Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

‘Repulsion’ was described by one critic as ‘the most terrifying film ever made,’ and it remains, along with ‘Psycho’ and ‘Les Diaboliques’, one of the classic films of psychological suspense. Unlike ‘Psycho’, there is no neat explanation at the end. Rather, we are left with an enigmatic ‘clue’ to the horrific terror and repulsion which sex holds for the pretty blonde Belgian girl Carol Ledoux.

Throughout the film the camera passes, but sometimes pauses, on a family photograph on the sideboard. When the landlord is waiting in the flat he idly picks up the photograph and asks where it was taken. “Brussels,” she says. The very last shot in the film is of the photograph. The camera seems to enter into it, it fills the screen. There is the contented mother, the smiling elder sister and the complacent figure of the father. Behind the mother’s chair stands a little girl with a terrified expression on her face, her eyes locked onto the figure of the man, her father. The camera moves forward into the child’s inscrutable expression until it advances into the pupil of the eye and the screen turns black. The ending mirrors the credit sequence which opens with a staring eye.
The camera pans back to reveal the face of a beautiful young girl.

Carol (Catherine Deneuve) and her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) live in a bed-sit in South Kensington. Her sexual repression gradually unfolds. As she walks home from the beauty salon she passes a group of workmen, one sweat-stained man in a vest aims some remarks at her. The girl is withdrawn, introverted. She is even aloof towards her boyfriend, the nice-looking, well-mannered Colin (John Fraser), who catches up to her in the street and arranges a date. She arrives at the flat noticing the happy laughter of young nuns in the convent next door. Helen is having an affair with Michael (Ian Hendry), a married man. Carol resents him, or his maleness and is disturbed to find him shaving in the bathroom.

Helen and Michael unexpectedly go out to dinner leaving Carol alone in the flat. The rabbit they were to have for dinner is left uncooked.
As the film progresses it begins to rot. Although Carol seems withdrawn, she is repelled, yet fascinated, by men. She is also attracted and repelled by the sound of Helen and Michael’s lovemaking as she lies in bed at night.

The night itself brings horrors to her imagination. The next day, when Helen tells her she is going off to Italy for a holiday with Michael, Carol cries, “Oh please – don’t go!” By day she lives in the feminine world of the beauty parlour, safe from the opposite sex. By night, alone in the flat, sinister men begin to invade her dreams, mixing her terror with delight as bizarre sexual hallucinations take hold of her mind. The walls start to crack, literally, before her eyes. A crack in a wall, which begins to grow, is exactly the same pattern as a crack she noticed in the street.

Weird hallucinations in the shadowy flat begin to dominate her mind – the walls seem to split and crack, those of the hall turn soft and her hand sinks into them, slime crawls down – even more terrifying is when the hands push through the walls of the corridor to grab her. In her bed at night she is subject to further visions of terror: a light suddenly appearing through the unused door behind her wardrobe; someone trying to push aside the wardrobe and enter her room; the glimpse of a shadowy, menacing figure in the mirror – was it the workman who made the remark?

She clings to her bed in fear and expectation of the imaginary rapist. Even at work the withdrawal from reality begins to possess her and a shriek of pain from her client startles her out of her reverie to reveal she has cut open the woman’s finger while manicuring it. She is told to take time off work. Carol becomes increasing psychotic, wandering around the empty flat in her nightdress. We notice the passage of time as the skinned rabbit begins to decay.

Repulsion Michael’s wife phones the flat to harangue Helen and abuses Carol. She cuts the telephone chord. Eventually, unable to contact her, Colin comes to the flat, but she has locked herself in. Worried, he breaks in through the front door and Carol beats him to death with a candlestick and puts his body into the bath. She uses a shelf from the kitchen to nail up the door. Some time later the landlord (Patrick Wymark) comes calling for his rent. He breaks in and finds the beautiful young girl in her nightdress standing inside the sitting room doorway.

Observing her state and the condition of the flat, he misunderstands the situation and propositions her. She murders him with an open razor. The bizarre hallucinations, her inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality reduce her to a catatonic state. Michael and Helen arrive home to discover her inert form, the bodies in the flat. An ambulance is called and Michael carries Carol down the stairs and looks into her face. Her eyes are unseeing. As the camera pans into the flat and we are led to the mysterious family photograph, the secret lies in the little girl’s expression.

‘Repulsion’ was released in 1965 and was one of three British-based films made by French-born director Roman Polanski. The others were ‘Cul De Sac’ and ‘Dance of the Vampires'. Polanski commented,
“What interested me in making it is the study of a girl’s disintegration; with withdrawal turning to violence. I’m concerned with showing something – exposing a little bit of human behaviour that society likes to keep hidden because then everyone can pretend it doesn’t exist. But it does exist, and by lifting the curtain on the forbidden subject, I think one liberates it from this secrecy and shame.”
As the portrayal of a descent into madness it does, indeed, remain one of the most terrifying films ever made.

Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

Article Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

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