by Thom Ernst Thursday October 27, 2011

RepulsionDirector Roman Polanski made a creepy debut with Knife in the Water(1962) a Polish language film about a  couple alone on the water with a possibly disturbed young man but it wasn't a horror film, it was a psychological thriller about power struggles and the fragile nature of masculine certainty. 

His next feature film, Repulsion (1965)  Now that's a horror movie. 

But a horror of what kind? 

Polanski was not at the time the Polanski we know today: 

He had yet to make Rosemary's Baby (1968) which would distinguish him as a director capable of introducing satanic undertones to the most ausipicous of settings, a New York City brownstone apartment building;  

We had yet to discover the full trauma he experienced through World War II a story that wouldn't really be revealed until 2002 with The Pianist (2002);  Both his parents were sent to concentration camps and his mother would die in Auschvitz.

He had yet to be further traumatized by the sacrificial-like murder of his wife, Sharon Tate and their unborn child at the hands of The Manson clan.

And he would not yet be accussed of a crime that would send him fleeing the country. 

Then, as now, Polanski made art films.  The kind of movies that bucked the traditions of genre filmmaking, and what ever golden rule that was widely anticipated as essential to the horror film.   

Film writer and critic David Thomson points out that Polanski's films violence is rarely prominent, instead the underlying feeling of terror comes from alienation and hostility.   This is certainly true of Catherine Deneuve's character in Repulsion whose murderous tendencies are fueled by distorted reality.   But instead of treading into a common pool of psychotic stereotypes (although Polanski would certainly be accused of doing just that with Repulsion) he fleshes out the impulses of the genre with humour and an ironic note of self-awareness in his characters. 

It would be a liberating excursion into a thoughtful and intelligent piece of ghoulish cinema completely void of the expectations Hollywood would have set up as the genre format.  He would repeat this exercise with Rosemary's Baby (1968) and to lesser extents, The Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me But My Teeth Are In Your Neck, aka Dance of the Vampires (1967) , The Tenant (1976), and The Ninth Gate (1999).

But here's the kicker:  Wheter or not we might appreciate Repulsion as legitimate cinema, genre or not, Polanski himself claims he did the film to find greater public and financial acceptance to do the film he really wanted to make, Cul de Sac (1966). 

Could it be possible Polanski himself doesn't have a high regard for the genre film, even his own?

 It's 1998 and zombies are running rampant, vampires even more so.  The vampire film is begining to grow stale and then along comes  director Tomas Alfredson (above).  His take on the vampire myth in Let the Right One In, based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel of the same name introduces a ice-cold desolate twist on an ancient format. 

Here the twist is not just in location, we are in a non-descript housing tenament in Stockholm, but in that the characters are children.  Here there will be blood, but not in the gushing, shocking tradition of the teenage slasher film.  The underlying narrative here is about bullying, about friendship and about the burdon of youth.  And despite being re-made as a surprisingly effective American film, Let Me In (2010) the film does not comply to the values of familiar stereotypes and situations. 

Is it art?  I think so.  But I've been thing genre films have been art for a long time:  Metropolis (1927), The Exorcist (1973), Pan's Labyrinth (2006), and Rosemary's Baby. 

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