Search this blog and The Mike's favorite blogs!

April 26, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #173 - Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie might be one of the five best zombie movies in existence, and yet nobody ever seems to talk about it. There are plenty of reasons this could be the case - "It's almost 40 years old" and "there's no big stars in it" are acceptable, but stupid, examples - but I'm most concerned that the movie is a horror film that suffers from a bit of an identity crisis.
Identity crisis is a bizarre diagnosis for a movie, so allow me to explain. For starters, it's a movie that seems to have a different title for every viewer. In the UK, it's The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. But in other parts/times of the UK it was called The Living Dead. In the United States the film was called Don't Open the Window at one point, and titles from other parts of the world translate to all kinds of things. My favorite example of this is the original Spanish title - Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti - that translates to Do Not Speak Ill of the Dead.  I don't know the history of the movie and its release, but it seems like it's been given more names than The Artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
As if that's not confusing enough, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie also seems kind of like a homeless film. Most horror fans would look at the film and say "Oh, that's an Italian horror flick" and they'd be wrong....kind of.  The film was directed by Jorge Grau, a Spaniard, produced in Italy and England, and features a cast made up of plenty of Italians, Spaniards, and even American Arthur Kennedy as a stodgy detective. The other primary cast members are half British/half Italian Ray Lovelock (who has a fantastic name and a fantastic beard) and Spanish born Cristina Galbo, who seem to have chemistry together despite being obviously dubbed. Which is kind of a microcosm of why the film works so well, because all of these random ingredients are here, yet they inexplicably fit together.
A majority of the credit must be given to Grau, a director that I'm not very familiar with but one that I respect immensely. In an introduction filmed for the DVD release of the film, Grau sends a wonderful message to horror fans about to see the film for the first time. "I hope you have a bad time" and 'I hope you get very scared and that you suffer profoundly" aren't things most directors would say to their audiences, but Grau seems almost cheerful as he reminds us that his intention is to make us squirm.  There's something about this little nod from the director that has stuck with me for years, and really made me admire the guy's eye for horror.
The other reason I love the guy is for how perfectly he balances all the things I want from a zombie movie throughout his film. Let Sleeping Corpses offers an actual plot, a ton of atmospheric tension, and just the right amount of gore to keep me fascinated. Don't let the European shine fool you, because Grau's film doesn't go for Fulci levels of blood splatter. It does, however, feature some perfectly executed attacks and enough organ-ripping to keep you disgusted, all while still managing to feel like a nightmare for the characters involved. 
The plot has an ecological explanation for the zomificiation epidemic, and some of the symbolism Grau uses to make his point is a little too on-the-nose at times. But the heavy handed segments of the film can be forgiven, as they are a wonderful excuse to move the story to some vibrant country settings and one of the most realistically dreary graveyards in horror history.  A lot of zombie movies skip the reason why zombies are happening, but Grau's film does a good job of having a reason and not getting too caught up in it. Above all else, this film is a fever dream of undead madness, not a social commentary.

I'm not sure I was very scared, nor did I suffer profoundly, but I still can see where Grau was coming from when he made this fine horror film. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is always entertaining and never insulting, with great special effects - those zombie eyes do haunt me - and a nice pace.  It's an odd little zombie film that feels like the bastard child of Romero and Bava, but that doesn't stop the film from being one of the most underrated horror films of the 1970s. No matter which title they decide to use or which country they attribute the film to, most horror fans should fall in love with this one.

April 25, 2013

So, About That Zombieland "TV" Series....

It's hard to believe that Zombieland is nearly four years old. At the time of the film's release I thought it felt a lot like a movie that would grow a cult following, and these days I feel like it's almost underrated in the realm of horror comedies. Cruel irony has humanity still ruling the Earth while the lead character's beloved Twinkies have gone extinct, but the movie still holds up surprisingly well thanks to a smart script and one heck of a cast.

