Criterion releases REPULSION

A 22-year-old Catherine Deneuve stars as Carol, the pretty girl gone insane in Roman Polanski’s 1965 psychological thriller REPULSION. Polanski’s first English language film, REPULSION was shot in England where Carol works in a salon and lives with her older sister, Helen. Completely detached from everything around her – her work, her suitors, the men who stare as she walks through town – Carol seems to float through life, grounded to reality only by her sister.

But when Helen and her boyfriend go on vacation for two weeks, Carol becomes completely unhinged. It starts with food, which she leaves out around the house. After the first few days the skinned rabbit left on a plate by the telephone starts to go bad, followed by some potatoes in the kitchen which sprout growths and shrivel away. We know something is up when Carol cuts the head off the rabbit and carries it around in her purse. And just as the audience begins to be repulsed by Carol, her own deep-rooted, sexual repulsions turn into nightmares she is unable to distinguish from her real life, and so her real life slips further and further away.

She stops going to work and barricades herself in the apartment. An imaginary rapist visits her every night and during the day hands push through the walls and grab at her. She violently kills the two people who push their way into the apartment (the scene with the landlord never fails to creep me out completely) and during all of this she barely speaks. Many people suspect that Polanski later explores Carol’s vague history of sexual abuse more thoroughly with Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) in CHINATOWN. I’m not sure how accurate a connection this is, but I like the reasons for Carol’s insanity to remain unclear and mainly self-imposed. I think it’s more interesting to explore what a person’s mind can do in isolation.

The first of Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” (ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE TENANT), REPULSION remains one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. The new Criterion release, out July 28th, includes a funny, candid, and refreshingly unpolished 1964 French TV on-set documentary along with the Polanski-approved hi-def digital transfer.

More than 40 years later, Polanski still can’t get enough of the mystery/thriller genre, and his next effort, GHOST, looks especially good. Based on the novel by Robert Harris, the film is set for release in 2010 and stars Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Hutton, Kim Cattrall and Tom Wilkinson.

You can preorder REPULSION here to tide you over.