The Mephisto Waltz (1971)
Reviewed on 2008 October 29
Genuinely creepy and underrated flick from the ’70s, extremely silly in some places but actually nice and unsettling in most. I’m glad they finally released the thing on DVD.
Myles Clarkson (Alan Alda, and while it’s weird to think of him in a horror movie, he pulls it off) is a music journalist with a beautiful wife named Paula (Jacqueline Bisset) and precocious daughter. His family life doesn’t take the sting from some bad reviews he received during his earlier career as a concert pianist, something underscored when he’s granted an interview with the legendary Duncan Ely (Curt Jurgens). Duncan is abrupt to the point of being quite rude to Myles, until he notices that Myles has the hands of a pianist. Suddenly, Duncan warms up to Myles, even introducing him to his lovely daughter Roxanne (Barbara Parkins).
Myles seems charmed with Duncan’s odd but high-living crew, but Paula is put off by them. She thinks they’re too friendly, much to her husband’s irritation. He says she’s just threatened by their success, but Paula knows there’s something wrong with these people, and her fears are only reinforced when they go to a New Year’s Eve party at the Ely mansion.
There’s plenty wrong with this movie — Myles and Paula both seem to react to Ely and company too quickly. While none of the acting is remarkable, one key bit is so wooden you can hear it creak. The party, disconcerting as it is, is dated. And yet, as a whole, it works, largely because it is so bizarre. Besides the funky set decorations (especially in the Ely house) and overall nasty atmosphere, the movie features the only mean Black Lab I’ve ever seen in my life. It sounds absurd, but he’s no stranger than anything else here. That’s what makes this movie such a guilty pleasure at Halloween — it’s empty calories story-wise, but it’s got style to burn. The scariest part of the whole movie happens when Bisset sees something we don’t, but we don’t need to. The look on her face is enough.
Three chocolate morsels.