couldn’t understand. Just a total disconnect. He acts like a sensitive baby in that scene until he attacks. That is real boy behavior, let me tell you.
Sean: Hitchcock’s relationship with women is so fraught with tension. Can we just for a moment address Brenda’s secretary? I thought both the secretary and Hetty Porter, the wife of Dick-O’s army chum, bordered on Rachel McAdams-in-Midnight in Paris territory for shrewishness.
Kristine: I agree. Though I liked how Brenda tried to protect her “dykey” secretary from both Dick and Rusk, even though it worked against her. The secretary is really the one who starts the media/legal “frenzy” against Dick. The counterbalance is the reasonable Mrs. Oxford. Hetty Porter was so wretched when she was all, “I would report you but I don’t want to get involved.” I thought that was a potshot at the bourgeoisie.
Sean: Regarding Hetty Porter, I thought her disgust and rage at the nature of the crimes against women was pretty cathartic. She’s really the only person in the movie who registers how heinous the crimes are, and she’s outraged as a woman at how women’s lives are so disposable in the culture.
Kristine: Yeah, but she doesn’t want to do anything about it. She is very problematic.
Sean: Dick-O’s reaction to hearing Babs was murdered? He is about as excited as if he just found out that he didn’t get the new credenza he was bidding for on eBay.
Sean: I am surprised that didn’t jump out at you because it is one of the main things I was obsessed with thinking about after the movie. How he just didn’t really seem to care, despite his stupid “revenge” plot to get Rusk at the end. That is so traditionally “masculine” and cliché.
Kristine: Dick-O is my least favorite character. He is presented as being damaged, too, right? He’s a former military dude or whatever who may have been messed up by his service, like he has PTSD or something. I still don’t care about him or his motivations.
Sean: The movie’s portrayal of him is weird. Like, he’s really a dick. Literally.
Sean: And a bully to his ex.
Kristine: And a drunk.
Sean: And Brenda totally enables him.
Kristine: That dinner scene was so… just, ugh.
Sean: Why the hell is she putting up with him and his behavior? He breaks a glass with his bare hands and she’s like, Sure come up for a nightcap. Oh my god, I’m victim-blaming right now. Apologies, ladies. I know better.
Kristine: She puts up with him because of his PTSD I guess? I still don’t care about his feelings at all. He is a pig.
Sean: He is a pig, and I am sick of PTSD as an excuse.
Kristine: Me, too. I am just saying.
Sean: I am sick of everyone valorizing violence and war and then bitching about PTSD afterwards…
Kristine: That might be what the movie is trying to convey.
Kristine: Do you think the women in the movie are naïve?
Sean: Naïve? Babs is. But the other women? No.
Kristine: Babs questions Dick for a hot minute and is then like, ‘I have faith in you.’
Sean: My favorite line is the hotel front desk woman going “Oh! Not in the Cupid Room!” That is the most laugh out loud funny moment in the movie.
Kristine: Now we are getting into the whole media circus part of the movie.
Sean: Before we get to that, let’s address your question about the women being naïve. I thought the women were surprisingly worldly and aware, especially Brenda and Hetty Porter. I mean, they know the score.
Kristine: Back to the detective’s telling line: “It’s been too long since the Christie murders; a good colorful crime spree is good for tourism.”
Sean: Don’t you think the movie wants us to share Dick-O’s hostility towards Brenda? Like, she slipped the money in his pocket? How emasculating. Poor little shriveled Dick. To me, that’s the thing about Brenda’s murder that is icky – that the movie is all, ‘You thought you knew your business didn’t you lady?’ (Remember, her business is connecting lonely singles). ‘Well, you didn’t.’ Then she is killed because she doesn’t control the situation, because she doesn’t appropriately read the situation.
Kristine: Hmm, I don’t take it that way.
Sean: Tell me.
Kristine: I thought she did read the situation pretty well. She rejected Rusk from the get-go. She was trying to manage things as well as she could, and her tactics kept shifting as the situation escalated, which was smart. It makes her demise all the more tragic.
Sean: That opening scene of the blonde bombshell corpse floating up to the shore and the crowd all freaking out is Hitchock’s weird fetishization of women in a nutshell.
Kristine: It’s significant that the body washes ashore during a press conference, because it is a harbinger of events to come.
