Black Sunday

Black Sunday

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 4 February 2013

Distributor Arrow Video

Director: Mario Bava

Writers: Ennio De Concini, Mario Serandrei, Mario Bava, Marcello Coscia

Based on the short story ‘Viy’ by: Nikolaj Gogol

Original title: La maschera del demonio

Cast: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi

Italy 1960

87 mins

Mario Bava was not only a clever genre specialist, but one who helped kick-start nearly every commercial genre in Italy in the 50s and 60s with the exceptions of the Spaghetti Western and the sex comedy, though he eventually did those too. He photographed (and part directed) I Vampiri, the first real Italian horror film, and Caltiki the Immortal Monster, a science fiction monster movie. He also shot Hercules, the first of the mythic muscleman epics of its day. His Blood and Black Lace (aka Six Women for the Murderer) is arguably the first true giallo movie, or at least the one that crystallised the various elements of the genre into a single film. And Black Sunday, aka The Mask of Satan, began the tradition of supernatural Gothic horror than ran luridly amuck over Italian, and then international screens throughout the 60s.

Following the success of Hammer’s Dracula, Bava (working as director and cinematographer) took a less famous literary source, Nikolai Gogol’s ‘Viy’, which he and his screenwriters adapted pretty freely, slathering it in morbid and sadistic imagery. Filming in black and white, Bava pays more attention to grotty or dribbly textures than his English precursors, with bubbling fluids around a freshly branded letter S in leading lady Barbara Steele’s back, the waxy, eyeless visage of her corpse, crawling with tiny scorpions, and the pale, viscous blood/paint that slowly drops from a glinting shard of glass…

Steele is the film’s star twice over, playing the innocent heroine and her vampiric ancestor. A graduate of art college and the Rank Charm School, she spent the early 60s filming in Italy, her native land having proved incapable of recognising the potential of her porcelain features and huge heavy-lidded eyes. The most important eyes in horror cinema since Karloff’s – augmented by Bava with lighting tricks and special effects, even replaced at one point by a pair of poached eggs!

As a jobbing filmmaker, Bava could make good use of available locations, but he excelled at studio work where he could absolutely control the lighting and create wholly artificial worlds. Black Sunday’s Moldavian countryside is almost entirely artificial, alternating between spacious, ornate interiors and exteriors that sometimes barely exist apart from foreground twigs and dry ice fumes – and Bava’s atmospheric lighting.

Though not notably sophisticated as a piece of screenwriting – his films generally rely more on lighting, composition, movement, sound and design, rather than dialogue or acting – Bava’s first movie as sole director shows his wide cinematic knowledge, visually quoting everything from White Zombie to David Lean’s Oliver Twist and Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (crossed with Jacques Tourneur’s The Leopard Man). He also layers the film with visual motifs and rhymes, deploying eyes, windows, reflections, and long, tense right-to-left pans, which sometimes come full circle to their point of origin, Bava’s crew presumably crouching on the floor to stay out of shot, or else trotting around the camera ahead of the advancing lens.

While Bava’s films don’t usually scare me much, the wandering corpse in Black Sabbath, popping up everywhere like Droopy, frightens the blue Jesus out of me, and there’s a sudden transformation from child to zombie in his last film, Shock, accomplished without any special effects, which caused me to leave fingerprints in the cat. Black Sunday strikes me as more pleasurably Halloweeny, spooky and fun and gorgeously eerie, with just enough sheer nastiness to give it a slight edge.

Arrow’s sumptuous Blu-ray comes with intros, interviews, commentary by Bava scholar Tim Lucas, and a whole movie as extra: the aforementioned I Vampiri, a testing ground for some of the tricks Bava perfected in Black Sunday. It’s quite a package.

