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REPULSION, Polish director Roman Polanski’s answer to Alfred
Hitchock’s PSYCHO, also follows the violent decline of a lonely, troubled
person haunted by the demons of the mind. Released in 1965 and part of Polanski’s
influential “apartment trilogy” (followed by 1968’s ROSEMARY’S BABY and 1976’s THE TENANT), REPULSION begins a
special nine-day engagement with a new, sharp 35mm print at New York City’s Film
Forum (209 West Houston;  727-8110) from October 31
through November 8. Named one of FANGORIA’s Top 300 horror films of all time in
issue #300, REPULSION remains essential viewing for fright aficionados.
The achingly beautiful Catherine Deneuve stars as Carol, a
Belgian immigrant living in a London flat with her sister, Helen (Yvonne
Furneaux). Carol, who works in a high-end beauty salon, is painfully shy and
distracted. But that’s not her only problem. She’s also sexually frigid (she
recoils from even the most innocent touch of a man), depressed and prone to
frightening hallucinations. When her sister decides to go on a holiday with her
philandering boyfriend (Ian Hendry), Carol, left alone, goes off the deep end
and undergoes a schizophrenic break, murdering any man unlucky enough to walk
through her door.
We spend most of REPULSION watching Carol come apart as her
nightmares take hold of her fragile psyche. She sees the walls split by
earthquake-sized cracks…disembodied arms grasp her from the hallway corridor…a sweaty
man molests her in bed… REPULSION’s omnipresent sound design also puts us in a
state of unease; the few things interrupting the silence of Carol’s apartment include
a loud clock and the young nuns playing in the courtyard below (an interesting
contrast: the religious ladies below are joyful in their chastity, while Carol
herself is destroyed by it). This story won’t end well for Carol…
REPULSION marked Polanski’s English-language debut, and to
nail down his financing from British producer Tony Tenser, he had to make
several artistic compromises and up the exploitation ante (cue the straight
razor). The producer told Fango (issue #128) that he and his director battled
over REPULSION’s tiny budget, though Polanski ultimately won out and the film
(originally titled LOVELIHEAD and set in Paris) cost twice as much to complete.
The movie also proved an exhausting experience for Deneuve, who’s in almost
every shot. Though Polanski holds praise for the actress’ work in REPULSION, he
later dismissed the final product as his “shoddiest” effort.
Genre fans will, of course, find much to love in REPULSION.
During a recent screening in NYC, audiences were still gasping during the shock
scenes. The film’s stark B&W cinematography (note the close-ups of the
dinner plate of rotting uncooked rabbit) add to the escalating terror. Besides
REPULSION, director of photography Gilbert Taylor spent years fruitfully toiling
on fantasy films, including DR. STRANGELOVE, STAR
WARS, 1976’s THE OMEN, 1979’s DRACULA and many more. The cast also comes
stocked with genre favorites: Deneuve went on to play Miriam Blaylock in THE
HUNGER; Furneaux got stalked by Christopher Lee in Hammer’s version of THE
MUMMY; Hendry played a victim of the Antichrist in DAMIEN: OMEN II; and Patrick
Wymark, who plays REPULSION’s sleazy landlord, appeared in subsequent ’70s-era
Tenser productions WITCHFINDER GENERAL and BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW. And would you
believe, REPULSION co-writer (and frequent Polanski collaborator), Gerard
Brach, went on to write Dario Argento’s take on the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA?
Future Oscar winner Polanski, meanwhile, hit more homeruns
in the fear field following REPULSION, with 1967’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS
(the best film Hammer never made), ROSEMARY’S BABY,
THE TENANT and 1999’s underrated THE NINTH GATE. Hopefully the 79-year-old
filmmaker will continue to plumb the dark side.
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