Sean: Aren’t there all these tut-tutting women in the crowd being like, ‘Men and their perversions’?
Sean: Let’s tackle the media frenzy aspect of the movie. Frenzy feels more like a sociological commentary than your average Hitchcock movie.
Kristine: Just to reiterate what you already said: I, too, loved the multiple meanings of the title.
Sean: Hitchcock didn’t usually make overt critiques of media culture in his movies (though he did begin his career doing that in The Lodger). Also, Britain has this rich, vibrant tabloid culture… The movie’s gotta be a response to that, specifically.
Kristine: Yes, to the culture of titillation. It is definitely is a critique of the tabloid/titillation culture.
Sean: His later movies were mostly made in the U.S. This is one of the few movies where he went back to the U.K. (another is Stage Fright).
Kristine: That one line I keep trotting out, where the cops are saying it’s good for business to have another string of murders, is proof that this is meant to be a critique.
Sean: That line is Hitch’s uncensored pleasure in the macabre being given voice. Like, the thrill of perversions and murder.
Sean: Kristine, his whole filmography is… Just that. A decadent pleasure in human prurience and ugliness. If the line spoken by the cops at the start of Frenzy cuts as a critique, it’s also an honest admission of pleasure.
Kristine: I agree and I want to see more of Hitchock’s work. I feel like a dummy not having seen all his films.
Sean: Well, there are plenty that would fit Girl Meets Freak. Regardless, I am willing to do any Hitchcock movie, even if it’s not a “horror” movie, just because it’s Hitchcock. There’s no other director I feel that way about.
Kristine: I have another thought about that line. You are absolutely right that it’s all about the thrill of perversions and murder, but also it is about how black deeds are “good for business” and a necessary part of the machinations of society. He specifically mentions the tourism industry, but it is also about the media industry and the law enforcement industry and, of course, politics, as shown by the press conference at the beginning of the film. I guess the vile Republican primaries are reminding me of all the politicians that have trotted out scandalous crimes, or fucking started wars, to manipulate the public. And how when something horrifying happens, all these different elements of society start thinking about how they can exploit it to further their particular goals. It stops being about the victims, and becomes about using them to perpetuate their own power, hopefully profitably.
Sean: Right. Yeah, that’s interesting.
Kristine: Which harkens back to what you were saying about how we never get a satisfying reaction from anyone about Brenda and Babs’ murders. No one is sufficiently mourning them. Even Brenda’s secretary is more interested in getting Dick (who was rude to her) than mourning Brenda.
Sean: More interested in getting dick, eh? Kristine, who among us?
Sean: The idea that our culture feeds off of and is motivated and pushed along by its worst, darkest elements is basically… one explanation for the existence of horror movies.
Kristine: Society needs bad people and bad acts to justify itself.
Sean: I agree with that – which is why I found Hetty’s anger so fucking cathartic. She’s the one person to actually give voice to outrage – but you’re right that it is undercut by her unwillingness to “get involved.” And when she convinces her husband they’d go to jail for harboring Dick-O? Even she’s not willing to put her own bourgeois lifestyle on the line.
Kristine: Like we need police and politicians and military to protect us. If we lived in a peaceful society those branches would be obsolete. And so there is significant motivation to keep society violent. That’s my read, anyway.
Sean: Hmmmm… That’s interesting. I mean, it does become a bit of a “chicken or the egg” argument.
Sean: Which comes first, the violence or the response to the violence? Crime or law enforcement? The movie valorizes the detective don’t you think? This goes back to my ongoing thing about the M.A.L.E. [Masculine Authoritarian Logical Examiner] He keeps popping up in our horror movies, and he is usually a hero-figure. A good example of the M.A.L.E. so far is probably the cop in An American Werewolf in London.
Kristine: I agree that the detective is valorized. It’s pretty widely accepted that complex society started out of self-protection, and that was valid, but the crime rate goes down every year yet there is all this motivation to keep people scared and focused on boogeymen.
Sean: God we just love our cerebral, masculine forces of control. See Sherlock Holmes.
Kristine: Right. Though in Frenzy, we also have the W.I.F.E. [Wacky Intuitive Female Eccentric].
Sean (simultaneously): This M.A.L.E. gets some of his ideas from his W.I.F.E. [Wacky Intuitive Female Eccentric].