David Cairns

The Keep

The Keep

Format: Cinema

Screening date: 21 February 2013

Venue: Prince Charles

Director: Michael Mann

Writer: Michael Mann

Based on the novel by: F. Paul Wilson

Cast: Scott Glen, Ian McKellen, Alberta Watson, Gabriel Byrne

UK 1983

96 mins

Info and tickets from the Prince Charles website

If anything deserves the label film maudit, it’s The Keep, Michael Mann’s 1983 adaptation of F. Paul Wilson’s 1981 novel. A box office failure in the US, it was one of the first expensive, major studio productions to be released only on (pan&scan) video in the UK, though a (scratched) 16mm print was screened at the Gothique Film Society and the ICA in the mid-80s. A laserdisc release was at least letterboxed, but it is one of the few films of its vintage and reputation officially unreleased on DVD or Blu-ray – though it is available for streaming on Amazon instant video (US) and will receive a rare 35mm theatrical outing courtesy of Electric Sheep and Cigarette Burns at the Prince Charles Cinema in February.

Mann, who evidently had a bad experience on the rainy Welsh Romanian sets and with Paramount brass who insisted on several recuts, tends to skip from Thief to Manhunter when listing his filmography. Manhunter, also based on a major genre novel and a radical experiment in style, was also a flop on first release, but has been rehabilitated and valued as a significant, influential film. The Keep hasn’t, and the only cultural weight it seems to have is via its Tangerine Dream soundtrack. Wilson likes the film even less than Stephen King likes Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, labelling it ‘visually intriguing, but otherwise utterly incomprehensible’. In Wilson’s short story ‘Cuts’, a novelist aggrieved at the butchery of his work by the movies uses voodoo to torment and dismember filmmaker Milo Gherl.

And yet, there’s something about The Keep which fascinates. I’ve seen it in a succession of formats, from blurry bootleg VHS to pristine print, and I find it improves, becomes more dreamlike and disturbing, with each viewing. During World War II, a detachment of German soldiers commanded by sensitive Captain Woermann (Jürgen Prochnow) occupies an ancient stone structure in Romania, only to have an age-old monster loosed from within its stone walls awaken to slaughter the storm troopers. Drawn to these events are an ambitious SS officer (Gabriel Byrne), a Jewish professor hauled out of a concentration camp (Ian McKellen) and a mysterious Highlander-type immortal warrior (Scott Glenn). Dark bargains are struck – though, as Wilson notes, the narrative collapses along with any moral certainties. It’s a film which opts to be eerie, allusive and overwhelming rather than exciting, frightening and shocking – a high-risk strategy.

With its dreamlike narrative discontinuity, archly stylised dialogue (‘All that we are is coming out in this Keep. You have scooped the many diseased psyches out of the German gutter. You have infected millions with your twisted fantasies. What are you meeting in the granite corridors of this Keep? Yourself?’) and expressionist imagery (almost entirely in black and white, except for the red of the monster’s eyes and the swastika armbands), The Keep is a worthy successor to a mode of horror, as morally unsettling as it is spiritually devastating, that threads through films like Murnau’s Nosferatu and Lewton and Robson’s Isle of the Dead.

Kim Newman



Format: Cinema

Release date: 1 February 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Micha&#235l R. Roskam

Writer: Micha&#235l R. Roskam

Original title: Rundskop

Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, Jeanne Dandoy

Belgium/Netherlands 2011

129 mins

It’s all about meat.

Then again, why wouldn’t it be?

Michael R. Roskam’s unique and harrowing crime melodrama Bullhead is a dark, classic tale of friendship and betrayal against one of the most original backdrops ever utilized in a gangster picture. Hallmarks of the genre – double crosses, filthy brute force, intimidation of the worst kind – are transplanted to Belgium, with Goodfellas-styled hoods in the roles of two-fisted laconic farmers, veterinarians and feed suppliers.

It’s film noir crossed with a sprawling, operatic, Visconti-like virtuosity, yet tinged with the earthy stench of cow shit mixed with the sour metallic odour of blood.


A super-buff stud works out maniacally in the dark after plunging steroids into his firm, sleek buttocks.

A cow’s belly is sliced open without painkiller. A calf is ripped from the gaping cavity of viscous fluids. The dazed newborn, covered with glistening viscera, is tossed violently into a filthy metal tub.

