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Based on the novel by Jean Ray (the so-called "Belgian Poe"), "Malpertuis"
begins with Jan, a young sailor, being summoned with a motley company of
acquaintances and family to the death bed of his mysterious Uncle Cassave.
Cassave soon dies, leaving his considerable fortune to the dozen or so
people he has summoned. However, there are stiff terms attached to his gift:
The inheritors must all live for the rest of their lives at Malpertuis,
Cassave's mansion. Jan soon realizes there is something amiss at Malpertuis
(a name meaning either "house of evil" or "house of cunning"). There is
something odd in the attic, in the labyrinthine hallways, and in the
surrounding wood. There is something even stranger about Malpertuis' other
inhabitants: the mad hermit Lampernisse who haunts the mansion's dark
corridors, the coy and beautiful Euryale who will not look anyone in the
face, and the diabolic taxidermist Philarete, to name only a few. When the
secret of Malpertuis is finally brought to light among this bizarre cast of
characters, the mansion erupts into a seething cauldron of terror, and both
heaven and earth seem to collapse around Jan.
While fans of Jean Ray's novel will find the story much changed, the film is visually engaging at the very least, and the casting is excellent, for the most part. Orson Welles plays the dying Uncle Cassave, delivering the second performance of his career as a large man stuck in a very large bed (the other performance being, of course, in his adaptation of Kafka's "The Trial"). Susan Hampshire gives an admirable performance in four different roles--excellently well disguised and made-over in each--as Euryale, Nancy, Alice, and a nurse. The sets are extraordinary, filling the screen with an unending stream of vivid detail. Also, the film's cinematography is often both aggressive and intelligently creative, employing just the sort of unpredictable perspective necessary to portray the mansion's mystifying interior.
Disappointments with the film begin small. Jean-Pierre Cassel as Lampernisse does not look the part. Instead of a tall, shadowy, aged-but-ageless, and profoundly mad hermit, he looks like a leper who has wandered off the set of "Ben-Hur." Accompanying Lampernisse is the laughable, high-pitched babble of the "creatures in the attic." In these rare instances, the filmmakers miss by a wide margin the texture of Ray's novel. At other times the film slightly underplays or rushes some of the book's strongest scenes. The one serious offense, though, is the film's ending; the muddled chaos here is a poor substitute for Ray's synchronized anarchy.
This is not to say that the film loses itself completely. The strength of the first hour and more cannot be entirely undermined by the ending. The inspired cinematography and many of the sets, performances, and special effects are truly exceptional. The scenes with little, crazed, mousy Philarete and his morbid workroom are reason enough for the film to exist. Subtlety and humor are here as well, perhaps best represented in the recurring static shot of the inheritors occupying themselves in Malpertuis' small drawing room.
I have just viewed, for the first time, this incredible film on a very poor quality video tape, released by MPV, Motion Pictures on Video in 1987 and running ninety minutes. Having only ever read about this work in an encyclopedia of Horror cinema, nothing could have prepared me for this intense, captivating vision which induced feelings of great humbleness, childlike wonderment and joy in this adult viewer. Film as art, beautiful, haunting, arresting the senses like little else. The only other comparable works i have witnessed to use colour and lighting to create such a rich and complete composed effect, as is in evidence throughout this sublime and surreal trip, are the films of : Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese. The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffman, Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. Or David Lynch's Blue Velvet and David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch. Or Dario Argento's Suspiria and Inferno. All of whom, bar Michael Powell, must surely have been influenced by Malpertuis. This then is a heart felt plea to Anchor Bay / Blue Underground / Criterion Collection to do whatever is necessary to track down this lost treasure, to the ends of the earth if required, and make it available on the highest quality dvd release possible. I understand there exists at least two versions, great, make it a double disc affair track down Harry Kümel for a commentary track and make this and many other lovers of the moving image, very very happy. My score an assured 10 / 10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Harry Kümel's ambitious & courageous film version of Jean Ray's complex
novel was offered one big chance to prove itself internationally and to
instantly become a genre classic at the annual Cannes Film Festival in
1972. Sadly enough, the shown version which later got rejected by the
director didn't impress any audiences then and by the time Kümel came
trotting along with his very own (and much better) re-edited version of
the film, containing over twenty minutes of extra footage, nobody
really cared to see it anymore. Now that's a real pity, because in this
restored version "Malpertuis" is a truly brilliant work of Gothic art
and unquestionably one of the greatest movies ever made in Belgium. A
lot more than in the international-orientated versions, the emphasis
now lies on obscure mystery and claustrophobic set designs. Both
versions are so incredibly different that the common plot summaries of
the international Cannes version, which can be found in newspaper
articles and movie websites, actually reveal the mysterious denouement
of Kümel's ultimate re-edited version! Those reviews immediately
explain what odd types of characters are living in the Malpertuis
mansion whereas, in the 'correct' version, it is kept secret to the
young protagonist Jan as well as to the viewer. I'm desperately trying
not to include any spoilers in this user-comment while the same
essential plot twists can be read everywhere over the internet
Evidently this film didn't appeal to anyone in Cannes! You can clearly
see where it's going right away and thus the sophisticated and
enormously stylish hints that are given to unravel the mystery yourself
become completely pointless.
