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"Repulsion" Reviews/Discussion - 2011 Horror Challenge: Day 27

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"Repulsion" Reviews/Discussion - 2011 Horror Challenge: Day 27

Old 09-25-11, 05:35 PM
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"Repulsion" Reviews/Discussion - 2011 Horror Challenge: Day 27

Repulsion (1965)

Selected by clckworang


These "October Horror Movie Challenge" threads are for the discussion of the films in the 31 FILM SUBSET.


The plan is for everyone to watch this film on the October day in the thread title, and to start discussing it the morning of the following day.
You may start discussion early if you want, but the preferred plan is for this to be as much of a group exercise as possible, with all of us viewing it "together" and discussing after.

Of course, you are totally encouraged to participate in these threads even if you haven't watched the movie on the designated day.
Even if you haven't watched it in years, or are not participating in the Horror Challenge, please feel free to chime in.

Spoiler tags are unnecessary in here, so if you have yet to see the film BEWARE OF SPOILERS.


Old 10-27-11, 10:06 AM
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Re: "Repulsion" Reviews/Discussion - 2011 Horror Challenge: Day 27

My favorite movie of all time. No matter how many times I see it, I get excited every time I'm about to watch it. Everything from the acting to the visuals to the soundtrack is just amazing. Polanski does a great job of putting the viewer into the mind of Carol and Catherine Deneuve is impeccable in her role. I like how from time to time you'll see cracks in places like walls and the pavement, mirroring what's happening to her mental state. The last shot of a young, obviously disturbed Carol, in the old family picture ends things perfectly. I don't know of another film that is as convincing in its portrayal of insanity.
Old 10-27-11, 02:18 PM
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Re: "Repulsion" Reviews/Discussion - 2011 Horror Challenge: Day 27

Went to watch this just now, and see that Hulu doesn't have this Criterion for some reason. No problem, I have the BD and the DVD. Problem, my Criterions are the one part of my movie collection that I've moved to my fiancee's place. Crap, I won't be back there until the 31st, so I guess my watching of all 31 subset films will come down to the wire.
Old 10-27-11, 08:24 PM
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Re: "Repulsion" Reviews/Discussion - 2011 Horror Challenge: Day 27

If anyone's interested, here is the section on Repulsion that I wrote as part of a lengthier essay on Polanski's apartment trilogy:
Repulsion was Polanski’s second full-length film, and his first in English. It begins strikingly, with the opening credits superimposed over a screen-engulfing, unblinking eye, an unnerving close-up that recalls a similar shot in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), the film’s most obvious antecedent. The eye finally begins to blink after the film’s principles have been announced, Polanski cutting to a slightly different angle, as if a spell has been broken. Each line of credit text scrolls (or, more appropriately, floats) by from the bottom to the top of the screen, except for Polanski’s directorial credit, which moves from right to left, slicing directly through the eyeball in a possible homage to Un Chien Andalou (1928). The two recurring musical motifs of the film, composed by Chico Hamilton, are first heard during these opening credits: a threatening, thudding bass drum and a sad, somber flute. As the credit sequence concludes, the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the owner of this unsettling eye, a pretty young blonde girl whose face is as lifeless and blank as that of a department-store mannequin. This is the inscrutable, ostensible heroine of the film, Carole. Like Polanski, this was Catherine Deneuve’s first English-language film, and her possible lack of familiarity with the language imbues her performance with a shy, sweet tentativeness that prevents her character from becoming an entirely unlikable, one-note caricature of schizophrenic madness. Like Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho, she makes for a somewhat sympathetic killer, a sensitive soul, though Bates’ boyish earnestness is replaced here by an almost otherworldly remoteness.