An ecstasy-and-booze-filled ladies’ man is dragged out of the glare of a lone street lamp and hauled into the shadows of night, so viciously beaten he’ll live the rest of his life as a vegetable.

Covert dinner meetings between thugs – fuelled by booze and sumptuously prepared steaks – occur surreptitiously on farms, in barns and within feed warehouses. Deals, deliveries and alliances are discussed as forks and knives dig savagely into slabs of meat on platters garnished with little more than boiled potatoes – soaking up pools of blood and fat that ooze from the steroid-enhanced comestibles.

Bucolic Belgian farmlands at dusk and twilight mask an evil criminal world of organized steroid users and purveyors – peddling livestock pumped to the max with growth-and-fat-enhancing drugs.

A brick lifted high in the air, touching the heavens before slamming down repeatedly, smashing a pair of testicles to a pulp – forcing the owner of the mashed potato nuts to begin a life that’s an uphill Sisyphean climb.

Bullhead is one great and original gangster picture.

From the innocence of childhood to the corruption-tarnished cusp between youth and middle age, writer-director Michael R. Roskam charts the friendship between Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Diederik (Jeroen Perceval). As kids they are groomed for a life in illicit meat manufacturing and their lives are as inextricably linked as they are estranged after an early tragedy results in a dizzying criminal ascension and a downward-spiralling fate.

Roskam’s screenplay brilliantly lays out a myriad of crooked relationships, complex and virtually impenetrable ‘business deals’ and friendships that are as intense as they are fraught with guilt mixed with immoral layers. The ins and outs of the ‘mysteries’ become as obtuse as those in The Big Sleep. At times, we think we have a grasp on what’s happening, but the layers of plot are ultimately too thick to follow. It almost doesn’t matter. What we know for certain is that bad shit is coming down. That’s all we really need to know.

Through it all is the staggering performance of Matthias Schoenaerts – brooding, physical and steeped in humanity. His eyes are extraordinary – shifting in one moment from soulful to dead like a shark.

Roskam’s mise en scène is first rate. His compositions are painterly and the cinematography manages to capture a sense of dreariness so that it’s positively exciting – etching night exteriors like masterly impressionist paintings and dramatic picture compositions that are as thrilling as they’re simplistically evocative in terms of both spatial geography and the ever-shifting dynamics of the characters. The pace weirdly evokes country life – it’s slow, but never lugubrious. Roskam hooks us like a master and leads us where he needs to and wants to – on HIS terms and those that the story demands.

Early in the film, we hear a life manifesto that boils down to one thing:

‘Everything is fucked!’

And so it is in Bullhead. It’s gloriously, deliriously and viciously fucked – an amoral, cynical, nihilistic and narcissistic 70s style of nastiness brought miraculously to life in a contemporary world of cow shit and gangsters.

We even get some redemption, but a steep price is paid for it.

As it should be.

Greg Klymkiw

A Place in the Sun

A Place in the Sun

Format: Cinema

Release date: 1 February 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: BFI Distribution

Director: George Stevens

Writers: Michael Wilson, Harry Brown

Based on the novel by: Theodore Dreiser

Based on the play adapted from the novel by: Patrick Kearney

Cast: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters

USA 1951

122 mins

An attractive young man in a leather jacket stands by the side of road, hitchhiking. He’s George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), the impoverished nephew of an extremely wealthy upper-class business owner, who has recently offered to give George a job. As he waits, a white convertible whips past, a beautiful and oblivious woman driving the car, leaving him behind in the dust. Finally, a battered pick-up truck picks George up and delivers him to his uncle’s factory, where he’s eventually given a lowly, menial job.

This opening sequence establishes the whole tone of A Place in the Sun (1951). George may share the same last name as his successful relatives, but he’s grown up without any of the privileges they enjoy. Despite his ambition and dreams of working his way up through the company, he ignores the rules about not dating co-workers and quickly finds himself involved with Alice (Shelley Winters), a plain, homely girl who seems willing to settle for her place in the world. But when, on a visit to his uncle’s palatial home, George runs into the same gorgeous owner of the convertible, Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), he’s plunged into a love triangle, caught between two women, one working-class, the other a wealthy socialite; one his current reality and the other a dream of wealth and success.

