Proto-Slashers: Looking at the flicks that paved the way for Halloween and the heyday of slasher movies.
Roman Polanski’s first English-language film, Repulsion is a bonafide, certified Retro Slashers classic, and one of the greatest horror movies ever made. It stars Catherine Deneuve as Carol, a repressed young beautician, sharing an apartment with her sister Hélène (Yvonne Furneaux) in London. While Hélène has a healthy relationship with a boyfriend (Ian Hendry), Carol is terrified by sex. Though Colin (John Fraser), an acquaintance of Carol’s, is persistent in his attempts to get to better know the beautiful and mysterious woman, she would rather spend her time at home, quietly feeding her psychosis. When Hélène and her boyfriend leave for a vacation in Italy, Carol goes fully over the deep end, hanging out with a rotting, skinned rabbit corpse, imaging hands pushing out of walls to grab her, seeking cracks suddenly appear in the ceiling, and thinking she is being attacked by unidentified men. Eventually, those who inhabit the physical rather than the imagined world around Carol learn about alternative uses for straight razors and anything else Carol can get her hands on.
Polanski, one of cinema’s greatest directors, was very early in his career with Repulsion, but his command on the medium is clear. It was the first flick in his unofficial “Apartment Trilogy”, followed by “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Tenant”, each a variation in a theme, exploring supernatural or psychological threats to apartment dwellers. With Repulsion he created a deliberately-paced, realistic study of a person slipping into full-fledged madness. Punctuated by a handful of well-placed, effective scares, some of which have been copied countless times, the film generates a terrific and creepy atmosphere that engrosses the viewer in Carol’s sick world. Though she has a minimum of dialogue, Deneuve is terrific as Carol, ably conveying her alternating helplessness and her misguided need for protective and violent outbursts. Though not a traditional slasher in the sense of an unstoppable killer hunting for victims, Repulsion finds believable ways to do just the opposite, bringing victims to its killer, who also just happens to be one of the most sympathetic in the genre. Unlike many slasher flicks, Repulsion’s ending is tragic, chilling, and thoughtful rather than jolt-inducing.
Available as a Region 2 DVD from Anchor Bay UK and on Region 1 from Program Power Entertainment, Repulsion will finally get the NTSC release it deserves when the Criterion Collection releases it later this month. It’s a must-own for any horror fan who appreciates horror that creeps rather than winks, squirts, or is CGI-generated.