Repulsion (1965) – A True Psychological Horror Classic

Syed Ahad Hussain

Courtesy of Royal Films International

In an era of “found footage,” “ghosts caught on tape” and movies like the Paranormal Activity series that bore a datable ‘scary movie’ tag, nobody is taking the horror genre seriously. In 2012, not only filmmakers, but audiences have taken this once fascinating genre for granted. If one wants a true, disturbing and real horror film experience, watch the movie Repulsion.

How would someone act if their deepest fear came alive and grew closer to them? Have they ever fascinated over and felt terrified about something at the same time? Repulsion boldly and exceptionally attempts to answer these unusual and frightening questions individuals might ask themselves.
This underrated film by one of the finest directors in the world, Roman Polanski, (Rosemary’s Baby, the Ghost Writer) which also happens to be his first English language film, tells the story of Carol Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve in her most brilliant role), a Belgian manicurist, who is afraid of  but also fascinated with men and sexuality.

The film follows Carol as she slowly ascends into madness. Neurotic, shy and naive, Carol lives with her sister, Helen, in a 1965 London apartment. Carol daydreams constantly about losing her virginity, but never finds the courage to find the right man. Her first date with a handsome rich man named Colin goes awry, and to make matters worse, her sister Helen can’t get enough of her boyfriend Michael. Carol grows extremely jealous of her sister’s healthy and perfect sexual life with Michael and becomes frightened of the couple’s frequent sexual encounters.

Helen left with Michael for a vacation in Italy. Carol’s sexual frustrations and loneliness slowly begin to drive her crazy. She becomes unable to concentrate on work, becoming a reckloose. Her mental state severely deteriorates for the worst as she begins to hallucinate about getting raped and envisioning unpleasant, often violent encounters with random men. In an unpredictable and frightening scenario, she picks a rabbit and butchers it brutally while rotting its skin. Carol’s brutal psychological trauma and paranoia eventually leads to a shocking and unpredictable climax.

The film’s black and white cinematography set in Carol’s dark and dreary apartment parallels her deteriorating mental state so effectively that viewers feel Carol’s fear, becoming as mentally disturbed and frightened as she is. Not many films are capable of scaring the viewer without showing any gore, ghosts and/or supernatural elements. Sometimes what one doesn’t see is scarier. Repulsion is a one-of-a-kind film that scares viewers from the inside and gives off a genuinely frightening, unsettling and psychologically disturbing motion picture experience. Repulsion sets the basis for Polanski to create the essence of his later horror masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby, which also deals with a woman descending into madness. It is remarkable that despite Repulsion being made way back in the ‘60s, it is still capable of creating scream out loud moments.

Movie fans have seen a centipede made out of humans, a masked wielding tumor-ridden sadistic man playing pointlessly painful and gory games and creating ‘jigsaw’ puzzle pieces with human flesh, two nutcase scientists experimenting with teenagers hiding in their cabin in the woods, a former U.S. president slaying vampires and people recording nuisances in their apartments at night with a digital camera. But none of these so-called “horror” films create real psychological damage by generating deep tension inside viewers’ minds like Repulsion ought to do with the aforementioned cheap and gory tactics. If readers rent it for a Halloween movie night, they will not be disappointed.