Since its release two of the four primary cast members - Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone - have gone on to bigger and better things (by my estimation, Stone will make that Anne Hathaway-ish leap to critical darling within the next two years and Eisenberg still has miles left on his tires, especially if he stays in David Fincher's good graces), while Woody Harrelson continues to be Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin looks like she just might survive the transition from child star to legitimate young actress.  The film had a perfect storm of a cast, and the stars seemed to mesh perfectly with director Ruben Fleischer who, surprisingly to me, has been at the helm of a couple of duds (30 Minutes or Less and Gangster Squad) since this one.

With the cast drawing so much attention and Fleischer getting a lot of credit for his work, Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick were the relatively unsung heroes of the hit film. And here they are, four years later, milking the premise into an online pilot for Zombieland: The Series.  Presented by Amazon as part of their attempt to bring original shows to their always expanding website, Zombieland now exists as the template for an R-rated, thirty-minute-long sitcom.
The premise picks up where the film left off, if not in plot then at least in tone.  The same four lead characters are back, but they're played by a relatively unknown cast who do their best to mimic the famous folks they're replacing. This is probably the biggest struggle for a fan of the film like me, because - in case you didn't notice - that cast was sooooooo bloody perfect. It's kind of like that time when I wanted to go see the local theater troupe do Arsenic and Old Lace, until I realized that Cary Grant and Raymond Massey (or, better yet, Boris Karloff!) wouldn't be walking through that door.

That said, this cast isn't bad entirely. Kirk Ward has a young Rick Ducommon thing (and I mean that in the nicest way) going on as he fills the Woody role, while Maiara Walsh and Izabela Vidovic serviceable in the female roles. My biggest quibble is with Tyler Ross filling in for Eisenberg, because a) his tone seems a little too annoying, even in an already annoying role, and b) he seems to have taken the character in a more socially awkward direction than Eiseneberg did. Maybe this is what the writers wanted all along - it's their barbecue, they can flavor it however they like - but it's off-putting to a fan of the film.

The biggest concern with the show, from where I sit is I'm just not sure it can keep its legs under it. Despite all its charms, the film was a bit of a one-trick pony and I'm not sure the sarcastic and self-referential script would have worked without the cast and the film's manic pace. Watching a 29 minute introduction to the characters doesn't give me anything more than a feeling of "Oh wow, they're really milking those 'rules' for all they're worth and really hammering us over the head with blatant comedy."  I guess that's what sitcoms do, but it still left me with little reason to come back to the show. There's no hook that grabs your interest, just the promise of more senseless violence and inappropriate jokes. 

If you really want more of Zombieland, I guess the show might tickle your fancy. It's hard to draw a conclusion from one episode, but I can't really see the point of watching this when the movie's already out there.

Thankfully, you can decide for yourself if you like. The pilot is available for free viewing on Amazon, where they're taking feedback regarding which of several pilots they should produce. Take a look for yourself, if you dare.  And keep your copy of the movie on hand, because you'll probably feel like watching it instead by the time Episode Two premieres.

April 19, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #172 - The 10th Victim