As Carole returns home from her job at a beauty parlor, the score is jazzy and upbeat, the sun shining brightly down on the crowded city streets. A group of lounging construction workers stare hungrily at her, and one of them tosses off a sneering proposition. Throughout Repulsion, men are depicted as sexual aggressors, either through their behavior or by the numerous unsolicited characterizations provided to Carole by the other females in the film. After a (typically, we soon learn) strained meal with Colin (John Fraser), a persistent fellow who fancies himself her boyfriend, though Carole never returns any of his advances, she returns to the apartment she shares with her sister, Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). Riding up in the elevator, she bites her fingernails nervously, one of the first signs that all is not well. Helen relates a strange anecdote in that day’s paper involving eels emerging from the Minister of Health’s sink. Evidently, even the apartments of those in lofty government positions can be a source of horror. Carole, peering at the wall, casually remarks, “I must get this crack mended,” but no corresponding cut to the crack in question is provided, and Helen, her head turned, only responds with a distracted “What?” As Carole descends into madness, these phantom cracks in the wall will become more prominent and fearsome. In a clever visual joke, the apartment itself, like Carole, will soon be “cracking up”. Their building is next to a nunnery, and “that bloody bell”, as Helen’s boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry) puts it, is rung repeatedly by the nuns, it’s repetitive, hypnotic clang echoing the rhythmic thud of the score’s bass drum. There are several of these recurring sounds in the film, all reinforcing the hermetic, sealed world of apartment living. Whether the noises originate from inside or outside Carole’s quarters, they serve virtually the same function: to heighten the trapped, isolated nature of her existence. The faint shouts of the nuns at play remind us of the vibrant outside world that holds no attraction for Carole, while the insistent ticking of her clock, which, like the beating of her heart, grows louder and louder on the film’s soundtrack, provides a metronome-like beat that both lulls and disconcerts. As he also does in both Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant, Polanski turns the theoretically comforting and familiar sound of someone practicing piano scales into something odd and faintly ominous.

Carole views the world through a distorted lens, both figuratively and literally. She gazes, mesmerized, at her misshapen reflection in a teapot, the image cartoonish and ugly. The peephole in the front door of their apartment also provides an off-kilter, exaggerated perspective, and the faces and bodies of others, like Colin, the lecherous landlord (Patrick Wymark) and a snooping neighbor, appear eerie and threatening. Both Colin and the nameless landlord subsequently attempt to force themselves on Carole sexually, so their menacing appearances in the fish-eye viewfinder of the peephole are not misleading in the least. Carole’s murderous responses to both men’s brutish overtures are therefore not cold-blooded acts of sadistic violence, but the confused, deluded attempts of a deranged woman to prevent unwanted physical contact. This is a crucial distinction, for it allows audience sympathy, rapidly diminishing though it might be, to remain with Carole even after she brutally dispatches the two would-be suitors.

Intrusive sounds originate not only from outside the apartment, but from the other side of Carole’s wall. Lying in bed at night, moonlight streaming onto her face, fretfully chewing on a stray strand of hair, Carole is plagued the orgasmic cries of her sister, making love with Michael in the adjoining bedroom. This is not the last time that Helen’s amorous activities will keep Carole awake, and the unabashed, uninhibited display of sexuality clearly disturbs her. Earlier, Carole had stared with wide-eyed horror at Michael’s razor and toothbrush, left in her cup. She gingerly removes the offending objects, like a scientist carefully transporting radioactive material, and later, after discovering the toothbrush once more violating her glass, tosses both items disgustedly in the trash. (The razor, which she will later use to slice the leering landlord’s neck, is conspicuously missing.) This second sighting of Michael’s toothbrush occurs after Colin attempts to kiss her and she flees in terror, frantically brushing her teeth in an attempt to scrub away the revolting experience. For Carole, even seemingly harmless household items pose dangers, as Michael’s toiletries symbolize the frightening world of male sexuality, in all of its unpleasant guises. “Why are they so filthy?” despairs Bridget (Helen Fraser), Carole’s sole workplace confidant, and an answer of sorts is provided by the bloated Miss Balch (Renee Houston), with a knowing sneer: “There’s only one thing they want…” Her brief, hateful monologue on the single-minded obsession of the child-like male species is all the more sinister for the manner in which Polanski depicts it: a tight close-up of Balch’s mouth, upside-down, making her appear like some sort of bizarre alien, her flabby face slick with cold cream. Bridget, affable if a bit dim, is the only character in the film whose interactions with Carole are completely free of irritation, suspicion, or unreciprocated sexual desire, at least until the final moment of what is to be their last interaction, when Bridget stumbles across the rotting rabbit head in Carole’s purse. Up until that point, the two seem to have a genuine rapport, giggling over Bridget’s description of a scene from Charles Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925). Appropriately, the scene she relates involves a character who, like Carole, finds themselves in the grip of a hallucination. This is the only scene in which Carole laughs and relaxes, but the cheery mood is shattered by Bridget’s grim discovery.