The legendary Orson Welles stars in one of his last glorious roles, as the mighty and fearsome, albeit bed-ridden patriarch of the immense Malpertuis mansion who gathered an eccentric collection of people to announce his last will to. Among them is young sailor Jan, who swore that he would never set foot in Malpertuis ever again and he constantly tries to convince his sister Nancy to do the same. Quentin Cassavius' testament claims that there's a gigantic family fortune to divide, only none of the persons present is allowed to leave the mansion and the last remaining man and woman have to get married. Jan is determined to stay around as soon as he falls in love with the mysteriously beautiful Euryale, but other members of the pact that try to escape the domain are found dead soon after, causing hostility and unrest among the remaining members. Harry Kümel builds up the tension and unfolds the mystery like a genuine master, and all this without showing the slightest bit of graphic violence. Instead, he portrays the ominous mansion like an inescapable surreal dimension with endless dark corridors and spiral staircases. Secondary scenery, like paintings on the wall and statues in the grim attic, magnificently add to the wondrous Gothic atmosphere. Meanwhile, the constant elaboration of patterns and intrigues between the many supportive characters lead the story to one of the most grotesque and devastating climaxes in cinema ever. Of course, you'll only be truly enchanted by this climax if you haven't seen the English/French versions or read any plot descriptions before you watch it. Orson Welles and Mathieu Carrière are great but the true star is Susan Hampshire, playing no less than three different and very complex characters. Harry Kümel's "Malpertuis" is a small masterpiece, combining visual artwork with extraordinary plotting. An absolute must!
Based on a novel by Jean Ray, Malpertuis is a "haunted" house, unescapable by those who live in it. Characters hiding their true nature, disguised as a "family" to which sailor Jean-Jacques returns unwillingly. Susan Hampshire plays 3 different characters beautifully, and Orson Welles is the perfect actor to play the dominating shadow. The film has an unreal, nightmarish atmosphere, and goes far beyond the scope of the book. Malpertuis is a labyrinth whose secrets are kept behind locked doors, and reveals itself as the film reaches its climax. We come to realize that the mind has as many labyrinths as the house itself. Full of mythology, dimly lit and spooky as dreams use to be ("what is life but a dream?"), Malpertuis is a cult. Jung would have loved it.
That's what the title means;or at least,that's what the priest explains to
Matthieu Carrière.The subtitle is overkill and was added for commercial
reasons,probably unbeknownst to the director."Doomed house" is a stupid
title:are we so sure it's the story of a house? Isn't it rather the story of
a mind? of a fantasy? of a folly?
This poesque subtitle is not suitable for Jean Ray's world,who keeps a certain logic inside a nightmarish swarming of monsters,werewolves,Gorgons and mad scientists.Some of his obsessions surface here:the Gorgon,turning mortals into stone,the taxidermist working on alive bodies,are topics we find not only in "Malpertuis" but also in "the adventures of Harry Dickson" ,his favorite hero (he wrote dozens of stories of this detective and his pupil Tom wills)Prometheus recalls here how suffering and sadism were haunting the Belgian writer.Because Belgian,this definitely is.Kummel's closest relative is none other than his compatriot André Delvaux who quoted Jean Ray in his masterwork "un soir,un train".I urge the users who have liked "Malpertuis" to try "Un soir ,un train".It's the same kind of atmosphere,simply it's more mastered,the emotional power -cruelly lacking in Kummel's work- is increased tenfold .