Winner of six Oscars, A Place in the Sun, based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel, An American Tragedy, (the book title gives away a bit more of the story), is a bruising mix of melodrama and romance with touches of film noir. The on-screen chemistry between Clift and Taylor is notorious; Angela is all soft focus as she gazes adoringly at George, who is breathtakingly handsome yet almost child-like, sensitive and touchingly insecure. Their love is immediate; at first the obstacles of class and wealth seem surmountable. But although Angela can briefly rescue George from his everyday life, she can’t save him when he makes a fatal error after he discovers that Alice is pregnant.

Stevens’s incredible attention to detail and perfectly thought-out mise en scène mean that much of the drama and the tension is built up wordlessly through clues and reoccurring motifs. Seen through the window of George’s tiny apartment, a neon sign flashes the name ‘Vickers’ – a reminder of Angela, but also her status. A news report he listens to on the radio details a number of accidents due to the sultry summer weather, warning listeners to be cautious near open water. A reproduction of John Everett Millais’s romantic, pre-Raphaelite painting Ophelia hangs on the wall. The first dark thought seemingly seeps into George’s consciousness at the same time as it does in the minds of the audience. From this point on, the audience is complicit.

The decision by Stevens to make Alice’s character so unappealing, and to focus instead on Angela’s radiant beauty and the amazing chemistry between Taylor and Clift, introduces a degree of moral ambiguity into the film. Rather than condemn George for his behaviour towards Alice, it’s easy to find yourself hoping that he and Angela can somehow find a way to be together, even if that means committing questionable, even criminal acts.

With some excellent performances, and William C. Mellor’s gorgeous black and white cinematography, Stevens crafted a compelling, textured film that is much richer than a searing on-screen romance.

Sarah Cronin

The King of Pigs

The King of Pigs

Format: Cinema

Release date: 25 January 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Terracotta Distribution

Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Writer: Yeon Sang-ho

Original title: Dwae-ji-ui wang

South Korea 2011

97 mins

South Korean director Yeon Sang-ho’s The King of Pigs is a harsh, bleak animated feature that looks at the terrible fate of three childhood friends who were bullied at school. The pervasive violence of the highly hierarchical South Korean society has been tackled in a number of films, one of the most notable being Yang Ik-joon’s gut-wrenching Breathless (2008), which The King of Pigs recalls to a certain extent in its unrelenting darkness and its atmosphere of absolute despair (interesting to note that director-actor Yang Ik-joon voices the character of Jong-suk in the film).

The King of Pigs opens as the bespectacled failed businessman Kyung-min, having apparently just strangled his wife in their high-rise city apartment, gets a phone call from a detective who has tracked down his childhood friend Jong-suk. A wife-beating failed writer, Jong-suk agrees to meet Kyung-min after 15 years in which they have had no contact. Their conversation in a restaurant leads to a number of flashbacks to their school years and the bullying they endured at the hands of older, richer boys. The animal metaphor of the title is used to describe the vicious hierarchical organisation of the school, and by extension, of Korean society: the ‘dogs’ are the boys from well-off families who rule the school and persecute the ‘pigs’, who come from poorer or less respectable backgrounds.

But this seemingly unchangeable brutal order is challenged when a boy called Chul comes to the defence of Kyung-min. Chul is a true outsider and refuses to be bullied into submission. In one chilling scene, he tells the boys, ‘you need to be a monster if you don’t want to keep living like a loser’. When he beats up an older boy, he becomes ‘the king of pigs’. Soon, he has a plan to make sure the ‘dogs’ can never have happy memories of their school days. But as Chul realises the complexities of the adult world he does some growing up, even though Kyung-min and Jong-suk still desperately need him to remain a ‘monster’ and recklessly stand up to the bullies.