Long before The Hunger Games and even before most of what we call "reality" television, a 1965 Italian film predicted on-air murders thanks to a government sponsored killing game. The film is The 10th Victim, and the game is "The Big Hunt" - in which those who need an outlet for their aggression are legally entered into a battle as "Hunter" and "Victim."  The distinctions don't really make sense - both participants are well armed and basically it's an excuse for men and women to shoot at each other - but they do make for solid entertainment.
As far as I can see, the host of the show inside the movie never really expands upon why the participants in The Big Hunt are all male vs. female - but it's pretty obvious when you look at the casting of the movie.  Ursula Andress, riding a wave of popularity from her iconic role in Dr. No, and Italian superstar Marcello Mastroianni were two of the hottest names and faces in European cinema of the 1960s, and the chance to pit these really, really, ridiculously good-looking stars into a romantic game of death is a chance few producers would pass up at the time.
That said, it's a given that writer Tonino Guerra and director Elio Petri spend much of the film trying to make their stars the centerpiece of a fated romance that is set against some of the most beautiful Italian settings possible. The romance between the two characters - who are, naturally, the hunter and victim in one of the Hunt's contests - never really feels sincere on any level other than "we have to be close to each other anyway and we're both trying to seduce the other and we're also good looking", but the duo have an excellent chemistry throughout the proceedings as the yin and yang of this deadly game.
Andress' American character is the more driven of the two, because she has won nine previous matchups and is set to earn her retirement once she drops her tenth victim.  Mastroianni, on the other hand, gets to play the victim as a calmer, cooler character.  He's not giving up the game, but he seems to toy with his hunter as she gets close to him and instigates a relationship.  We never get the feeling that he knows the extent of the plan that her and the TV crews who are trying to rig the game have in store for him, but from the moment their relationship begins we can be certain that many plot twists are ahead.
The 10th Victim does not expect the viewer to take its plot too seriously, and the tone is tongue-in-cheek for much of the film. It's a relatively dry satire that doesn't go for many big laughs, but most of the scenes involving the lead characters and the workers behind the scenes of the hunt make it clear that the film is not too serious with us. One of the most enjoyable recurring tricks in the film involves the Ming Tea Company that is sponsoring Andress' character and hoping to turn her final kill into an ad campaign.  Advertising is a source of comedy in later films about deadly sports and/or reality TV domination, but few films have ever matched the flamboyant Ming Tea extravaganza that erupts in the final act of this film. (In case it sounds familiar, the Ming Tea name is just one of the things that was borrowed from this film and transported into the Austin Powers series.)
It's a shame that the satire and romance take up so much of the film, because part of me wants to see a film that claims "If we had The Big Hunt in 1940, Adolf Hitler would have surely been a member and there would have been no war!" and actually expands on how the game works as a release of aggressive desires. But the film is still visually incredible - the blu-ray presentation by Blue Underground is amazingly fresh and clear - and the two stars moving about this purely 1960s production is more than enough reason to admire Petri's playfully plotted film. It doesn't have the laughs of something like the spy spoof Fathom or the tension of other The Most Dangerous Game clones (even The Running Man probably has more drama than this one), but The 10th Victim is a success because it keeps us staring at the screen and never breaks from its trance-enducing style.

April 18, 2013

John Dies at the End

(2012, Dir. by Don Coscarelli.)

At this point I've seen John Dies at the End three times in less than four months - and I still struggle to come up with any tangible thoughts to write down about it. That doesn't mean the movie is bad - the fact that I've come back to it twice and left all three viewings with a smile is about all you need to know - it just means that John Dies at the End is one of those movies where any simple description of the film is probably an insult to its complexities.

I might be overemphasizing the film's mysteries - I could say that it's a movie about a universe altering drug and two open-minded slackers who stumble into its path - but I'm pretty sure that I'm not. The film feels like a fully random series of disgusting and ludicrous events at times, with its series of meat monsters and demonic mustaches and journeys to "Eyes Wide Shut World" - but there's always something that kind of ties it all back together. It's hard to see, but there's clearly a method to the film's madness.

The film is directed by Don Coscarelli (of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep fame) and the main characters, David Wong (Chase Williamson) and his titular friend John (Rob Mayes), fit right alongside the everyman heroes of the director's most famous works. David is our narrator and host for the proceedings - which are primarily told via flashbacks as he gives his story to a reporter (the always welcome Paul Giamatti) - and he's also the more sensible and restrained member of the team. John, on the other hand, is the more reckless half of the duo, a hard-rocking kind of guy who doesn't back away from much of anything. The two characters work because they are so simple, even when they're faced with otherworldly events.  Their calm reaction to all the weird events in the film provides a lot of humor and sets the tone for the whole adventure.

Along the way, David and John run into a lot of bizarre yet entertaining predicaments and meet some very memorable side characters.  The highlights of the film, for me, were probably Clancy "The Kurrgan" Brown as the kinda-omniscient mentalist Marconi and Glynn Turman as Police Detective Lawrence Appleton (who happens to share a name with the character from Perfect Strangers and I am not about to give up the dream that Cousin Balki was somewhere in this film too).  Brown's character is integral to the plot - once you get through the splatter and find it - but also functions as a kind of running gag thanks to the goofy presentation of the character and some fantastic one-liners. Turman's detective seems to be more grounded in reality than most of the characters in the film at first, but his transformation into a random force of destruction is a nice twist on just how upside down David and John's world has become. Both actors - along with Giamatti in his relatively thankless role as the interviewer - seem committed to keeping the film feeling important amidst the chaos, which works quite well for Coscarelli's film.

