A few months back, Cinema Fearité waxed upon the confusion that sometimes can be inspired by horror movie titles when we compared Witchtrap to Witchboard. But what happens when two movies from different decades share the same name? We saw it with the non-Chucky Sidney Lumet movie Child’s Play. We saw it with movies called The Hand and Maniac. And now, we’re going to see it again with the non-Hitchcock 1945 British movie Frenzy.
Frenzy is about a Parisian sculptor named Charles Garrie (Derrick De Marney from Things to Come) who is involved in an affair with a woman named Christine Minetti (The Man in the White Suit’s Joan Greenwood), who in turn happens to be the wife of another sculptor named Anton Minetti (Terror Ship’s Beresford Egan). The illicit couple decides to run away to be together, but when Christine doesn’t show up at the train station, Charles goes looking for her.
When he gets to Anton’s studio, the police are already leading the deranged Anton away, and Charles is asked to identify a woman’s body that was at the scene. Charlies is relieved to discover that the corpse is not Christine, but that only means that she is still missing. With the help of a criminologist named Doctor Ivan Krasner (Frederick Valk from Dead of Night), Charles brings in a psychic medium to help him learn what has happened to his lost love.
Writer/director Vernon Sewell (The Crimson Cult, The Blood Beast Terror) adapted Frenzy from a French Grand Guignol play by Pierre Mills and C. Vylars called “L’Angoisse.” Originally entitled Latin Quarter, Frenzy is quite obviously a filmed play, as it is packed with spoken explanations and spoonfed exposition – most of the narrative is told as a flashback with Charles recounting the story to Dr. Krasner. But there is enough of an eerie ghost story for horror audiences to not get too Broadway bored.
Vernon Sewell got his money’s worth when he acquired the rights to “L’Angoisse.” Frenzy is the second of four adaptations of the play that the director made, following the short film “The Medium” and preceding the feature Ghost Ship and the “House of Mystery” episode of the anthology television series “Kraft Mystery Theater.” Although it is the least horror-centric of Sewell’s versions of the play – it falls more squarely into the realm of the noir mystery – there are plenty of spooky moments in the film, from the ghostly playing of the organ in Anton’s studio to the ominous costume party guest who shows up dressed as a medieval executioner. Spooky.
Frenzy was shot by legendary early horror cinematographer Günther Krampf, who also shot everything from The Ghoul to The Hands of Orlac – he’s even rumored to have been the director of photography on Nosferatu. The film is photographed very simply with plenty of master shots and conversational over-the-shoulder shots, just as one might expect a filmed play to be. Krampf gets to use some of his horror lighting background to craft the more noir-esque scenes, but Frenzy is not nearly as expressionistic as his other work. He does get the job done, however, and for the cheap-and-dirty spookshow that it is, Frenzy looks great.
For such a compact movie, there’s a lot of music in Frenzy. Most of the score was provided by Allan Gray (The African Queen, Stairway to Heaven) and is made up of flourishy, dynamic orchestral pieces full of blaring horns and stinging strings. There’s a surprising number of dance scenes in the film, most choreographed to jungle and period type music composed by Gray, the one exception being a ballet scene that uses Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” The music in Frenzy, both the cinematic score and the incidental diegetic tunes, are all just as neat and tidy as the film itself.
Vernon Sewell’s Frenzy is not, and never will be, as well known as Hitchcock’s 1972 film of the same name. Heck, it may not even be as well-known as the Turkish movie from 2015 with which it shares a title. But fans of forties noir thrillers will find it entertaining. And so will Frenzy title completists.