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Release Date(s)1965 (July 8, 2009)
Studio(s)Sony Pictures (Criterion - Spine #483)
The beautiful but odd young Carol, played by Catherine Deneuve, spends time alone at a flat in London while her sister is away on vacation. As her psychosis becomes more and more pathological, she quickly descends head-first into homicidal hysteria.
Hot on the heels of his debut success with Knife in the Water, eager young filmmaker Roman Polanski made the visually-compelling Repulsion in 1965. In this particular film, claustrophobia and isolation are put to the test in what’s more attuned to a psychological thriller rather than straight up horror. We’re never quite sure why Carol is the way she is and we’re never told. Visual clues are given to us but nothing concrete. In other words, interpretation plays a major role in the film’s outcome. Has Carol been this way since childhood or is her psychosis simply brought on by intense loneliness? It’s really up for grabs and it’s one of the reasons why the film still holds a remarkable amount of drawing power. Polanski would go on to further examine female isolation in a more horrific manner with Rosemary’s Baby, but it’s Repulsion that really shows his hunger and skill as a filmmaker.
Criterion’s Blu-ray upgrade shows off that skill even better than its DVD counterpart. Upon comparison, they are pretty much identical, although the DVD presentation seems to lose a very slight amount of visual information toward the top of the frame. Getting a proper framing of a 1.66:1 aspect ratio on a digital format can be a difficult task to pull off, so I can’t fault the team behind the DVD release. While having the film properly framed, the Blu-ray presentation is also a bit warmer, meaning the contrast is the least bit higher. The images are crystal clear and the grain is solid and intact, but the backgrounds benefit greatly from the new transfer. Shadows are more solid and reveal more visual detail than previous releases. Overall, it’s an extremely sharp and rewarding presentation. The original uncompressed monaural soundtrack has also been included. Dialogue is pretty even and Chico Hamilton’s amazingly psychotic 1960’s score really stands out. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
As with all of Criterion’s recent upgrades, the DVD extras all carry over. They’re brief, but they’re also very entertaining. An audio commentary with Roman Polanski and Catherine Deneuve is included, as is a documentary on the making of the film A British Horror Film, a French TV documentary from 1964 that was filmed on the set of the film (the most fascinating extra, in my opinion), the original theatrical trailers, and a 12 page booklet with an essay by Bill Horrigan.
Heralded by critics and film fans since its release, Repulsion remains a staple in the psychological horror genre. This is Roman Polanski at his absolute best, and with this stellar release from the folks at Criterion, it simply cannot be passed up.
- Tim Salmons