Once the characters are established  and the "soy sauce" is introduced, the film veers in multiple directions, bouncing between the realms of the drug-induced "trip" horror film, the Evil Deadesque splatter film, and the universe hopping sci-fi extravaganza.  It all seems to silly to really add up to anything, but there's something kind of special hidden in the chaotic existence of this film.  Coscarelli manages to make a movie that hits on all these random genre expectations while grounding his story in two accessible leads.  The film never does what you'd expect it to, and a first glance back might make it look like random gruesomeness - but when you closely piece everything together it actually makes a bit of sense.

Well, at least some of it makes sense.  And that eventually makes it more than just a darn fun movie.

April 12, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #171 - Murder By Decree

A few months back I covered the other movie from 1979 in which a famous literary name tracked Jack the Ripper (that would be Time After Time, of course), so it's only fair that I let Sherlock Holmes follow in H.G. Wells' steps and track Whitechapel's most infamous knifeman too. Which brings us to Murder By Decree, a grimy and serious attempt to investigate the Ripper with Holmes and Watson leading the charge.
Directed by Bob Clark, whose versatility as a filmmaker is a thing of legend, Murder By Decree exists in a London where the sun never seems to shine, the fog never seems to lift, and the prostitutes don't at all look like Hollywood actresses. I'm serious on that last point too. Heather Graham isn't walking through that door. Instead, we're left realizing that Jack the Ripper was a seriously disturbed fella - and also wondering why anyone back in the day would pay a few quid for some of those old hags.  Sorry, did I get off track? Yeah, I think I did.
Or maybe I didn't, because I think the grimy prostitute issue makes a point. While the film is on the surface a Sherlock Holmes mystery, the script also unabashedly digs into the political and social climate of less fortunate districts of London in the late 1800s. The Jack the Ripper era has been romanticized so often on screen, and Murder By Decree counteracts these portrayals by refusing to make the situation look more glamorous than it is. Clark's previous work on films like Black Christmas and Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things showed a similar talent for keeping death ugly, but the tone of Murder by Decree doesn't offer near as many moments of levity or humor as those films did.
Thanks to this unrelenting tone, Murder By Decree functions kind of like Alfred Hitchcock's masterful Vertigo did more than twenty years earlier, because the winding plot keeps our eyes fixated on the screen and our mind wondering about what it all means.  Neither film really ever takes a break to let us really collect our thoughts, it just keeps moving at its own seductive pace. As is the case with any good mystery - and any Sherlock Holmes story - any missed detail might be the one that trips the case. This isn't a Scooby Doo style mystery either, and Clark and screenwriter John Hopkins don't provide many easy clues to solving the enigma that is Jack the Ripper.  Historians will no doubt notice some connections to the real case and some conspiracy theories that have become popular in some circles, but also offers some unique perspective on the infamous killer.
Of course, none of this would be interesting if the cast involved couldn't handle the film, so it's delightful to see that the casting is so darn fantastic here. Christopher Plummer and James Mason star as Holmes and Watson, respectively, and each is an inspired choice for their role. It's weird to watch the two actors - who I relate to much different eras in film - play off each other, but they have a natural chemistry. The once suave Mason is probably the film's biggest asset as Watson, balancing the character's gruff exterior with the astute wit instilled upon him by Holmes. He does seem to imitate Nigel Bruce - my favorite Watson by FAR - a bit, but doesn't go too far that the role doesn't feel like his own.
Plummer, on the other hand, seems to transition smoothly into the role of Holmes. It's a perfect casting idea and Plummer seems to relish one of his few chances to be the lead performer in a picture. He manages to hit on many of the trademarks of the Holmes character but he, like Mason, never seems to be just going through the motions. And when it is time for him to relate his findings in the final act, there is not a wasted word - it's one of the most well-delivered segments I've ever seen wrap up a murder mystery. It's also worth noting that these stars are assisted by a dynamite supporting cast, with folks like David Hemmings, Donald Sutherland and Sir John Gielgud adding respectability to the story.

