Written by: Giuseppe Rijitano on May 27th, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: Date: UK, 1965
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Roman Polanski (original screenplay), Gérard Brach (original screenplay), David Stone (adaptation & additional dialogue)
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux, Patrick Wymark.
DVD released: May 24th, 2010
Approximate running time: 100 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Odeon Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 0 (PAL)
Retail Price: £17.99
London, the not so swinging 60’s. Young Belgian émigré Carol (Catherine Deneuve) works at a beauty salon and lives with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) in a dingy little flat. A bit of a daydreamer Carol seems to walk around in a daze most of the time and is prone to spacing out at inopportune moments, such as while performing a manicure on one of her clients or crossing a busy street. She exhibits an irrational joint repulsion and fascination towards her sister’s boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry) as well as pretty boy Colin (John Fraser) the smooth operator that is trying to woo Carol. She’s also been seeing phantom cracks everywhere (from sidewalks, to walls to faces) and hearing odd noises in her apartment, that’s when she’s not drowning out the sounds of her sister having sex in the next room. When Helen and Michael decide to head off on a dirty weekend to Italy poor Carol is left on her own and, quite expectedly, begins to lose her shit big time. Locking herself in the apartment with nothing but the corpse of a skinned rabbit for company and the occasional apparition of a rapey crazy-eyed workman she descends further and further into insanity. So when first Colin and then the landlord come calling they have no idea what they are in for!
Astonishingly this was only Roman Polanski’s second feature as a director and his first in English. With this excellent highly creepy essay of sexual repression and insanity he burst forth onto the international filmmaking scene and has been one of it’s most interesting and versatile directors ever since. A timely mix of psychological horror and art house aesthetics at a time when the horror genre (and particularly Hammer’s output) was becoming a little repetitive and stale. With the likes of Hitchcock’s Psycho and it’s successors blazing the way forward into a new kind of terror Polanski took the low budget psycho-thriller one step further. He employed an astounding number of original camera techniques and effects that still seem fresh, effective and frightening to this day, especially with the glut of CG horror we are subjected to so frequently in the new millennium. There have been countless essays written about the true meaning of the things Carol sees; the arms grabbing her through the walls, the man in the mirror, the sudden cracks coming apart with something pulsating beneath. Polanski himself would tell us that these theories are more often than not completely wrong and even when ringing true tend to be the result of an instinctual notion by the director rather than a pre-meditated attempt at some kind of symbolism. Whatever the thought behind it the resulting experience is visceral and affecting particularly within Gilbert Taylor’s beautiful black and white cinematography. The acting is uniformly excellent but ultimately this is Catherine Deneuve’s show and her performance is tempered by her inexperience as an actress (this was one of her first film roles) which works very much to her advantage here as she stumbles her way through London like some kind of otherworldly alien visitor. Special mention also to the late great character actor James Villiers making the most of his small part as Colin’s loudmouthed drinking buddy John who’s advice to ‘take it easy’ is ignored to poor Colin’s detriment. I could easily continue praising and dissecting all aspects of this film but similar reviews are available in abundance I’m sure so I’ll give it a rest there.
‘Brand new widescreen anamorphic 1.66:1 HD transfer’ looks excellent upscaled, superb picture quality and detailing, high contrast levels. Without doubt the best I’ve ever seen this film look, I haven’t had a chance to see a a Bluray release yet but I can’t imagine it could be very much better than this, unless you are watching on a mammoth TV of course. The restored original mono soundtrack is also excellent; clear dialogue perfectly balanced with the film’s unsettling score and ambient sound effects.
Extras include –
Audio commentary featuring Roman Polanski and Catherine Deneuve – this is the Criterion laserdisc track from 1994, the participants have been recorded separately and the track edited together to be screen-specific. It is an excellent informative and frank commentary from Polanski, not afraid to criticize his own work “I always considered “Repulsion” the shabbiest of my films” and point out what he would have done differently in hindsight. Deneuve is also honest in her recollections of starting out in film, acting in a foreign country and even touching on her regrets about posing nude for Playboy. If, like me, you’ve sat through one too many deathly boring commentary tracks rest assured this one is worthy of your time!
Clive James Meets Roman Polanski – A TV documentary filmed in 1984 in which the irreverent Aussie critic/presenter interviews the director in a restaurant over escargot, foie gras and wine. Running 46 minutes and encompassing a wide variety of topics Polanski speaks frankly about his childhood in the Warsaw ghetto, his mothers death, his beginnings in filmmaking, his tragic marriage to Sharon Tate and eventually even his arrest for sexual assault. For fans of Polanski this DVD is worth purchasing for this insightful little documentary alone.
Interview with stand-in cinematographer Stanley Long – Brought in for the final 3 weeks of shooting when the film was running over budget this is a lively little 8 minute interview, filmed in 2010, in which Stanley recounts his experience of working with Polanski whom he describes as a perfectionist and practical joker.
An original theatrical trailer and a stills gallery are also included.
Quite simply one of the best psychological thriller/horror films of the past century, highly recommended!