Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 16, 2009: Psychobabble recommends the new Criterion edition of Repulsion

At the time it was released, Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) was arguably the subtlest, most mature, most artistic, and most genuinely disturbing horror film yet made. Think of it as a gender flip of Hitchcock’s Psycho or Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom: an attractive young person’s unhealthy attitude about sex fuels some seriously anti-social behavior. Catherine Deneuve plays Carol Ledoux, an uptight French ex-patriot living in Swinging London with her sexually liberated sister Hélène (Yvonne Furneaux). When Hélène takes a weekend trip with her lover, Carole is left in their creepy flat to stew in her own delusions, which gradually boil over into some genuinely shocking acts of violence. There’s a marvelously jazzy score by Chico Hamilton, stark black and white cinematography by Gilbert Taylor (whom Polanski hired after seeing his work on Dr. Strangelove), some terrifying hallucinations, an ambiguous but absolutely unnerving denouement, and a skinned bunny.

For years Repulsion has only been available in the U.S. in an abominable pan and scan edition with lousy picture and sound. In the U.K., it received a much finer release in 2003 by Anchor Bay. The picture and sound vastly improved on the U.S. version, and the disc was loaded with goodies, including an audio commentary by Polanski and Deneuve; an indispensable 2003 documentary titled A British Horror Film featuring contemporary interviews with Polanski, Taylor, and others; extensive cast and crew biographies; photo and sketch galleries; a trailer; an analytical essay, and an audio interview with a neurophysiology professor who was helping Polanski with an unproduced 3-D horror film (!). All in all, the Anchor Bay version was an excellent package and the best edition of Repulsion yet.


Now Criterion is finally giving Repulsion its Stateside due, and although it is missing a good deal of the extras that made the UK edition a must-own (including its groovy animated menus), the film sounds and looks better than it ever has. The picture is crisp, the contrast is rich, and the sound is powerful, which may really make you leap off the sofa when those psychotic snare drum stingers kick in.

On the extras front, this new release reprises Polanski and Deneuve’s audio commentary (actually recorded for Criterion back in 1994), A British Horror Film, and the trailer, while also including a fascinating “making of” documentary shot for French TV in ’65 that is far more valuable than the features jettisoned from the UK release. We get to see a very, very, very, very young Polanski directing by playing the parts himself for his actors, as well as Deneuve (somehow looking much younger than she does in the picture) discussing Polanski and her admiration for his previous film, Knife in the Water. We also get an extra trailer and an insightful new essay that is superior to the one included with the UK edition. These extras are nice, but the real reason to own Criterion’s Repulsion is the incredible picture and sound quality. Get it and go crazy.
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