Murder By Decree is not for everyone, and it's still kind of surprising to me that such a humorless film came from the director who would soon be directing Porky's and A Christmas Story. It works as a Holmes movie and it works as a Ripper film and it even works as a commentary on poverty in London near the turn of the century. Most impressively, it never loses its grasp on any of these major themes, keeping everything together for over two hours. When you consider it all together, Murder by Decree holds up as one of the most well-constructed mysteries on film.

April 9, 2013

One Minute Review - Massage Parlor Murders

(1976, Directed by Chester Fox and Alex Stevens.)

The title pretty much sums up this American sleaze picture with a decidedly Italian feel. A madman wanders the streets of New York killing young women who work (and "give a little extra") in massage parlors. This allows for victims in various states of undress, lots of fake blood, and two determined cops on the killer's trail.

If there's anything spectacular about Massage Parlor Murders, it's the film's willingness to be completely bizarre. The director lingers on odd sequences like a massage parlor ballet number and a wonderful rant by The 'Burbs co-star Brother Theodore as a fanatical suspect, which leaves the film with a few moments that stand out as unique, if not ambitious.

Indeed, there's little more to the film than its sleazy premise and a whole lot of goofy non-stop action. The film often plays like it was written one scene at a time - and the abrasive and constantly changing musical score makes the film feel more disjointed - but this incompetent style probably makes it more appealing to sleaze fans. If the title tickles your fancy (and if you don't expect art) then Massage Parlor Murders should work as a grindhouse diversion.

Items of Note: Plenty of topless and dead women. Exposition scene that teaches about the devious massage parlor girl and her money grabbing ways. extended nude pool party. Car chase with cop wearing only a towel. Bizarre massage parlor girl who shows her pleasure by licking her lips in the most awkward way possible. Plot twist that matches up directly with a far more famous (and more accomplished) cops and killer film that came about 20 years later. Abrupt and ridiculous finale. Little to no actual tension.

Also of Note: Massage Parlor Murders is new to blu-ray/DVD combo pack thanks to the folks at Vinegar Syndrome, who have restored the film very well and put together a nice (and reasonably priced) package. The picture quality isn't really worthy of the blu-ray treatment, but I don't imagine that the movie needs to look any better than it does here. It's nice to have the rare movie (it has 9 ratings on IMDB!) back in circulation, even if it's just an ordinary grindhouse film.

The Score: 3 dead masseuses out of 5.

For Trailer (NSFW) click here.

Evil Things

(2009, Dir. by Dominic Perez.)

In the movies, there are two kinds of things: good things and Evil Things. But what interests me when a movie is trying to scare me is how it deals with ordinary things and whether or not it can turn them into extraordinary things.

Horror movies are, more often than not, housed in the land of the extraordinary. Something in the film - it could be the setting, it could be the character's mental status, it could be monsters - is out of the ordinary and causes conflict and fear. Sometimes, that's all the movie is about.

Case in point: Evil Things - a movie that makes sure that almost all of things inside of it are out of the ordinary. The fun part of this movie is that it's not just one part of the movie that aims to fear, because writer/director Dominic Perez takes every chance he has to add some tension to the proceedings.

Most aspects of the film will seem familiar to the viewer. A group of college kids head to a secluded location. Those kids are terrorized by an unseen driver behind the wheel of a simple van. And then they get lost in the woods. There's a full horror movie you could make just out of those elements, which makes it that much more rewarding when Evil Things adds even more to the mix.

A supernatural twist takes the film into its third act, and raises the question as to whether or not Evil Things has too much going on. The answer, for me, is a resounding no. "Too much" would be introducing all these aspects and then trying to explain them all away with final act exposition. Perez gives his film just enough gas before letting it coast through the final act, and he makes a wise decision that saves his atmospheric horror film.