The torso of this rabbit still resides in Carole’s apartment, slowly decomposing on the same plate that Helen had placed it on before leaving for Paris with Michael. The physical disintegration of the rabbit mirrors Carole’s own mental dissolution, the creature growing more and more repulsive and grotesque with each passing day. Eventually it begins to attract flies, and their buzzing adds yet another sonic layer to the disconcerting soundtrack of the film. Even the landlord is distracted from his sexual schemes long enough to dispose of the rotting carcass – “It’s the dustbin for you, my lad!”
Carole’s disastrous last day at the beauty parlor, which started with her cutting the finger of a customer and ended with Bridget screaming in horror at the gruesome contents of Carole’s pocketbook, marks her irrevocable break from any semblance of reality. Walking home, in what will mark her final appearance out of doors, she obliviously strolls right by a car crash that has attracted several onlookers, rubbing her nose and twitching her eyes spastically. Back in the darkened cave of her apartment, she stares in mute terror at the imprint her hands make in the suddenly soft and clay-like walls. The kitchen sink faucet drips loudly and forebodingly, and a close-up of several bulbous potatoes seems to transform them into mutated monstrosities. The distraught Colin, driven crazy with thwarted sexual desire, himself seems to go a little mad and breaks down the apartment door. Carole crushes his head with a candlestick, blank-faced and indifferent, as if squashing a small, mildly irritating insect that had been buzzing around her bothersomely. Carole’s hallucinations grow far more explicit at this point in the film, as she returns to her room to find a man in her bed, clad in a ripped undershirt. He forces himself on her wordlessly, the scene an abstract edit of disembodied feet and hands, the loud ticking of her clock serving as the scene’s only soundtrack. The next day, Carole, still clothed in the nightie that she will remain in for the film’s duration, it’s material becoming increasingly ragged and spotted, wanders the corridors of her apartment as if lost in the deep, dark haunted forest of some fairytale, her face sweaty and her eyes glassy. Several hands burst through the wall, clutching her face and breasts. The expression on her face seems to register not terror but pleasure, as she leans her head back and closes her eyes.

The next day, (or what we can assume to be the next day, as time becomes quite elastic over the second half of Repulsion), Carole severs her last connection to the outside world when she cuts the phone cord with Michael’s razor after receiving a threatening phone call from an unidentified woman, presumably the girl that Michael has apparently been stepping out on, though for all we know the irate caller could be one of Colin’s conquests – as Bridget puts it, he is a “smooth boy”. A trio of oddball street musicians, seen earlier in the film, make an eerie appearance on the soundtrack, and Carole peaks out the window at them, watching their lurching progress across the sidewalk below. This brief reverie is interrupted by the harsh sound of the doorbell, which announces the appearance of the oily landlord. Looking around the filthy, fly-infested apartment, he quite accurately exclaims, “This is a flaming nuthouse!” Of course, he makes this proclamation unaware of the body floating in the bathtub, that of Colin, another man with sexual designs on Carole whom he will soon join in death. Slashed to ribbons by Michael’s razor, the camera tilting wildly, the staccato drum roll on the soundtrack echoing like gunfire, his murder is indeed a grisly one. Meanwhile, the potatoes, abandoned in the kitchen, have sprouted several surreal-looking tendrils, heightening their unsettlingly bizarre appearance. Carole busies herself with domestic duties, humming tunelessly as she carefully irons a dress, though a camera pan reveals the iron to be not, in fact, plugged in. After a second nighttime visit from the phantom rapist, Carole begins scribbling on a window, smiling strangely. One cannot be sure if it is gibberish or brilliance that she scrawls, for her writing leaves no trace. Suddenly, a dozen hands stretch through the rubbery walls, their fingers writhing and squirming. Carole gives in to their caresses, only to find herself once more in bed, the ceiling bending down towards her, before seeming to envelop and absorb her completely.

