Shock/Cinema Cult, Rated M, 125 minutes. (Flashback DVD Review)
Roman Polanski co-wrote, directed and starred in (despite oddly receiving no credit for the latter) this 1976 filming of Roland Topor’s novel after his Chinatown but before Tess and him becoming an international disgrace in 1978 when charged with statutory rape (and infamously fleeing the US). It’s almost impossible to divorce the seriously creepy Polanski from his movies these days, and there’s something really rather icky about this famed horror/psycho-thriller, a distastefully flagellating aspect that makes it both intermittently fascinating yet altogether repellent.
Forming an ‘Urban Horror’ pseudo-trilogy-of-sorts with his Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, this has Roman as the snivelling Trelkovsky, a wimpy sort who rents an apartment in Paris from landlord Monsieur Zy (the late great Melvyn Douglas) and discovers that the previous tenant threw herself from a window in a suicide attempt. Morbidly visiting her in hospital, he finds her swathed in bandages (an odd touch as she was an Egyptologist) and meets a friend of hers, the sorrowful Stella (Isabelle Adjani trying to disguise her gorgeousness with big, goofy glasses).
Naturally Trelkovsky hits on Stella and they commence an uncomfortable relationship, much to the displeasure of Zy, the Concierge (played by the late great Shelley Winters) and others, as paranoia properly kicks in and he feels threatened from every side. Furthermore, he starts buying the now-dead previous tenant’s cigarettes and even, it seems, willingly becoming more and more like her, as we’re treated to the sight of Polanski in drag and at his most bizarrely masochistic.
Many consider this a classic of the ‘70s horror film, but it’s actually a little too pervy and yukky (in retrospect) to be properly frightening, and instead settles for being intensely disturbing and just plain wrong.