With all these things adding legitimate tension to his film, Perez simply lets them go. He doesn't try to explain away all the details, he just settles for having a creepy and tense handheld horror. Some might want more reason, but I'm perfectly fine falling into a movie that sets out to creep me out and succeeds. Evil Things works because it aims to scare us and doesn't drown in all that other stuff that can set a horror movie back.  As the film rolls to its conclusion - and continues to creep them out beyond the end credits - I think most horror fans will find themselves smiling at the devious and clever little film.

April 5, 2013

Evil Dead

(2013, Dir. by Fede Alvarez.)

Evil Dead deserves its place in the world alongside the Evil Dead trilogy. That might be the least important thing you need to know about this reboot and I have so many other thoughts running through my head about the movie that I just experienced, but my first reaction has to be this. It is impossible for me, as a fan of all things in the Evil Dead universe, to see this movie and not immediately consider its worth in comparison to Sam Raimi's trilogy. Unfair or not, it is reality - and I'm excited that I can open this review by saying that - with no comment on "better than" or "worse than" - I'm glad Evil Dead exists.

Balancing - not always delicately - between "homage" and "new vision", Evil Dead offers five characters, a cabin, and a weekend gone wrong.  The mathematics are the same as the film(s) it exists to emulate, but the characters are new and the dynamics are changed. The major change worth talking about is probably the fact that our lead female is now a drug addict who is being forced into a cold turkey weekend by her brother and her friends, and that this character, Mia, is created wonderfully by actress Jane Levy. The young woman undergoes a few transitions in tone and a large amount of turmoil during the film, but she never misses a beat.

You could counteract the great character moments with a few concerns, like the fact that the blonde female character has three lines in the first forty-five minutes of the film, is never involved in any pertinent conversations, and is more often than not referred to as "Baby."  Characterization is not strong across the board, which will surely give some critical viewers pause as they enter this new Deadite-filled universe. I think this is a rather hollow complaint on some fronts - though I did find the fact that a movie with basically five characters appears to lose one of them for large stretches of the exposition - because a movie like this (or like the original The Evil Dead) are not about unique and outstanding characters.

To no one's surprise, this movie is all about the carnage that is unleashed via that dastardly Necronomicon (whose well known name, if I'm not mistaken, is never spoken in this film).  And what carnage it is. Director Fede Alvarez throws in plenty of trademarks from the first two Evil Dead films and sly nods to Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell (for examples, look for returning shirts, camera tricks, and Oldsmobiles), but he also offers a whole new bloody vision that is a complete change of pace from anything we've seen in the preceding films. And a lot of what he does is freaking awesome.

Indeed, this movie works because it invents its own mayhem. It could be mistaken for being too serious, but I find it hard to really accuse a movie who changes pace so often and pushes so many bizarre images in our face as a humorless experience. Maybe I am desensitized to blood on screen, because I rarely found myself flinching - I did cover my eyes all three times a syringe came into play, but I was fine with dismemberment and disfiguration - while others were groaning in their seats. I was too wrapped up in how Alvarez was presenting his story to care that what I was seeing was gross. I knew what I was walking into, and if you've seen the film's trailer (if not, it's posted below) you probably have the idea that this film does not intend to pull its punches.  The changes to what the "evil dead" are and how they are represented is probably the biggest difference from original to remake, but it allows Alvarez to maximize the amount of splatter in the film.

Yes, I get that Evil Dead is not a perfect bit of storytelling and I am more than aware of the fact that it is not the original Evil Dead. These two issues will no doubt derail many viewers, but I prefer to look past them and see that Evil Dead is a perfect version of what Evil Dead wants to be. It's got a manic energy, a great visual style, and - probably most importantly - some of the most jaw-droppingly entertaining gore you'll ever see on a movie screen. I had a great time watching it. That's all I care about at this point.