The animal metaphor is somewhat laboured and heavy-handed in places and this is not helped by the terrible quality of the subtitles. The low budget is apparent in the lack of sophistication of the animation, which is quite stilted and not very detailed. But this is compensated for by a very expressive colour scheme, from the oppressive dark blues and muted tones that dominate the film to the rare luminous pink skies that punctuate the gloom. Also notable are a number of hallucinatory sequences: boys with dogs’ heads, a murdered ghost cat spitting out sardonic comments, a glue-induced nightmarish vision.

The King of Pigs is an uncompromising, hopeless depiction of a society corrupted by the idea of success as money and the brutal upholding of the hierarchical order it creates. Despite its flaws, it is an intense, riveting, affecting drama that delivers a truly shocking conclusion.

Virginie Sélavy

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Format: Cinema

Release date: 18 January 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Momentum

Directors: Matt Bettinelli Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence

Writers: Brad Miska, Simon Barrett, David Bruckner, Nicholas Tecosky, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Simon Barrett, Radio Silence, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, CHad Villella,

Cast: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard

USA 2012

116 mins

An interesting exercise in combining the portmanteau picture and the found-footage genre, V/H/S is the new offering from some of the hottest indie directors on the block (Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence).

Following the usual genre rules, it sets out a wrap-around concerning a bunch of deadbeat guys who are hired to break into a house and find a certain VHS for an undisclosed amount of money. As they are faced with a mountain of tapes, their attempts to find the right one are the pretext for the other stories until the very final tale, which, in an unusual touch, explains the nature of what has gone before.

At two hours, the film outstays its welcome by at least one segment and the wraparound is a muddled affair delivering none of the punch expected from such a tale. However, despite all this V/H/S works very well, with some of the segments genuinely inducing a sense of dread and unease while others create a videotape reality that just delights with its own twisted logic.

The final story also pulls out all the stops making sure the entire anthology ends on a high, sending the audience out into the night feeling as if they’ve been through on a ghost ride.

All in all, definitely worth catching – although not necessarily at the cinema given the lo-fi specs.

This review was first published as part of our FrightFest 2012 coverage.

Evrim Ersoy

Midnight Son

Midnight Son

Format: Cinema

Release date: 11 January 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Monster Pictures

Director: Scott Leberecht

Writer: Scott Leberecht

Cast: Shawn-Caulin Young, Tracey Walter, Larry Cedar

USA 2011

88 mins

The creepiest, sexiest and most romantic contemporary vampire picture is now out in UK cinemas. One of the 10 best films of 2011, this is a picture that deserves a hallowed place in any self-respecting genre geek’s movie collection.

Jacob (Zak Kilberg) is sick. Very, very sick. He leads a solitary existence in a basement apartment with all the windows sealed shut. By day, he is a brilliant young artist – painting variations on a similar theme: exquisite renderings of the sun. He pays his rent working as a night-shift security guard. He is so sensitive to the rays of the sun that his arm bears the horrendous scars of burned flesh.

Of late, he’s been extremely hungry and in spite of wolfing down as much food as possible, he’s becoming thinner and paler. One night he collapses at work – blacking out completely. A doctor examines him and expresses concern that he is becoming anaemic from malnutrition. This, of course, simply cannot be. He’s eating more than a 500 lb circus freak can ingest in a week.

The thing is, Jacob needs meat.


Pure and simple.

On his way home from the doctor visit, he buys a juicy steak from the butcher shop, fries it up and scarfs it down. Alas, he’s still hungry. Eyeing the Styrofoam platter his steak lay upon prior to ingestion, Jacob is especially drawn to the glistening droplets of blood dappling the white foamy surface. He voraciously laps up the treacly crimson goo.

This taste treat inspires yet another visit to his friendly neighbourhood butcher shop whereupon he buys an entire container of blood. He greedily guzzles the haemoglobin treat and feels energized like he hasn’t in some time.

Jacob knows now what he needs to survive.

Jacob needs blood.

Such are the opening minutes of Scott Leberecht’s Midnight Son, one of the most exciting feature-length directorial debuts in years. Given what passes for vampires in these dark days of the ludicrous Twilight franchise, it seems almost insulting to toss this original and affecting horror movie (also scripted by Leberecht) into the same putrid bucket containing Stephenie Meyer’s rank turds.

