DVD Review: Repulsion

For a film nearing its fiftieth anniversary Repulsion is incredibly fresh and more than a little disturbing.The film centers around a young beautician in swinging 60s London. After her sister embarks on a holiday in Italy with her partner, a married man with whom she is having an affair, Carol (Catherine Deneuve) begins to gradually descend into madness and despair; locking herself in her apartment to be haunted by fantasies of rape and fear of the very walls themselves.The most striking aspect of Repulsion (of which there are many) is the use of sound. This is a film about quiet and contrasting periods of silence with large percussion bangs and discordant notes. The use of half heard noises; a dripping tap, a ticking clock add to the growing sense of claustrophobia. Moments of extreme violence are cut with no sound whatsoever, taking on a new horror as we are left with nothing to distract us but the shocking images themselves, a technique which seems staggeringly original and effective five years on. Repulsion is film that understands insular space, things half seen and heard, in essence how a home can become a prison inside a tormented mind. Carol’s nightmarish fantasies are captured by Polanski’s hugely influential experiments with surreal visual effects (in one particularly memorable scene disembodied hands emerge from the walls) can be seen far and wide from David Lynch’s Eraserhead and horror classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Polanski clearly draws on the second murder in Psycho (which is for the record far better directed and more disturbing than the infamous shower scene) understanding that extreme violence which seemingly comes out of nowhere can have incredible power.Catherine Deneuve is wonderful as the tortured girl taking on a strangely ethereal and alien quality. Indeed Carol appears not even entirely human with her large blank eyes and face set in a doll like mask. Alfred Hitchcock realised that more terrifying than the face Frankenstein or Dracula was the face of normality, even beauty, while the monster lies just behind the eyes.While it is clear that Repulsion owes a huge debt to Psycho visually and thematically, and in many ways Carol can be seen as Norman Bates’ cinematic sister, for me Repulsion stands the test of time far better than it’s more famous sibling. Although Psycho was shocking for a 1960s audience it fails to deliver the same scares to a modern viewer; Repulsion is as groundbreaking and effective now as it ever was.Move over Psycho there is a another 60s horror classic that demands to be seen.

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