Swinging London’s construction rubble outside and indoors the "flamin' nuthouse," the Polanski world. It opens in quivering ocular darkness, the camera pulls back to find the young Belgian manicurist (Catherine Deneuve) staring vacantly while holding the hand of an aged client (mummified in her beauty mask) at the salon -- a lost girl in the crypt. She shares a flat with her sister (Yvonne Furneaux) and listens with disgust and fascination to her moans in bed with her boyfriend (Ian Hendry); complaining about his shaving apparatus in their bathroom, she notices something on the wall: "We must have this crack mended." Left alone, the girl’s blankness quickly betrays grinding sickness, the dainty hand greedily, helplessly scratching itself. Sexual dread is all-pervasive, the distinctly vaginal fissure on the sidewalk noisily multiplies on the walls of the apartment, a hairy brute violates her nightly in dreams. Bells shriek while textures putrefy. The glistening skinned rabbit in the fridge hardens and rots, Deneuve’s purse opens to reveal the blackened critter like a decayed fetus. ("Poor bunny," someone sighs.) Polanski records all of this with a surgeon’s icy eye and a procession of wide-angle lenses, transforming rooms and corridors into a dripping cave. The first murder is a remarkable long take with the girl and her beau (John Fraser) at opposite sides of the frame and a neighbor with a tiny dog in the background, he turns to shut the door and she lunges at him with a candle holder; blood sprays on a handheld POV shot, the overflowing bathtub receives the bludgeoned corpse. The filming is above all allied to the Bergman of The Silence, the groping hands on the hallway are from Cocteau by way of Wise (The Haunting). A peerless Freudian nightmare, frequently revisited (Images, A Woman Under the Influence, Ms. 45) but seldom matched in its desire and terror, its visual-aural flow, and its queasy voyeuristic pleasure in seeing a frosty princess picking at her own skin. Cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. With Patrick Wymark, Renée Houston, Valerie Taylor and James Villiers. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce