Frenzy at 50: The most violent film Hitchcock ever made

“I tend always to revert to the idea that Hitchcock was the supremely calculating exploiter of the full range of the medium’s possibilities. Mainstream and avant-garde, Hollywood and non-Hollywood, montage and long-take, silent and sound, male focus and female focus, and so much more,” Charles Barr, author of English Hitchcock, tells BBC Culture. “The freedoms of post-1960 allowed him to widen his canvas, as it were, but without renouncing the eloquently allusive methods that he had been using and refining throughout his career.”

Frenzy premiered as the closing film at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival and received a broadly rapturous critical response. Many of the 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 string of four indifferent films, is back providing grand entertainment,” while the headline of Jay Cocks’ review in Time Magazine declared the director was “still the master”. The film would go on to outperform Psycho at the box office and become Hitchcock’s most financially successful work for Universal.

Fifty years on, Frenzy remains a chillingly effective thriller and a curious bookend to the murderous saga which commenced with The Lodger. It is drenched in Hitchcockian verve, and, paradoxically, unlike anything he had made 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 sorts), but with complicated results that leave us wondering how well we ever really knew Hitchcock himself,” Christine Sprengler, author of Hitchcock and Contemporary Art, tells BBC Culture.

Hitchcock had always been celebrated for his visions of male violence within aggressively patriarchal worlds, but with Frenzy he chose not to sugar the pill. Perhaps the film’s savagery suggests how its director might always have operated in a less censorious industry – but then his final film, 1976’s caper Family Plot, contains little of the nastiness which characterises Frenzy. It’s more likely that Hitchcock was reluctant to age into the role of an antiquated heritage act, and even in the abrasive era of the New Hollywood, giallo, and exploitation cinema, the septuagenarian genius was still probing new ways of horrifying his audience.

Love film and TV? Join BBC Culture Film and TV Club on Facebook, a community for cinephiles all over the world.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

You may also like...