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FRENZY (DEVIL'S ADVOCATES) *****

Written by Ian Cooper. RRP: £9.99 94 pp

Out now from Auteur Publishing

 

“PSYCHO without the shower curtain” is how Roger Ebert described Hitchcock's penultimate film, the grimy and brutal serial killer thriller FRENZY. Well reviewed upon release, and seen as a return to form for Hitch after a string of flops, but also controversial with many citing its graphic violence towards women and callous humour as problematic. Even Peter Sellers offered his thoughts at the time, telling Gene Siskel; “You liked FRENZY? You're out of your mind!” However, in spite of detractors, it became Hitchcock's biggest hit but is now often overlooked in favour of his flashier and more palatable films. Now in this new release from DEVIL'S ADVOCATES, the series looking at classic horror films, Ian Cooper sets out to “explore this appalling, repulsive, nihilistic masterpiece”.

 

Cooper has a breezy and easily accessible style and, appropriately for someone writing about Hitchcock, peppers it with dry humour (when referencing two notable 1930s trunk murders he observes; “clearly the 1930s were the best time to be a trunk murderer”). The breadth and depth of his research is impressive. He concisely and entertainingly provides thorough biographies of the main cast and crew and scatters fascinating trivia throughout. For instance, we learn that Hitchcock's first choice to play Bob Rusk was Michael Caine who turned it down, finding the script “disgusting” (clearly before the JAWS: THE REVENGE stage of his career). There are also unexpected James Bond connections to the character of Blaney as Timothy Dalton was at one point considered for the role and Jon Finch, who did play him, later turned down the role of Bond in LIVE AND LET DIE. My favourite digression is when we learn of FRENZY's bizarrely tasteless publicity campaign consisting of a “glamorous model wearing only some artfully placed vegetables and dubbed the Potato Bikini Girl”.

 

Cooper guides us on an in-depth trek through pre-production and Hitchcock's determination to create a film from a murderer's perspective and the inspiration he found in real life “genteel, polite yet brutal” British killers Christie, Haigh and Heath. We are informed of the various early iterations of FRENZY, at one point it was even an “unashamed art film” intended to compete with the younger European film-makers before Hitchcock discovered the perfect source novel in Arthur La Bern's “stripped, down and unapologetically pulpy” GOODBYE PICCADILLY, FAREWELL LEICESTER SQUARE. Kindly saving us the effort of reading it ourselves, Cooper lays out the key parallels and differences between the novel and the adaptation.

 

The bulk of the book is spent exploring the themes of FRENZY such as the food/sex/death equation and class tensions. Cooper also scrutinises the film's relation to Hitch's wider filmography. Describing it as “perhaps Hitchcock's most nakedly autobiographical film” it's unsurprising that Cooper unearths many similarities between FRENZY and his other work including mummy issues and inconvenient body disposals. Interestingly he posits that FRENZY contains the most extreme example of his recurring trope of the sympathetic killer and unpleasant protagonist with Blaney being an utterly repulsive and irredeemable 'hero'.

 

One thing that I didn't expect in a text on Hitchcock thrillers is a paragraph comparing it to the CARRY ON franchise, but here Cooper makes a compelling argument that screenwriter Shaffer may have intended his work as a dark take on the British ‘low comedy’ form. Stereotypical ‘low comedy’ locations of the pub, workplace and suburban dining room and obsessions with social position and glaring sexism are indeed explored in FRENZY. It's certainly a unique take which I wouldn't have considered before.

 

Cooper acknowledges that the film is still “disliked by many” and thoughtfully examines the complaints levied at it by critics such as Victoria Sullivan, who went as far as labelling the film dangerous in the extent that the lurid crimes could be titillating for real-life deviants. Cooper engages with the different ways it has been viewed by male and female critics and also questions whether Hitchcock's dark humour is too callously tasteless in this particular film.

 

Overall, I feel that Cooper has written the definitive text on FRENZY. It's illuminating, engaging and occasionally amusing. Even if you haven’t seen FRENZY, and don't mind spoilers, you could get much out of this. I'd definitely recommend it to any film fan.

