Everyone has their staples for Halloween watching, like John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and “Nightmare Before Christmas.” But be forewarned, gentle reader, because your master of Scarimonies (God, I sound like the Crypt Keeper), Dukey Flyswatter, will suggest some gems and themes that may have flown drastically under your radar, like a schizophrenic Vampire Bat. Week four, we focus on movies that defy categorization, but are just plain creepy.
Director: Roman Polanski. Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Henry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux.
This 2nd film of the notorious Roman Polanski is his first English language film and the start of his Apartment Trilogy that continues with “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Tenant.” It’s also one of the first films to feature a female killer and to delve into sexual paranoia. It’s pretty heady stuff even to this day.
Carol, a pent-up and emotionally disturbed teen, is teetering on the brink of schizophrenia, and it only takes a bit more disgust and fear of men to push her over the edge. She’s barely living life outside of her head to begin with, and when her moments of staring mindlessly into space get her discharged from her job (because she cut the crap out of a snippy old lady’s cuticle), her cycle of mental descent kicks it up a notch. As funny as that may sound, it’s really a powerful scene as we cut from a silent close-up of Carol lost in the ether of her daydreams to the blood and screaming of the elderly patron.
Not realizing that the sounds of her and her boyfriend making love have just about nailed the coffin on Carol’s sanity, her older sister and flatmate leaves for the weekend. Carol is left in charge of paying the rent. Sounds easy enough. Yeah, right. Once she’s alone to properly obsess on her fears, she hallucinates the walls cracking, silly putty ceilings, and groping burly arms grabbing her body. When a misunderstanding bloke that has a crush on her touches her in her apartment, the lion inside the little mouse of a girl rips out to give us our first murder of the piece.
Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Psycho” also deals with schizophrenia, but it’s a very slick picture. Polanski’s vision is much darker and takes us into unfamiliar territories of mental illness. Hitchcock’s is obsessed with arranging the camera for each shot, whereas Polanski is more concerned about what is in the shot. The accompanying film score by Mongo Santamaria is heavy on percussion and uses heart racing beats at key points of the movie to suggest fear or anger. Louder-than-average foley work increases tension and accents scenes as well. Clocks ticking, hammers pounding, doors being rapped on – all become an urban invasion to Carol’s ears or maybe ours.
After more than forty years of scaring folks from the underground and art houses of movieland, “Repulsion” is still just plain creepy. “Repulsion” plays from time to time on TCM and is available on Blu Ray from the Criterion Collection from restored film elements, and includes a 16 page booklet on the film.