``Like dancing a tango'' is how director Roman Polanski describes his collaboration with actress Catherine Deneuve on the commentary track of the outstanding Repulsion DVD and Blu-ray (Criterion Collection, $40 each). Originally recorded in 1994 for the film's laser disc release but unavailable in any format since then, the track, which also features Deneuve (recorded separately), is a film buff's dream, corralling the press-shy icons for detailed reminiscing on the making of the movie.
Made in 1965, Repulsion was only Polanski's second film (after the Oscar-nominated Knife in the Water), but the movie bears the artistic bravado of a much more experienced director. Essentially a horror picture in the vein of David Lynch's Eraserhead (which can be seen as a direct descendant), Repulsion tracks the gradual mental deterioration of a young woman (Deneuve) who shuts herself inside her London apartment and slowly goes insane after her roommate-sister leaves her alone and goes on vacation.
A deliberate exercise in audience manipulation, Repulsion is a singularly creepy and disturbing film. (Polanski never made another remotely like it, not even when he revisited the subject matter of an eccentric apartment-dweller in The Tenant.) The transfer on the Blu-ray version wrings every possible detail from the movie's beautiful black-and-white cinematography, and the image is so vivid and textured it looks more like projected film than video.
On the commentary, Polanski admits his motivation for making Repulsion was purely ``opportunistic.'' A producer of soft-core sex films wanted to go legit by making a low-budget horror flick, and Polanski seized the offer, although the movie he made was far different from the exploitation fare the money men had in mind.
Polanski says he purposely paced the first half of the movie slowly, so viewers would let their guard down, making them easier to shock (``You can only zap someone when they're on the verge of boredom''). Accordingly, Repulsion's first big ``Gotcha!'' scare, which happens at the 47-minute mark, might be one of the most effective in cinematic history (even when you already know what's coming, you're still startled).
Polanski also talks about Deneuve's beauty, remarking that she still looked gorgeous even when shot with wide-angle lenses but that the actress was ``very touchy'' about nudity. Deneuve confirms this fact, saying Polanski even convinced her to pose for Playboy against her will to help publicize the film's U.S. release, a decision she now regrets -- and wishes the photos had at least been in black and white, to match the movie.
Deneuve also talks about how specific Polanski was in his direction, down to showing her the way he wanted her character to rub her nose. Polanski's attention to micro-detail can be glimpsed on one of the disc's extras, a 30-minute French TV documentary from 1964 made entirely of rare footage shot on the Repulsion set.
Another extra, the 24-minute retrospective featurette A British Horror Film, features more recent interviews with Polanski, the film's producers and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, who was handpicked by the director based on the strength of his work on Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. Repulsion is not nearly so well-known as that earlier classic, but Polanski's freaky depiction of psychosis was arguably more influential than Kubrick's comedy. Criterion's fantastic new discs encourage you to make up your own mind.
Read more reviews of this week's DVD and Blu-ray releases here.