PLOT: At first glance, manicurist Carole (Catherine Deneuve) seems merely to be painfully shy. The early portions of the film follow her in her daily routine, and we grow to realize that her mental problems go much deeper: she daydreams, she seems to be barely on speaking terms with the outside world, she is dependent on her sister (who wants to have a life of her own) to care for her, and she is repulsed by men. When her sister goes on a two week vacation, Carole’s fragile condition deteriorates, and we travel inside of her head and witness her terrifying paranoid delusions firsthand.
This was director Roman Polanski’s first English language movie, after achieving critical success with the Polish language thriller Nóż w wodzie [Knife in the Water] (1962). The relatively recent success of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) undoubtedly helped the film’s marketability, as it could be billed as a female variation on the same theme. But despite dealing with insanity and murder, Polanski’s film turned out nothing like Hitchcock’s classic; whereas Psycho was clearly entertainment first, with horrors meant to thrill like a roller-coaster, Repulsion was relentlessly tense, downbeat and disturbing, strictly arthouse fare.
Ethereal Star Catherine Denueve (who had been the lover of, and given her first break in films by, roguish director Roger Vadim) was coming off her first major success in the lighthearted 1964 musical Les Parapluies de Cherbourg [The Umbrellas of Cherbourg]. Playing a dangerous, asexual, schizophrenic woman in a role that called for little dialogue immediately after her role as the romantic lead in a musical demonstrated her tremendous range and helped establish her as one of the greatest actresses of the late 1960s and 70s.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: There are many enduring images to choose from, including the hare carcass and simple close-ups of Deneuve’s eyeballs, but the iconic image is Carole walking down a narrow corridor, as gray hands reach out from inside the walls to grope at her virginal white nightgown. (The scene is a sinister variation on a similar image from Jean Cocteau’s surrealist classic Le Belle et La Bette [Beauty and the Beast] (1946)).
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although there are several otherwordly, expressionistic dream sequences in the film, Polanski creates a terribly tense and claustrophobic atmosphere even before the nightmares come with odd camera angles and the strategic use of silence broken by invasive ambient noises. As Carole floats around her empty apartment, silent, alone, and ghostlike, ordinary objects and sounds take on an otherworldly quality. The effect is unlike any other.
PLOT: After her adopted daughter’s sleepwalking problem turns hazardous, her concerned mother decides to investigate the name of the town that she mutters in her narcoleptic fits: “Silent Hill.” The pair travel to the titular locale, a modern ghost town that has been abandoned for decades due to a coal fire that continuously burns underground. Once inside the city limits, mother and daughter are separated, and the mother’s search for her lost child leads her through increasingly bizarre and portentous adventures in the haunted town.
This film was adapted from the cult/horror Sony Play Station video game, “Silent Hill”. Movie adaptations of video games were (are) a relatively new phenomenon, and had generally not been well received by either movie critics or fans. Although these movies debuted with the advantage of a built in fan base, Super Mario Bros. (1993), Wing Commander (1993), and Doom (2005) had all been massive critical and box office flops, and that’s leaving aside the efforts of Uwe Boll. Although the Lara Croft and Resident Evil franchises became minor hits, by 2006 the entire video game adaption genre had already become a critical punchline, synonymous with diminished expectations.
Director Christophe Gans, a French b-movie film-geek turned director, was a fan of the “Silent Hill” game series and convinced that he could fashion the first truly successful game adaptation. He had previously had a surprise international (and modest stateside) hit with Brotherhood of the Wolf [Le Pacte des loups] (2001), a weird but energetic historical/detective/horror/kung fu hybrid.
Screenwriter Roger Avary assisted Quentin Tarantino on the scripts for Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), as well as handling both screenwriting and directing duties on his own projects, such as Killing Zoe (1994).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Blankets of ash falling over a deserted town like snow, until the eerie stillness is broken by the shrill wail of a 1950s era air raid siren.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Gans paints his murky canvas with the expected monstrosities from deep inside the id, but it’s the film’s disjointed storytelling that turns it from a mere visual romp through scary-town into something totally disconcerting and off-kilter.
PLOT: John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) lose their daughter in a freak drowning accident. Life goes on, however, and they travel to Venice as planned, where John is directing the restoration of a Gothic cathedral. While there, they meet a blind psychic woman who tells them she can see their daughter, and John begins to catch glimpses out of the corner of his eye of a red-hooded figure that looks suspiciously like his drowned daughter.
This was director Nicolas Roeg’s third film, after Performance (1970) and Walkabout (1971). The movie was adapted from a short story by the British novelist Daphne du Maurier, whose works also inspired Rebecca and The Birds.
The love scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland was so graphic for the time that (unverified) rumors persisted that they had actually had intercourse on the set. Roeg has since dismissed the rumors.
Some of the style of the film may have been influenced by Italian giallos of the period, though this connection has been exaggerated simply because of the Venetian setting.
INDELIBLE IMAGE : The color red. (More would constitute a spoiler).
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Don’t Look Now is subtly unnerving—perhaps toos ubtly—throughout. But the last 20 minutes are a truly unsettling, nightmarish experience, capped by a shocking, largely unexplained resolution that leaves it to the viewer to solve the film’s mystery. By the end, the city of Venice has turned into a strangely deserted, Gothic labyrinth that may haunt your nightmares.
Trailer for Don’t Look Now narrated by John Landis