Bizarre, lurid and baffling, "Malpertuis" virtually vanished after its premiere at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, where it was shown in a shortened English language version that was subsequently hacked down even further by insensitive distributors. Now the Belgian Royal Film Archive has worked with director Harry Kümel to produce a definitive, two-hour director's cut of this little-known curio. Sadly, this version is scarcely more coherent than the ones that preceded it.
Based on the novel by Belgian author Jean Ray, the film follows Jan (Carrière), a handsome young seaman, as he returns home to his family mansion of Malpertuis. There his dying Uncle Cassavius (Welles) is about to divide his estate between his heirs. But there's a catch: they will only inherit if they promise never to leave the house again.
Trapped in the mansion's endless labyrinth of corridors, staircases, and secret chambers, Jan stumbles upon a fantastical mystery involving Greek mythology, a mad taxidermist ("life isn't worth living without something to stuff!"), and a series of grisly murders. Then again, it could just be a dream which might explain why three of his relatives are all played by English rose Susan Hampshire.
"Nobody must know what is going on at Malpertuis!", someone thunders at one point, though he shouldn't have worried. It may be beautifully shot by Gerry Fisher and boast an excellent multinational cast, but Kümel's picture is quite unfathomable and never justifies the effort employed to try and figure it out. For Welles completists only.
In Flemish with English subtitles.