Sean: We are a hive mind sometimes.
Kristine: We really are.
Sean: That whole line Mrs. Oxford has about “a woman’s intuition” is the same shit Grace Kelly puts out in Rear Window. Is she right Kristine? Do women have a special intuition?
Kristine: I don’t want to answer that.
Sean: I believe that Hitchcock believed it. That to him, it was a metaphysical truth that he respected, but also wanted to pat on the head and say, “Good doggie, now go lie down.”
Kristine: Okay, I will answer. No. Women’s intuition is smoke and mirrors, a way for women to possess ideas and understanding and rational thought that they are not supposed to possess… and a way a filmmaker like Hitchcock can have a woman’s intellect play a starring role without actually giving her credit for said smarts. I mean, I love the character of Mrs. Oxford, but it is of course frustrating that her intelligence must be counterweighted with her ditzy-ness, even though it is entertaining to watch. So I think “female intuition” is a contrivance.
Sean: Very well said. Yeah, you just nailed that. Somewhere Simone de Beauvoir is pouring one out for you.
Kristine: What up, Simone. Another little scene I really liked? The courtroom scene at the end.
Sean: I don’t remember it being special.
Kristine: It’s a small scene – the bailiff or officer or whomever is outside the courtroom doors, and it is totally quiet. Then he opens the doors and cacophony pours out and then he closes the doors and it is silent again. It was just cool. A frenzy of noise! I don’t know why, but I just loved it. Hey, I missed the Hitchcock cameo. When was it?
Sean: He was in the opening crowd scene. So two things. First off, isn’t the ending brilliant? How Oxford and Dick-O stumble upon the scene of the crime just as Rusk is downstairs, and then Rusk comes in dragging the trunk… It’s total Hitchcock frisson. He loves to relish in how all it takes for a criminal to get caught is one tiny miscalculation (and in this way, he really does champion the forces of ‘Law and Order’).
Kristine: Like I said, I loved the bon mot.
Sean: It is also nearly identical to the end of Dial M for Murder.
Kristine: Oh really? I am ashamed I haven’t seen Dial.
Sean: It’s not one of his better movies. It was shot for 3D and has one big gimmicky hand reaching out at you to cash in on the 3D craze (which of course, has come around full circle). It was based on a stage play and it shows – it really lacks energy. But as an Agatha Christie-style drawing room mystery it offers some mild pleasures. Ray Milland is just a total fabulous asshole in it.
Kristine: You referenced this earlier, but I want to ask you directly. Is Frenzy horror?
Sean: I don’t think it is “horror” per se. It is a thriller, but with moments of shock and terror as intense as any given horror movie. More intense than most, I’d say. I mean, we haven’t talked about the tongue.
Kristine: I agree. Also, the scene when you know Babs will be killed. That filled me with dread in a similar way to how horror movies make me feel (like, when Sarah panics while she’s crawling through the tight passageway in The Descent).
Sean: Horror has the ability to gut-punch us and also to scare the shit out us. I think Frenzy delivers some great gut-punches. It is that sense of dread you’re talking about that makes it an appropriate movie for the blog, I would argue. Also, the tongue. I mean, what a grotesque exploitative image.
Kristine: And the snapping of the fingers… Lots of body stuff.
Sean: The tongue image packs more of a punch than most horror movies who are trying really hard to scare or shock us and Hitchcock is all, “Meh, here ya go” and does it effortlessly. And yes the fingers too…
Kristine: I think part of what makes the lolling tongue image so disturbing is a detail you mentioned earlier, when Brenda covers up her nipple with her bra. You want her to be… I don’t know, protected and given her dignity even though this awful thing is happening to her. But of course the lolling tongue scene is so raw and exposed and almost comical in how undiginified it is. It is awful.
Sean: I think it is the most perverse image Hitchcock ever put to film. And yes, it’s also blackly comic. By perverse I mean, it is meant to horrify, to titillate, and to be a desecration… So, I read that Hitchcock wanted to make this movie in this way in order to capture a London on film that he remembered from his boyhood (the markets at Covent Garden, Dryden Chambers, Henrietta Street, etc.).
Kristine: Ah. I liked the urban scenes.
Sean: I guess within a few years of Frenzy being made a lot of that stuff got torn down or remodeled or reimagined and Frenzy is kind of a historical document of that time and place.