Still, we must call a spade a spade and a vampire movie Midnight Son most certainly is. As such, it’s one of the creepiest, sexiest and truly most romantic vampire pictures to grace the screens in many a new moon.

Its unique blend of gorgeously gritty camerawork and equal dollops of both neorealism and existentialism place the picture closer to the tradition forged by George A. Romero’s Martin, Larry Fessenden’s Habit and Abel Ferrara’s double scoop of the horror brilliance that is Driller Killer and The Addiction.

What Leberecht brings to the table that’s all his is a tremendous degree of heart. He manages to shock us, creep us out AND move us. This is an astounding achievement.

When Jacob meets the coke-addicted cigarette girl Mary (Maya Parish) they’re instantly attracted to each other – two lost souls in the big city, who deserve much more out of life and most certainly deserve each other. As played by the beautiful, sexy, but wholly real Parish, the character of Mary has what Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart is unable to bring to her vampire-loving heroine – a sense of humour and play. She’s a character that the audience falls in love with because she has a perfect blend of bigger-than-life and girl-next-door properties (albeit slightly tarnished by the cards life has dealt her).

Jacob too feels like somebody we could know, or even be. He’s trapped by circumstance and lonely out of necessity. That he should discover his potential soul mate at the worst possible time isn’t just the stuff of great drama, it’s rooted in realism – an experience so many have had when they find something or someone special, but the timing is so damned inopportune.

Leberecht’s mise en scène is superb. He captures strange corners and pockets of Los Angeles with the same eye for detail Larry Fessenden brought to the Manhattan of Habit. Leberecht’s choice of locations, shots and interiors never feel stock. Most of all, he delivers a side of L.A. we seldom see on film. It’s gritty, all right, but the picture plunges us into the sort of strange places David Lynch himself might be envious of.

My personal favourite is a toxic materials dump in the rear lane of a hospital wherein we’re introduced to one of the weirdest pushers we’ll encounter in any recent movie – the sleazy blood-peddling orderly (brilliantly played by Joe D. Jonz) who discovers a rare, but needy market for what he can provide – no clover, but plenty of crimson.

This is a mere appetizer of inspired casting.

Happily, Leberecht and his team had the exquisite taste to cast one of the greatest character actors working in American cinema today. Appearing as Jacob’s only living cohort in the office tower, Tracey Walter plays the kindly night janitor who dispenses humour, wisdom and assistance. Walter has been in a zillion or so cool movies, but in the context of Midnight Son, it’s especially cool to see him play a character that fondly reminds of the UFO-obsessed trash man Walter played in Alex Cox’s Repo Man (another great picture with a unique sense of place).

Visually and narratively, Midnight Son leads us confidently into territory we almost never see, but even when things start to feel familiar, Leberecht throws us a curve ball – not just for the sake of tossing one our way, but because it’s rooted in the emotion of the story.

One of my favourite trick pitches in Leberecht’s movie falls into a category I like to call ‘Scenes We’d Like to See, but Never Will’. Lo and behold, though, I was resoundingly gobsmacked when the insanely ambitious Leberecht delivered the unthinkable. Imagine a lovemaking sequence where a sexy lady has just snorted several lines of coke, then mounts her lover cowgirl style and vigorously rides that bucking bronco of vampiric prowess. In the throes of passion she’s overtaken by a horrendous coke-influenced nosebleed, which geysers mightily onto Jacob’s face. This would be a shocker for him in any context, but it’s especially delightful as he happens to be a blood-starved vampire.

To that, I say: ‘Top that, Stephenie Meyer!’

This review was first published on Klymkiw Film Corner.