"Malpertuis" has a dream of a cast:Orson Welles-in a short part,but he makes every of his word count-,Matthieu Carrière ,"Der Junge Törless" wunderkind,Susan Hampshire,Two Chabrol favorites (Michel Bouquet and Jean-Pierre Cassel,both in "la rupture" some months before),and,most amazing thing,French singer Sylvie Vartan and in a cameo(uncredited) her then-husband ,Johnny Hallyday.
The plot may be hard to swallow for horror buffs.It's a film "à tiroirs",and the ending has in store at least three unexpected twists.The last picture leaves the spectator bewildered.Hampshire and Carrière seem unreal,and the world that surrounds them is no longer a world in ruins,but a world that forgot he's in ruins.And what kind of world is it?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A sailor stops by his old town, realizes his family's home had been
removed, attempts to find his sister, gets stuck in a bar fight over a
dance hall girl, gets hit across the skull knocking him unconscious,
awakening in the home of his bedridden uncle, Cassavius(Orson Welles).
The sailor is Jan, portrayed by blonde headed, blue-eyed, scrawny
Mathieu Carrière(Born for Hell), and he, at first, just wishes to leave
but his demanding uncle has something of importance to tell him
regarding a will which could prove profitable if he decides not to
leave. Within the house are an eccentric group of oddballs, all
attempting to appease their master, hoping to leave Malpertuis once
Cassavius kicks the bucket. Even still, Jan has no desire to stay until
a ravishing red head, Euryale(Susan Hampshire who plays multiple roles,
presenting an astonishing range, making three specific characters
completely unique and different, a multi-faceted performance that
deserves praise), his cousin, arrives, throwing his life into torment.
The proposition in Cassavius' will is for those inside Malpertuis to
remain until one couple survives, gaining the inheritance. Relatives
and hired help, the greedy vultures they are, remain, awaiting for the
chance to gain the giant piggy-bank and property entitled if they can
outlast their peers. Meanwhile, Jan decides to trek through the halls,
mysterious rooms, and spiral staircases of Malpertuis, a massive ring
containing an army of keys, hoping to unlock the secrets of the place,
hoping to understand Cassavius. Along the way, Jan discovers that
Malpertuis may be much, much more than just a mansion, and those people
within it's walls could be more than they appear.
The film incorporates dream logic which has you wondering what Jan might experience next. We are, in a sense, on the same surreal journey as Jan is, experiencing what he does, bombarded by unpredictable behavior, always yearning to learn more. Lots of symbolism, and director Harry Kümel(Daughters of Darkness)establishes the importance of faces..through the multiple characters portrayed by Hampshire(..as not only Euryale, the one Jan desires and seemingly can not touch, but also his beloved sister, Nancy, and a lusting Alice who openly engages him for sexual favors, longing to be "human", despite what she "really is"), we realize that what we are seeing isn't a real world as we know it. The mansion itself(..the astonishing spiral staircases and endless rooms/halls)is a veritable maze, about as maddening as the unusual characters which inhabits it's domain. We keep discovering, like Jan, new things regarding the characters that remain in Malpertuis, and what their true relation to him(..in a dream, faces of people that exist often derive from those you have contacted in real life). Harry Kümel's visual style is magnificent and his camera vividly captures the nuances of this remarkable habitat observing what Jan sees. Everything from the art direction(..every room produces a different kind of mood, and yields a startling color/atmosphere all it's own)to the editing(..the way Kümel is able to feature three Hampshires in one single room is awe-inspiring), everything's first-rate, developed with top-notch skill. Color me impressed because I hadn't ever heard of it's existence until just recently, and I'm thankful I had an opportunity to see it. I watched the director's cut, dubbed into French with English subtitles. Orson Welles, entirely in bed, commands the screen moving very little..it's simply amazing how much presence he had. Hampshire is positively divine, her beauty hypnotic at times. The twists at the end(..who these people are is revealed not once, but twice)really dazzle, but the pace slowly develops so many might grow impatient, but I couldn't wait to see what was gonna come next.
