BluRay/DVD Reviews

REPULSION

By • Sep 3rd, 2009 •

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This review will include spoilers. I usually refrain from doing so, but being that the film was made in 1965, and has since become a “classic” I figure some sort of statute of limitations must apply. My suggestion for those who have yet to view the film is to stop reading now. Just know that I give it high praise and that the Criterion DVD is the only way to watch this film unless you know of a film print. For those of you who have seen it; I invite you to continue reading, and take a journey through “the shocking reality of a virgin’s worst nightmare”.

This sleazy tag-line, along with the original poster makes the film out to be an exploitation horror movie. It probably has to do with the fact that it was made by Compton Productions, which at the time specialized in exploitation and softcore porn. REPULSION does feature one of the sexiest actresses to ever grace the screen (Catherine Deneuve, at the tender age of 22,) and it is about sex. There is also a fair share of violence. So advertising it this way doesn’t come as a complete shock, and I’m sure it got those extra people into the theater seats.

Carol (Deneuve) is a shy Belgian immigrant living in London with her sister Helen. She works at a Beauty salon and it is clear she is unfulfilled by her job. She catches the attention of Colin, a man interested in taking her out on a dinner date, and although she politely refuses (she is eating rabbit at home), her social awkwardness immediately tells us that men make her uncomfortable. That’s putting it lightly – she is repelled by them.

At night she is forced to listen to her sister and her sister’s boyfriend have sex through the walls of her bedroom, and in the morning his razorblade and toothbrush are left out in the bathroom, invading her personal space. Helen decides to take a vacation and, like a child, Carol begs her not to go. Once alone in the house Carol experiences hallucinations and delusions of men raping her. The walls of her apartment start to crack and mutate into men’s hands that feel her up while she walks down the hallway. The aforementioned rabbit was never eaten; instead she leaves it out in the kitchen while her sister is away. The rabbit rots more and more as the film progresses. This is both a clever device used to show the passing of time as well as a symbolic portrayal of her descent into madness.

Colin becomes frustrated by her refusal to pick up the phone or let him in the apartment, so he decides to break in, only to have his head bashed in. She throws the body in the tub.

When the landlord shows up to collect the rent, he catches her in her nightgown and can’t resist. He becomes body number two.

Carol doesn’t reflect on the murders she has committed. At this point she is so far gone that she simply tosses the bodies aside and continues to walk around the house and knit.

REPULSION does have many instances where it can easily become exploitive, but it chooses a different route. It can just as easily become something of a Freudian character study. Polanski veers away from this road as well. Instead, the movie is told completely from this woman’s perspective, and it’s scary because even when it is surreal, it remains believable. The film relies on dread. We never ask what is going to happen. It is quite obvious we are watching a downward spiral where the window to reality shrinks smaller and smaller, and therein lies the horror- in its inevitability.

Barely speaking any dialogue, Catherine Deneuve carries this whole movie. She is far more than a pretty face and to this day I still don’t think she has received the full recognition she deserves.

The comparison of REPULSION to Hitchcock films has been brought up many times. It has even been said that REPULSION is a backwards PSYCHO, whereas instead of viewing the killings from the victim’s perspective, we view them through the killer’s. This is accurate, but I would like to add that while REPULSION can be considered Hitchcockian, the main difference between REPULSION and PSYCHO is in their third acts. At the end of PSYCHO, the doctor delivers a monologue explaining Norman Bates’ sickness, and why he did all of these horrible things. REPULSION is the exact opposite. Carol is never explained. The last shot of the film is of a family picture in the house. The picture appears twice in the film, Carol, as a child, is standing far in the back. The picture seems normal until the camera lingers on it. We can see that something is not right in her eyes even at this young age. The picture suggests that maybe she was sexually abused by her father, but this is a theory we can only entertain as one of several, because the film treats it so ambiguously. In one of the documentaries on the DVD (“A British Horror Film” by David Gregory) the interviewer asks Polanski if this is a valid assumption. He responds hastily by saying that it is a free country, and you can do whatever you want…but don’t ever ask him about his films. Gregory edits this to be the first scene in the doc, and it is a surprising opening.

Aside from that documentary, there is another made-for-TV featurette filmed during the production of the film. It is very interesting to see Polanski direct the actors, and hear him speak about the film while he is in this creative mindset. He also seems a lot more open in talking about his work. I wonder what he would have said if somebody asked him that same question all those years ago…

Criterion does a good job with the disk. It’s hard to believe that before this release the only way to watch the film was through a cropped full frame DVD. Other features include commentary by Polanski and Deneuve as well as the original trailer.

What I find strange is that Amazon has the Blu-Ray listed for cheaper than the DVD. Those who have a Blu-Ray player should jump on this deal.

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