Just when you think that the contempo version of the horror genre has run its course, wham—a dumbass kill fest like last week’s new release The Final Destination hits the muddy ground running and racks ups the box office ducats. For those of you who desire something a bit more from the genre, the perfect antidote has arrived—a pristine new transfer from Criterion of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), one of the finer psychological thrillers ever made.
Although this was only Polanski’s second feature, and his first English language film, his sense of detail and unnervingly chilling pacing demonstrate his youthful cinematic mastery. Of course, as always with Polanski theme plays a dominate role, and this tale of alienation and sexual repression unfolds sublimely, with the picture perfect Catherine Deneuve (all 21 years of her) at the center as Carol, a Belgian manicurist sleepwalking through the spidery sidewalks of 60’s London. Carol is being chased by a handsome young man (John Fraser), and being affronted by her roommate and sister’s (Yvonne Furneaux) invading (and probably married) lover (Ian Hendry). Left alone for a week, she slowly dissipates, and as Polanski positions the viewer into sharing her subjectivity we witness her creaky apartment come alive with unnerving noises, shadowy glimpses, and walls that seem to almost breathe and sigh as she entombs herself, both psychically and psychologically.
Although the similarly plotted (and themed) Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is the work of an obviously more mature filmmaker, Repulsion is a commanding film, beguilingly composed and effectively stitched together, and creepy as all get out. In a strange way this is an anti-Hitchcockian thriller, although it shares Hitch’s penchant for mixing up sex, dread, and violence and it also is an effort that acutely utilizes the visual as a code for the psychological. Hitchcock enticed viewers with a surfeit of surface cinematic bedazzlement, and only audiences that chose to penetrated deep below the surface. Polanski, on the slips and slides and burrows into the subterranean psychosexual blues, accompanying it with a visual scheme that always seems poised to veer into the surreal, creating supreme tension because it never quite does. Yet, like any of the more powerful Hitchcock efforts, Repulsion will stay with you and linger ever so tantalizingly in the mind's eye, long after your viewing experience.