Having seen this film some years ago on television in a dark, dubbed and cut print, I had all but forgotten it. Yesterday I saw Kumel's restored cut in his own Flemish language, running 124 minutes, and my reaction was "brilliant". The picture was actually originally made in English, French, German and Dutch versions and then hacked to bits in the various markets. This film is a "must-see" for any serious film fan with its fabulous photography, stylish composition and surreal overtones - Magritte too was Belgian. It's more than a horror film as it has often been tagged, but a series of dreams or perhaps nightmares with all the illogic of dreams. I am fairly certain that Welles did his own Flemish dialog and that too makes it a must for the connoisseur.
My hopes were high for this film. I'd seen Kumel's Le Rouge aux
levres/Daughters of Darkness, the most stylish vampire/kinky sex movie
ever made, and I love its sly wit and arresting visuals. Malpertuis is
not as effective, alas, and I put that down to an overly-complicated
story weighed down by too many classical references taken from the
novel. Lampernisse, standing in for Prometheus, just doesn't work as a
character. Why introduce the Erinyes, the three women who punished
offenders against blood kin, when they don't advance the story? It's
not an easy thing to watch a movie with a handbook of classical
mythology by your side.
Having said this, I will add that it is wonderful to watch film that shows a great visual sophistication (crowd shots that evoke an Ensor painting, or that wonderful twisting staircase in the house) and never needs F/X. We have lost a great deal by the subservience to CGI today.
I saw an english spoken version with 110m informed on the video box, but really 95min in video band. I remember, a long time ago, I saw this film in cinema with more as 110m. A lot of scenes disapeared: The face from Alecta, two times that the antiquaire appears in the film. I remember it was another end too, or maybe I'm wrong? Was ever the last scene a close of Jan's eye? Where is a complete copy of this film? It's very sad this cutting of scenes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Malpertuis starts as a sailor named Jan (Mathieu Carriere) arrives at
his home port only to discover his old house has collapsed, he ends up
in a seedy bar where a fight breaks out & he is knocked unconscious.
When he comes round Jan finds himself being tended to by his sister
Nancy (Susan Hampshire) in his Uncle Quentin Cassavius' (Orson Welles)
imposing old house called Malpertuis, they are also joined by various
other family members & obscure relatives as Cassavius is not far from
death & he has ordered a reading of his will. The will states that his
immense fortune will be split equally but the inheritors can never
leave the grounds of Malpertuis ever again which sounds a bit harsh to
me but there you go, anyway it becomes apparent to Jan that all is not
right at Malpertuis & that it's hiding some bizarre secrets that Jan
finds himself in the center of...
This French, Belgium & German co-production was directed by Harry Kumel & didn't do much for me but that could be down to other factors besides the film at hand, you see apparently there's a long 2 hour odd version of Malpertuis & shorter cut down version & since the one I watched yesterday ran for less than 90 minutes I think it's safe to assume I'm missing out on a lot so maybe you should bear that in mind although what the extra footage is & whether it would have improved my viewing experience I don't know. The slightly slow going script by Jean Ferry was based on a novel by Jean Ray & has a certain loose strange bizarre quality to it, while it's an odd film for sure I have to say I always knew what was going on & it's not abstract or weird in that sense but weird in the sense of what's happening on screen. Who was the supposed killer? Is this answered in the longer version? Were little stitched together people really running around in the attic? Again, is this made clear in the longer version? I don't know which is why I feel awkward about either praising or rubbishing the film because I'm not quite sure where the version I saw stands, going by the 90 minute cut alone I thought it was OK & nothing more although I must admit I quite liked the twist 'come out of absolute nowhere' ending which I deify anyone to see coming...
Director Kumel does a good job & there are plenty of memorable scenes plus the film has a great atmosphere about it. The house itself is nice & imposing & there's some cool production design. I wouldn't call any of it particularly scary though, there's not much gore apart from a bit when an Eagle eats someone's guts & someone gets a nail through their head although it's off screen.
Technically Malpertuis is good, impressive even with decent production values. Since the film was made in Dutch & dubbed into English it's hard to tell about the acting although maybe Welles spoke English during filming & he stands head & shoulders above everyone else in the cast & puts in a memorable performance for the brief screen time he gets.
Malpertuis, also known as The Legend of Doom House, is an OK horror/mystery/thriller but I can't help but feel I wish I'd seen the long version because as it stands I think I'm missing out on a potentially better film. However the version I watched is the version I watched & that's all there is to it, as it stands it's a decent enough film but it didn't do much for me & I doubt I'll be in any hurry to see this 90 minute cut again anytime soon.
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