Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.
Month of Horror: World Edition
10/11/2015 – Belgium: Malpertuis (1975)
Directed by Harry Kümel
Belgium a country once known in film for giving us “The Muscle from Brussels” Jean Claude Van Damme, like many of the other cinemas I’ve looked at so far, finally began to make a filmmaking presence starting in the 90’s and 00’s thanks to the Dardenne Brothers and films such as Man Bites Dog, JCVD (starring the above), A Town Called Panic, The Broken Circle Breakdown, and Bullhead. As far as horror is concerned, they have been turning out films since the 70’s although by most accounts they are not very good with Vase de Noces being perhaps the most famous (and no I am not watching that anytime soon). Hidden amongst them though is a rare foreign language film “starring” Orson Welles (a fairly minor but important role and very obviously dubbed) and directed by a man responsible for perhaps the two best received Belgian horror movies (this and Daughters of Darkness).
Malpertuis is full of strange and eccentric characters with the titular house being perhaps the strangest of them all with its labyrinthine interiors and seemingly endless stairs which make for some rather impressive imagery. Welles hams it up as befitting a mysterious dying patriarch though his presence is far too short lived and the film really could have used his distinctive voice. The lead (Belgian David Bowie) has this odd presence to him that is difficult to pin down as he moves so unnaturally through the world and maintains a relationship between with his sister that feels a bit, how do you say, incestuous. The rest of the cast, while just about equally crazy, has a wide spread in intrigue with the most notable being the taxidermist (the only mostly sane taxidermist I can think of is Randy Mann from Pushing Daisies) and my favorite the man who lives under the stairs and is paranoid of darkness consuming the house and taking out his solitary light which he so devoutly protects, a candle.
The film itself though is a disjointed mess for better or worse. All the plot threads don’t really lead to anything and the characters are all just a little too mad at the outset for their descent to really mean anything. The end is just a series of nonsensical twists that I guess are supposed to mean something, but hell if I know what that is. I guess I should admire the increasing randomness of each twist, but it is harder to care about each one as it happens and eventually I just gave up even bothering. They feel less like a natural extent of one man’s fraying mind, and more like Kümel just had no clue how to end the movie so just tacked on all the proposed hacky twists one after the other. I would say that these endings ruined the movie for me, but it was already well on its way to losing me before then. There is a lot to like when it comes down to individual scenes, but as a whole it is an unsatisfying failure.
Up Next: Tiago Guedes and Frederico Serra’s Coisa Ruim (or Bad Blood as its called on my DVD or Blood Curse as it is called on IMDB) representing Portugal.