As a weary sailor named Jan (Matthieu CarriÃ¨re) sets foot on dry land, he is mysteriously abducted and awakens in the isolated mansion of Malpertuis. There, he is reunited with his sister Nancy (Susan Hampshire) and an eclectic group of distant relatives, each summoned by his dying uncle Quentin Cassavius (Orson Welles). Cassavius wishes to will all of his heirs an equal portion of his fortune. However, in return, each must honor his dying request: They are to remain within Malpertuis for the rest of their lives, the last couple to marry.
Trapped on the grounds of the sprawling mansion, Jan investigates as those who try to flee are dispatched in peculiar ways. Jan slowly spirals into madness as he realizes his uncle's true intent and the nightmare world of Malpertuis takes hold.
Based on the classic fantasy novel by Belgian author Jean Ray, Malpertuis was director Harry KÃ¼mel's follow up to the acclaimed Daughters of Darkness. Barrel Entertainment is proud to present KÃ¼mel's surrealist masterpiece in two distinct versions: The quickly-assembled English-language edit that premiered at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, and the newly restored Dutch-language director's cut--re-edited to 119 minutes as KÃ¼mel intended and presented here in a new high definition transfer.
Even for Europe in the high-baroque 1970s, Malpertuis
--also known as The Legend of Doom House
--is one strange cinematic beast. Flemish filmmaker Harry Kümel's primary-colored fever dream, heavy on the reds and blues, opens as young sailor Jan (the androgynous Mathieu Carrière) goes on leave. Time and place are not indicated, but the dialogue is in Dutch and the townspeople appear to have stepped out of a Breughel painting.
While searching for his boyhood home, Jan wanders into a crowded cabaret, where he's propositioned by the ravishing Bets (French vocalist Sylvie Vartan) before being accosted by the devious Dideloo (Michel Bouquet). When he awakes, Jan finds himself in Malpertuis, labyrinthine mansion of his Uncle Cassavius (a putty-nosed Orson Welles). Other lodgers include taxidermist Philaris (Charles Janssens) and resident madman Lampernist (Jean-Pierre Cassel). After reuniting with his sister, Nancy (Susan Hampshire, who plays four parts), Jan falls for Dideloo's secretive daughter, Euryale (Hampshire). Then Cassavius reads his will to the entire clan. It stipulates that all beneficiaries must remain at Malpertuis. The last one standing will inherit the estate. And with that, the bodies start dropping until Jan unlocks his uncle's secret.
Based on the horror-fantasy novel by Jean Ray, Malpertuis followed Kümel's "erotic nightmare of vampire lust" Daughters of Darkness. His adult fairytale represents the epitome of surrealist cinema--aided immeasurably by the atmospheric cinematography of The Go-Between's Gerry Fisher. Originally released in an edited English version, the director has restored the original language and length. This two-disc set includes both editions plus commentary, liner notes, an interview with the filmmaker, and featurettes on Hampshire, Ray, and Welles, who was "very disagreeable" on the set. Look sharp in the cabaret sequence for a cameo from Vartan's then-husband, Johnny Hallyday, as a sailor. --Kathleen C. Fennessy