 

John Upton

 

 

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FRENZY (DEVIL'S ADVOCATES) *****

Written by Ian Cooper. RRP: £9.99 94 pp

Out now from Auteur Publishing

 

“PSYCHO without the shower curtain” is how Roger Ebert described Hitchcock's penultimate film, the grimy and brutal serial killer thriller FRENZY. Well reviewed upon release, and seen as a return to form for Hitch after a string of flops, but also controversial with many citing its graphic violence towards women and callous humour as problematic. Even Peter Sellers offered his thoughts at the time, telling Gene Siskel; “You liked FRENZY? You're out of your mind!” However, in spite of detractors, it became Hitchcock's biggest hit but is now often overlooked in favour of his flashier and more palatable films. Now in this new release from DEVIL'S ADVOCATES, the series looking at classic horror films, Ian Cooper sets out to “explore this appalling, repulsive, nihilistic masterpiece”.

 

Cooper has a breezy and easily accessible style and, appropriately for someone writing about Hitchcock, peppers it with dry humour (when referencing two notable 1930s trunk murders he observes; “clearly the 1930s were the best time to be a trunk murderer”). The breadth and depth of his research is impressive. He concisely and entertainingly provides thorough biographies of the main cast and crew and scatters fascinating trivia throughout. For instance, we learn that Hitchcock's first choice to play Bob Rusk was Michael Caine who turned it down, finding the script “disgusting” (clearly before the JAWS: THE REVENGE stage of his career). There are also unexpected James Bond connections to the character of Blaney as Timothy Dalton was at one point considered for the role and Jon Finch, who did play him, later turned down the role of Bond in LIVE AND LET DIE. My favourite digression is when we learn of FRENZY's bizarrely tasteless publicity campaign consisting of a “glamorous model wearing only some artfully placed vegetables and dubbed the Potato Bikini Girl”.

 

Cooper guides us on an in-depth trek through pre-production and Hitchcock's determination to create a film from a murderer's perspective and the inspiration he found in real life “genteel, polite yet brutal” British killers Christie, Haigh and Heath. We are informed of the various early iterations of FRENZY, at one point it was even an “unashamed art film” intended to compete with the younger European film-makers before Hitchcock discovered the perfect source novel in Arthur La Bern's “stripped, down and unapologetically pulpy” GOODBYE PICCADILLY, FAREWELL LEICESTER SQUARE. Kindly saving us the effort of reading it ourselves, Cooper lays out the key parallels and differences between the novel and the adaptation.

 

The bulk of the book is spent exploring the themes of FRENZY such as the food/sex/death equation and class tensions. Cooper also scrutinises the film's relation to Hitch's wider filmography. Describing it as “perhaps Hitchcock's most nakedly autobiographical film” it's unsurprising that Cooper unearths many similarities between FRENZY and his other work including mummy issues and inconvenient body disposals. Interestingly he posits that FRENZY contains the most extreme example of his recurring trope of the sympathetic killer and unpleasant protagonist with Blaney being an utterly repulsive and irredeemable 'hero'.

 

One thing that I didn't expect in a text on Hitchcock thrillers is a paragraph comparing it to the CARRY ON franchise, but here Cooper makes a compelling argument that screenwriter Shaffer may have intended his work as a dark take on the British ‘low comedy’ form. Stereotypical ‘low comedy’ locations of the pub, workplace and suburban dining room and obsessions with social position and glaring sexism are indeed explored in FRENZY. It's certainly a unique take which I wouldn't have considered before.

 

Cooper acknowledges that the film is still “disliked by many” and thoughtfully examines the complaints levied at it by critics such as Victoria Sullivan, who went as far as labelling the film dangerous in the extent that the lurid crimes could be titillating for real-life deviants. Cooper engages with the different ways it has been viewed by male and female critics and also questions whether Hitchcock's dark humour is too callously tasteless in this particular film.

 

Overall, I feel that Cooper has written the definitive text on FRENZY. It's illuminating, engaging and occasionally amusing. Even if you haven’t seen FRENZY, and don't mind spoilers, you could get much out of this. I'd definitely recommend it to any film fan.

 

John Upton

 

This web site is owned and published by London FrightFest Limited.

FrightFest is the registered trade mark of London FrightFest Limited.
 © 2000 - 2018