Kristine: Good for Hitch.
Sean: I just thought that was fascinating.
Kristine: You know what, even though I hadn’t seen Frenzy, I had seen the trailer with Hitch floating down the river.
Sean: Yeah Hitchcock made some campy-ass trailers for his own movies. Like the one for The Birds with birds all over his shoulders. Before we wrap up, I want to talk about Babs’ pointed white witch shoes and her ugly orange two-piece number.
Kristine: I told you, I have those shoes in black. My boyfriend calls them my “mean schoolmarm shoes.” I like ugly fashion.
Sean: They make her (not you, I’m sure) so much more gawky and awkward. They are like clown shoes on her.
Kristine: I agree, all coltish legs shoved into boat shoes. She’s dumb. I prefer Brenda the ex-wife to Babs the dumb girlfriend.
Sean: No. She is sweet.
Kristine: What about the creepy bar owner always “fingering” Babs?
Sean: That line was the light of my life when I was 11.
Kristine: I don’t know what to say.
Sean: Brenda is competent and together. Babs is daft and a bit of a floozy. Which is why I love her!
Kristine: What about the detectives joking about how the Necktie Killer raping women was the “silver lining” to the rape/murders?
Kristine: Yeah. In the pub.
Sean: Why did they say that? Because it made the crimes more salacious?
Kristine: No – that the women got laid before they got killed.
Sean: I am dying.
Kristine: I just googled “rape joke in Hitchcock’s Frenzy.”
Kristine: I found a review [Editor’s Note: The review has since been deleted, so we can’t link to it.] where the writer says: “Yet the killer is only the worst in a London filled with dubious characters. Made at the end of the Swinging Era, Frenzy is set in a city with a heart that’s morally bankrupt. Blaney is nobody’s idea of a hero. His former employer, Felix (Bernard Cribbins) is a hypocritical lecher. In his pub, casual jokes about rape are bandied as though it’s all a bit of fun. Someone screams from the first floor of a building, and two women who are passing simply walk on by.” I agree with this critique because the rape joke happens right before the officer says the line I keep trotting out about the murder scandal being good for business. I think the joke coupled with that line is suppose to convey the callousness of contemporary society.
Sean: The last thing I wanted to ask. Do you think this is a “companion” to Psycho? I think the difference in how Hitchcock handles the subject matter, with only 12 years in between the two movies, is pretty interesting.
Kristine: Huh, I don’t know. I will have to think about that. One marked difference is how Rusk freely passes in society. He hides his sickness much better than Norman. He is not stuck out in the middle of nowhere, he is right in the thick of urban life.
Sean: And his sickness isn’t explained.
Kristine: Which can be read as scarier.
Sean: That’s the big difference to me. The end of Psycho is all about the M.A.L.E. rationalizing Norman away so that we can all “understand” why he is the way he is, but in Frenzy Rusk just is a sicko. Though I wonder if one of the movie’s ideas is that the prurience and lack of values present in contemporary culture is actually responsible for whipping Rusk up into his killing “frenzy.”
Kristine: Right. He’s the modern “sex maniac.”
Sean: But both movies see evil as very banal and everyday. That random stranger you meet? He could be a monster.
Kristine: Really? I definitely see that in Frenzy but not so much in Psycho. Huh.
Sean: Think about Norman and Marion’s interactions at the beginning of the movie. He’s the normal average everyday man. Little does she know who he really is.
Kristine: I guess.
Sean: Why are you poo-pooing my idea?
Kristine: I am not.
Sean: Remember that the big twist that shocked audiences in Psycho was that the killer was Norman, and not the mother. That the monster was the nice, nebbishy man… Can I also add that both films have a genderfuck at the center of their crimes: with Psycho it is the image of Norman dressed as his mother, and with Frenzy it is the dead, naked female bodies found with men’s neckties. So let me ask you this? Is Hitchcock’s social critique effective? Does the movie work as a critique of society?
Kristine: Did we determine what exactly that critique was? Is it the callousness of modern, urban society? Or that monsters walk amongst us? The banality of evil, as you say?
Sean: Just that we’re all ghouls lapping up all the gore and titillation of a dystopian society, and that our media culture is all about dehumanizing victims.