After Helen and Michael return from their vacation to find two dead bodies in their apartment and a catatonic Carole huddled under her bed, the other residents of the building, drawn to the scene like ants to a picnic, barge into the apartment, whispering and gossiping. Like the neighbors in The Tenant, they hover with morbid fascination, oblivious to their intrusiveness. Shot and lit from below, the neighbors appear ghoulish and strange, and rather than provide comfort and closure to the sequence, they only serve to heighten its surreal, dream-like quality. The final moments are quietly haunting, and depicted with masterful subtlety by Polanski: the camera pans slowly across the various knick-knacks and plants that clutter the living room table, taking in the detritus on the rug, including the crumpled postcard of the Eiffel Tower that Helen and Michael had mailed Carole, before finally alighting on the family photograph taken in Brussels, zooming in for a closer look at the young blonde girl, her eyes fixated on something lurking outside of the frame, beyond our reality. The camera pushes in for a final close-up of her distracted eye, the gaze of a girl already in the early stages of the madness that would later consume her, taking the audience full circle, back to the same troubled eye that had first peered out at them some 104 minutes before.
Old 10-27-11, 11:38 PM
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Re: "Repulsion" Reviews/Discussion - 2011 Horror Challenge: Day 27

Wow. I can't believe that this is the first time that I've ever seen Repulsion. I'm kind of floored by the whole experience. At first, I didn't think that I was going to like the film. But as is so often the case with me, a seemingly inconsequential moment occurred that made me suddenly realize that I was about to get behind the film one hundred percent. In Repulsion, that moment came when the banjo busker and his spoons-playing sidekicks first showed up in the film. The scene really didn't add anything thematically to the film, but it surprised me that what I at first thought was just another musical cue of the interesting score by Chico Hamilton turned out to be coming from people in the scene. It faked me out...and made me realize that Polanski was going to have some tricks up his sleeve. That was the exact moment that I gave in to the film, and I realized that, wherever Polanski was going to take me, I was ready to follow. It's a chilling film, but it has a sly wit about it as well, as do all of the really great horror films (such as Bride of Frankenstein and Psycho). It's not currently my favorite Polanski film, but I'm beginning to think that a rewatch or two might change my opinion.
Old 10-29-11, 08:32 AM
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Re: "Repulsion" Reviews/Discussion - 2011 Horror Challenge: Day 27

Holy crap, it's on Youtube! I was getting worried that I wouldn't get to it.
Old 10-29-11, 08:45 AM
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Re: "Repulsion" Reviews/Discussion - 2011 Horror Challenge: Day 27

Repulsion is a masterpiece, one of my favorite movies along with Rosemary's Baby. I need to check out The Tenant.
Old 10-29-11, 09:22 AM
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Re: "Repulsion" Reviews/Discussion - 2011 Horror Challenge: Day 27

I feel Repulsion is better than Rosemary's Baby. I did a blind buy on it and had no regrets. I was left impressed by its rawness and was genuinely left shocked by its story and turn of events.
Old 11-06-11, 09:42 AM
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Re: "Repulsion" Reviews/Discussion - 2011 Horror Challenge: Day 27

Had a thought the other day: The arms reaching in the hallway owes a little bit to the arms in Cocteau's Beauty and The Beast..

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