Frenzy, noun: violent mental derangement. 2. wild excitement or agitation; distraction. 3. a bout of wild or agitated activity. Essentially, that’s us when our next book project is due and the publisher wants their manuscript (cheap plug time: Pick up a copy of Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons).

The film of the same name is befitting of its title. Frenzy is a homecoming for the Master of Suspense, and saw Hitchcock’s return to London and the film’s opener, a sweeping, lazy, placid helicopter shot of Tower Bridge and the mighty Thames, is a wonderful tonal setup.

As we land on terra firma, it’s the nasty business of politics that precedes the nasty business of murder: a local city councilor (or possibly an MP) promises to clean up the river…and in the midst of a well-intentioned/well-attended photo-op (journalists + the public) a nude form washes up on the shoreline…the body of a woman…

One of the rabble yells that it’s another “victim of the necktie murderer” and viewers’ minds are immediately sent back to the time of Jack the Ripper, the mysterious Victorian in the top-hat with medical training who terrorized Whitechapel roughly a century prior (for those who are interested, check out our review of Murder by Decree, a flick which features Christopher Plummer hot on the tail of Saucy Jack).

In a nod to the Vigilance Committee leader of  the era, headed by captain of industry George Lusk, the killer here is…Rusk. And in a tribute to Hitch’s father (a grocery man), this film’s set in Covent Gardens.

In a change of pace, here Hitch tips off viewers as to who’s done the dirty deeds. So Frenzy is not a suspense film in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s a depiction of how uber-red herring Blaney, a down-on-his-luck drinker, degenerate gambler and ex-barman, has to clear his name when his estranged missus ends up strangled in her place of business.

Without being strangled by the censors, Hitchcock is able to go all out here, and the influence of violent spectacles like The Last House on the Left no doubt left their mark. The result: more violence and mayhem then we’d seen, but still intact…Hitchcock’s incomparable visual style.

***3/4 (out of 5)

[Check out our discussion of Frenzy on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]

Army of Darkness

You can’t spell “Swashbuckling” without A-S-H. Army of Darkness is a Herculean departure from the Evil Dead series, as different from the other entries as it’s possible to be. And to purists, this will matter a great deal.

The Evil Deal was so influential, and left so many imitators choking on its afterburners that it’s hard to really place this film, a matinee action outlier, into its rightful place.

So, there’s gonna be the temptation to treat it as a stand-alone, for better or for worse.

Ash and his iconic jalopy Oldsmobile, are transported back in time to the 14th century, when the Black Plague was ravaging Europe (here, blatantly and somewhat distractingly, California. At their sunniest, the British Isles would never be this sunny).

Ash is caught between opposing factions, a medieval turf war pitting Arthur against Henry, a kind of Scottish independence nod (probably) from the Clan of Campbell.

But all Ash wants to do, is get back to modernity (1980) and naturally, he needs “THE BOOK” to teleport his ass back to the land of cocaine, pastels and Reagan-era trickle down. That book Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (Also known as ‘Book of the Dead’ and ‘Naturom Demonto’ in the original script) is appropriately, the MacGuffin. Say that with a Scots brogue.

Ash finds the book, but bungles the incantation he’s supposed to repeat, unleashing a hell-storm of demons.

In Campbell’s book, Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor, he claims that he “lost creative control of the editing and generally had a miserable time making the thing.” The finished product kinda looks like it.

Episodic, Army of Darkness has a few dynamite set-pieces, like when Lilliputian lil’ Ashes break forth from mirror, and tie down our hero before dropping one of their ranks down his gullet. Ultimately though, things tend to drag on toward the end, with knights battling skeletons and not the kind of blood and guts, full-on frights and zingers that made the first two films so inimitable.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to our chat about Army of Darkness on the podcast!]