Kristine: Yes, I think it is effective… but also uses that base desire as part of the appeal. I mean, just watch the trailer to see how Frenzy was marketed.
Sean: Does Frenzy dehumanize its victims? Babs and Brenda?
Kristine: I don’t think so.
Sean: Remember when the face of Babs’ corpse is revealed after she falls off the truck? The frozen look of horror… So Edgar Allen Poe.
Kristine: The indignity done to the female body is very real, even when it is darkly comic, as is the case with Babs in the potato truck. You really feel like these are people’s bodies and real things are happening to them and it is horrible.
Sean: Who is scarier: Rusk or Norman Bates?
Sean: Rusk or Leatherface?
Sean: Hmmmm. Interesting. Rusk is a frat boy date rapist right?
Sean: Rusk is scarier to me than all the others, than Leatherface even, because he “passes.”
Kristine: Well, exactly. Rusk has the best chance of getting away with doing horrid things to you and to others. Over and over again.
Sean: Can I ask you something?
Sean: As a woman in our culture, do you worry about Rusk-types? About your own vulnerability to them?
Sean: Can you speak a bit about that?
Kristine: I worry about it a lot less than I used to. It is more a general anxiety than specific moments of fear, but there have been times when I’m in an elevator or parking garage or wherever with a strange man and the thought occurs to me that if I am attacked, I will have few options. My overarching desire is to tamp those fears down, to not let society scare me into not doing things I want to do, like be independent and go where I want when I want. If anything, fighting against that has put me in situations that were probably not wise. Do you worry about Ruskies?
Sean: No. This is part of the privilege that men enjoy, we are exempt from that particular kind of fear.
Kristine: Do you think you are more worried about personal safety as a gay man?
Sean: Yes, being gay does make you more susceptible to certain kinds of violence, but I don’t think most gay men worry about being raped. Not in the same way women do. Maybe I’m showing a different kind of privilege by saying that. For queer folks, a lot of this has to do with whether or not you can “pass” in straight society. You can tell some folks are queer just by looking at them, or by watching how they move. Others, you can’t tell until you hear their voice, how they speak. Others, you can’t even then. It’s a whole complicated thing. Look, none of us can escape the fact that men rape, and that anyone female or feminized within the culture is going to have to worry about that. Yes, gay men can and do get raped. Yes, I’ve been afraid of that happening to me in certain environments. Certain kinds of straight men, once they know you’re gay, see you as prey. Like when I was the only gay guy on staff at this one restaurant and many of the prep cooks and dishwashers would say my name and then when I looked over they’d grab their crotches and squeeze them, make lewd gestures, lick their lips, ask me if I liked to suck dick, etc. They sexually harassed the women too, don’t get me wrong. But with me it was particularly unsubtle and pornographic. One of the many shocking facts in the Matthew Shepard case is that when he was on a high school trip abroad to Morocco he was brutally beaten and raped. Some reports state that he turned to drugs and stuff as a way of coping with the depression and anxiety he experienced as a rape survivor.
Kristine: I didn’t know that.
Sean: And that’s what brought him into contact with his attackers (his drug use), some have speculated. It’s a domino effect. One crime begets another, and some crimes make victims more vulnerable to other crimes. It all makes me want to die. I still don’t think gay men in the U.S. have to live with the same kind of anxiety about stranger danger that women in our culture do.
Kristine: I am probably not aware enough of my personal safety, and that is a kind of twisted deliberate choice I made. To not be afraid, even when it is probably warranted.
Sean: I just want to point out here what a wicked rejoinder Frenzy really is to the “free love” spirit of the 1960s, and how it really is the product of the 1970s in its darkness and misanthropy.
Kristine: I agree with that read totally.
Sean: Also, I just realized that Hitchcock lived through the “swingin’ 1960s” and the hippie movement and it just blew my mind.
Sean: I want you to promise to be more careful about Rusks. Don’t Babs it. And I will too.
Kristine: That’s interesting about Shepherd and the drugs – because situations where I have been the most vulnerable were when I was young and stupid and partying.
Sean: Right. We should all have the right to make stupid choices without being afraid we’ll get raped, or gaybashed, or murdered, or all of the above, as a result. Bye, Rusk. Hated you.
The Girl’s rating: I’m traumatized but it sort of feels good.
The Freak’s rating: I’m traumatized but it sort of feels good.