Greg Klymkiw

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Format: Cinema

Release date: 4 January 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: BFI Distribution

Director: Roman Polanski

Writers: Roman Polanski, Gerard Brach, David Stone

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux

UK 1965

105 mins

French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s book The Poetics of Space was in circulation when Roman Polanski made Repulsion. Published in 1958, it appeared in English translation in 1964 just one year before the film’s release. Bachelard observes an intimate relationship between the form of a domestic dwelling and its inhabitants. Corners, garrets, drawers, chests all affect a way of being. In turn, the occupant leaves a trace on their home both physically and in the realm of memory and the imaginary. Polanski too made much of this interdependence in each of his ‘Apartment Trilogy’ films: Repulsion (1964), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976). They all encapsulate the feng shui nightmare of cheapskate landlords’ conversions: thin walls, creaking floor boards, damp and drafts. Polanski’s architecture of choice is the late Victorian flat with its excesses of cornicing, cast iron radiators and sash windows, which all provide details for his lingering camera. These are pads with ‘character’, ornate abodes which have an agency that makes them unsung stars in his films. For Carol, played by Catherine Deneuve, the South Kensington flat she rents serves as an escape from the busy streets and bustling beauty salon where she works. It is a place where she can resist the advances of suitors and relax with her sister, Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). Gradually, it houses and mimics her mental collapse as she becomes locked into an alternate reality of paranoid visions and catatonia. Polanski’s scenes of ‘living walls’ are some of the most memorable in the psychological horror genre.

Many writers have tried to decipher Carol’s mental state. Is she depressed? Schizophrenic? Is she ‘sex repressed’, or possessed by ‘demons’ of the unconscious mind as Bosley Crowther reviewing for The New York Times would have it in 1965? Or, more delicately, was she abused as a child? The cryptic family portrait we see in her lounge might suggest this. The film shrugs off definite answers, but what is clear is that Carol is terrified of being ‘broken into’. Her comfortable routine is shattered by her sister’s oafish boyfriend and his clumsy stuffing of his toothbrush and razor into her water glass. Sexual imagery here speaks for itself. It is often mentioned in write-ups of the film how openly Polanski exposes the intricacies of Carol’s demise. But just what does this involve? My interpretation is that Polanski creates a psychological space with his sophisticated use of the mechanics of cinema – a space where a woman is terrified of intruders – and then he invites us in. We are with Carol every step of the way, perceiving the world as it is to her: when she is alone in the house, when she is visited in the night by the imagined rapist grabbing and pushing in close. We are given the spare key and taken up a kind of multiple occupancy of Carol’s mind. Polanski makes us psyche-cine intruders, able to come and go as we please. It is this that makes the film so unsettling and perversely enigmatic.

So what of this filmic architecture – how does Polanski build this cine interior? To me his methods are Lovecraftian. By fragmenting and dislocating sound and image Polanski creates monstrous and unearthly reconfigurings of the banal. One observation I made in seeing the film again was the fracturing of one of the early moments where Carol is walking outside and passes by a roadworks site. Piles of rubble suggest disintegration and recall the cracks in the pavement and wall that fascinate Carol. One of the workers, sweating and wearing a soiled vest, leers at her and suggests ‘a bit of the other’. This one scene then splits into tiny shards that resurface during the remainder of the film. A similar vest keeps reappearing in the flat, as if it moved of its own accord. It is a sign of Carol’s curious disgust of male sexuality – one she finally absorbs into her own horrific version of domesticity. Later and quite separately from the initial workmen scene, Carol appears even more disturbed on her walk home. Here, within the drums and percussion of Chico Hamilton’s jazz score it is possible to hallucinate the sounds of car horns and drilling. The film is shaped by these explosions and dream logic arrangements. Cinematography (Gilbert Taylor) sound editing and mixing (Tom Priestley and Leslie Hammond), editing (Alastaire McIntyre) and art direction (Séamus Flannery) are the building materials of this psychic folly for Polanski.

In Poems to My Other Self(1927) Albert-Birot pre-empts Polanki’s concerns in Repulsion, and indeed his words suggest one of Polanski’s interior tracking shots. Bachelard selects this quotation in Poetics:

…Je suis tout droit les moulures
qui suivent tout droit le plafond

‘I follow the line of the moldings
which follow that of the ceiling’

Mais il y a des angles d’où l’on ne peut plus sortir.

‘But there are angles from which one cannot escape.’

Nicola Woodham