Midnight Movie of the Week #170 - Frenzy

Today is the day when perhaps the greatest talent to ever write about the movies died. Roger Ebert, known to casual film fans as the thumbs up or down guy and known in critical circles as one of the most astute and knowledgeable men in the world has passed away at the age of 70. Part of me thought about pausing to pay my respects to the man - and part of me won, because I'm kind of doing that right now - because I sincerely believe that I learned as much about writing from him as I did anywhere else in this world. And then I stopped myself, realizing that the best way to honor Mr. Ebert would be to write about a movie.  Not just to write about any movie, but to write about a great movie. And when I think of great movies, I think of Hitchcock.
Which brings us to Frenzy, a film that was loved by Mr. Ebert and a film that, for our purposes, is more importantly Mr. Hitchcock's most brutal, vile, and morally reprehensible film. This is the next-to-last film the director completed before his death, and more than 40 years later it feels kind of like the director is holding up a pair of middle fingers to anyone who's ever been on his bad side. It's no secret that Hitch was always a bit devious, but this is the first time his playfully macabre sensibilities seem to be completely untethered. Ebert probably said it best in his review, saying that the film could remind us of "Psycho without the shower curtain."
After the gates of violence in cinema were flung open at the beginning of the 1970s - see Dirty Harry, Straw Dogs, or The French Connection  for proof - it appears that Hitchcock could tell that things that were once taboo to mainstream audiences were suddenly available to him. Working from a script by Sleuth and The Wicker Man scribe Anthony Shaffer, Frenzy gives the director a chance to use his "wrong man" formula in a new "adults only" manner. One one hand this is the same thing the director was doing when he was at his peak, but on the other hand it is something completely different. It's a Hitchcock film, but it's also a film that opens with a naked woman's body being fished out of a river.
My greatest memory of Frenzy is a perfect representation of the aspect that sets it apart from the rest of the man's films. A few years ago, two friends and I decided to try to watch all of Hitchcock's work. Over the next several months, we hammered through renowned films like Rear Window (my personal favorite movie ever) and obscure stuff like the romantic comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith and even Hitchcock's short and French World War II propaganda films. And then there was Frenzy, which was at least the 18th Hitchcock film we watched. And there we were, three friends - one who had seen the film before and two who had not - watching this murder plot unfold, and suddenly I realized that the discomfort in the room was unlike that I'd felt during any of the films we had watched before.
These newcomers to Frenzy had seen Hitchcock murder women (among others in Psycho), and they had seen him do rape (most notably in Marnie), but they had never seen him bring the camera into the personal space of a murder or a rape. They had never seen him fill the screen with the chest and face of a beaten woman, with her defeated face in one corner of the screen and her exposed nipple in the other, separated only by the glistening cross around her neck. They hadn't seen the woman's face as she was choked to death. This was not what they expected of Hitchcock. It was the first time that he had gone past simply implying what was happening and had instead decided to blatantly shove it in their faces.
In a world with looser moral standards and an acceptance of brutal cinema - so, basically, the 1970s forward - I have to believe that this is what you would have seen from Alfred Hitchcock. The man took pride in every shock he could offer the viewer, he took pride in every beautiful woman that he could ogle with the camera, and he took pride in every bizarre and controversial idea he could fit into a film. Frenzy not only represents an example of what the 72-year-old director could still do to an audience in 1972, but it represents that one place in time where he had the freedoms that I assume he always wanted, even if he does retreat back into the playful cop vs. fugitive vs. killer games of his past in the second and third acts.  He doesn't bash us over the head with depravity, but he certainly earns his first R-rating.
As someone who grew up with his more popular fare, it's always been hard for me to accept Frenzy alongside some of these masterpieces. But much of my pause comes from how rare and unpolished the film is compared to those sly movies with Grant or Stewart and every beautiful woman who ever mattered in Hollywood. Yet that's exactly what makes Frenzy so appealing as counterprogramming to the rest of his work. When it comes to vile behavior and visible sleaze this is not on par with The Last House on the Left or its brethren, but it's got moments that are a lot closer to that than anything else Hitchcock has ever made. At the same time, it's a film that's made by Hitchcock - with his trademark playful moments like the potato truck predicament our killer faces late in the film - and the combination of these elements is a one of a kind experience.