This isn’t so much a review as it is a warning. The film itself needs no introduction: Repulsion is as striking today as it was when it first hit cinema screens in 1965. It remains one of Roman Polanski’s finest works, easily holding company with the likes of Chinatown and Knife in the Water, and among the very best British cinema had to offer in the sixties. Unsurprisingly, the Digital Fix already holds a couple of reviews of previous editions: here’s mine from 2003 when it made its UK DVD debut on the Anchor Bay label; and here’s Mike Sutton’s take at the time of Odeon’s 2010 re-release. Please refer to those for discussion of the film itself.
This particular review will concern itself solely with the disc at hand, which is a new Blu-ray released in France less than a month ago (on April 17th) by the Filmedia label. On paper this should be an exceptional release, and a welcome alternative for those with region-locked players unable to pick up the Criterion edition. There currently isn’t a UK Blu available, yet here we find an English-friendly release with removable French subtitles on both the main feature and the extras. Furthermore these extras encompass two of the main inclusions on the Criterion: the audio commentary recorded by Polanski and Deneuve which has appeared on all discs to date; and the 25-minute documentary, A British Horror Film, put together by Blue Underground in 2003. Whilst it lacks the booklet essay, the theatrical trailer and the archive French television doc taking us behind the scenes, it instead offers up a twelve-minute interview with Professor Richard L. Gregory (previously on the Anchor Bay DVD) and a couple of image galleries. We are also without the 1984 Clive James interview with Polanski which appeared exclusively on the Odeon DVD.
Contrary to the packaging, Repulsion appears on the French Blu in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. It has been sourced from pristine materials meaning the tramlining on the right-hand side of the frame which occasionally blighted the old Anchor Bay disc is no longer there. This, however, is about the only positive thing which can be said for the image. In stark contrast to the Criterion release - which has been garnering plenty of top marks for its presentation - here we find a truly awful looking disc. Everything about the transfer has gone wrong, from the heavy compression artefacts throughout to the ugly contrast levels. This is another case of DNR being used to excess and, as a result, scrubbing away much of the detail along with all of the grain. At times I thought I was watching an upscale (the 1080i presentation didn’t help suspicions either) such is the overall lack. Deneuve’s hair, for example, exists in solid patches of differing greys offset only by digital noise.
The situation isn’t aided by the problems with the contrast. Whites are blown out and wholly unnatural whilst blacks appear in slabs and as such are completely devoid of anything. This is a far cry from the excellent black and white transfers of films from the era we’ve seen from the likes of the BFI or Masters of Cinema. Indeed, you hope that one of them will be handling the eventual UK edition, though in all honesty no label could do worse than here. By way of reference I popped in the Anchor Bay disc to see if there were any marked differences. The old transfer, I admit, hasn’t aged particularly well, but has since been surpassed by the subsequent Odeon release from two years back. The Filmedia disc is arguably a step-up from that old 2003 edition, but that shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement. You buy a Blu-ray for high definition and this Repulsion is far from it.
The soundtrack is available as both French dub and original English, in each case presented in DTS-HD stereo. The quality is best described as okay. This isn’t the cleanest of mixes and background hiss is prominent in some scenes. I don’t know how much of Repulsion had its dialogue recorded in post-production but there is that flavour to much of it. Levels are also a little off with the dialogue and score mixed slightly quieter than the sound effects. The only subtitles are French, though these are removable via the remote if not the menu.
Special features are as good as they were when they first appeared on the 2003 disc, though the lack of anything new also means a lack of enticement. Fans of Repulsion will no doubt own one of the DVD editions by now and as such there’s a strong chance they also own each of these extras too given how they appear in various combinations of the Anchor Bay (commentary, documentary, interview), the Criterion (no interview, other additions) and the Odeon (just the commentary, different interview). And choosing whether or not to pick up this new Blu-ray would have to come down to the extras, the presentation is that bad. Indeed, when it comes to classic British cinema, this is easily the worst I’ve seen to date.