Catherine Deneuve is astonishing as the ravishing but sexually repressed and mousy-to-the-point-of-near-catatonia Belgian girl left alone in her London apartment when self-absorbed sister Yvonne Furneaux runs off on a weekend holiday with her married lover Ian Hendry. Already a little on edge (after having to endure the sounds of Furneaux and Hendry’s lovemaking) she suffers a frightening mental disintegration, beginning to hear things (a constantly dripping tap for one- far more sinister than one might one think) and see nightmarish visions (arms coming out of walls etc.) with only occasional visits from a would-be suitor (John Fraser) or her horny landlord (Patrick Wymark, thoroughly revolting). Horror stalwart James Villiers can be seen in a small role as Fraser’s chum.
Surreal psychological horror pic was the English-language debut of Roman Polanski and in my view, is one of the scariest films ever made. A slow-starter (some might say dull), but full of bizarre images and sound, with the cracking walls in particular frightening the hell out of me to this very day. Deneuve (along with Faye Dunaway, probably the most stylish actress of the late 60s) is beguiling in the lead, a very complex characterisation (almost sympathetic at times, though at others one wants to tell her to stop moping about and get herself laid already!), and she’s surrounded by a fairly interesting, mostly British cast. I wouldn’t watch this one with the lights out (and I haven’t! I’m a wimp and proud of it), the final twenty minutes or so is just about the most gruelling, frightening cinematic experience of my life (And it’s one of those films that really does haunt you afterwards, images and sounds will never leave you). Not often seen on TV or VHS these days, but definitely worth seeking out (I ordered a copy on DVD online) if you’re brave enough to endure it.
The screenplay doesn’t have a whole lot of dialogue, and along with the superb black and white cinematography by Gilbert Taylor helps make the film seem more like a surrealist nightmare than a nightmare of a film. (This is what David Lynch should’ve looked at before making his experimental suckfest “Eraserhead”, which was a nightmare of a wholly unwatchable kind. This film at least has characters that keep you interested and grounded in reality, even when the goings on are completely bizarre. Lynch was only interested in bizarre images and behaviour, story and character aren’t often his prerogative).
A surreal, haunting horror classic for those with some patience. Has an enormous lingering power, once seen it is never forgotten. One of the greats in horror cinema.