Written by: Michael Den Boer on June 13th, 2007
Theatrical Release Dates: Belgium, March 1973 / Cannes, May 1972
Director: Harry Kümel
Writer: Jean Ferry
Cast: Orson Welles, Susan Hampshire, Michel Bouquet, Charles Janssens, Mathieu Carrière, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Walter Rilla, Dora van der Groen, Daniel Pilon, Sylvie Vartan
Approximate running time: 119 Minutes (Director’s Cut) / 99 Minutes (Cannes Version)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85.1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Flemish, Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Barrel Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.95
Synopsis: Several relatives are summoned by a dying uncle named Quentin Cassavius (Orson Welles) to his isolated mansion of Malpertuis. Shortly after the in-laws arrival Uncle Cassavius lets them known that he willed them an equal portion’s of his fortune. Only there is one stipulation they must honor is final wish of remaining forever in Malpertuis and when the last two survivors remain they must marry.
After the success of Daughters of Darkness Belgium filmmaker Harry Kümel for his next project would once again return to the world of horror and the supernatural with his next film Malpertuis. The film would find its source and inspiration in the Jean Ray novel also titled Malpertuis. For the film the plot would be more simplified into one main narrative instead of the novel’s many separate narrators. Making the plot into one narrative is what makes the film work so well and it also flawlessly suits Harry Kümel’s directing style.
Malpertuis from the outset looked like a sure fire hit on paper and with the addition of legendary actor Orson Welles as the films lead Cassavius the film almost immediately gained credibility among the international film world. The addition of Welles would ultimately prove to be a double edge sword with his frequent attempts at changing the script or altering how a scene should be shot. To Welles Credit he would agree to work an addition a day for free to get the work he helped delay done and this time the production finally got to see the brilliant version of Welles he effortlessly and quickly knocked out dialog and scenes.
Visually Malpertuis is filled with beautifully composed shots and perfectly paced moments of building tension. Fans of Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness should thoroughly enjoy Malpertuis which visually resembles Daughters on many levels. I found the first half of the film where Welles character Cassavius gathers his heirs together and lets them known his final will and testimony to be slow at times. The final hour plus of the film after the death Cassavius is where things really begin to shine and get bizarre. The film from this moment is nearly flawless as each moment he build up to films unforgettable finale which reveals all the secrets of Malpertuis.
Acting wise the cast are all really good with the main stand outs being Orson Welles as Cassavius, Mathieu Carrière as Jan and Susan Hampshire in four roles Nancy/Euryale/Alice/Nurse. Welles has his moments with most of his performance feeling like a standard Welles for hire acting job. The real star of the film is without a doubt actress Susan Hampshire who steals virtually every moment she is in. Ultimately Malpertuis is an extraordinary film that has been neglected for far too long. After year s of wilting away in obscurity hopefully fans of horror/supernatural films will finally discover Malpertuis and succumb to all of its devilish charms.
Barrel Entertainment presents both versions of Malpertuis the director’s cut and Cannes in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original aspect ratio. The transfers for both versions included both look very good with some very minor instances of print damage. Colors and flesh tones look accurate and faithfully reproduced. Overall the image remains stable and looks spectacular.
The director’s cut comes with only one audio option the films original Flemish audio mix which is presented in a Dolby Digital mono. The Cannes version comes with one audio option English and it is presented in a Dolby Digital mono. Outside of some minor hiss both audio mixes are more then satisfactory as dialog is clear and music and effects sound evenly balanced. Kudos’s for including an English dub of the film since it includes Orson Welles voice and not someone else overdubbing him. Removable English subtitles that are easy to read and follow have been included.
Extras for this release are spread over two discs. Extras in disc one consist of a twelve minute interview with actress Susan Hampshire who discusses the three roles she plays in the film. Other extras include a twenty six minute documentary titled “Orson Welles Uncut” in which cast, crew and Harry Kümel discuss working with Orson Welles on the set. Rounding out the extras is an audio commentary in English with director Harry Kümel and it is moderated by Françoise Levie.
Extras on disc two include an English language trailer and a seven minute segment about the author of the novel that Malpertuis is based on titled “Jean Ray – John Flanders”. Rounding out the extras is an excellent seventy four minute documentary titled “Reflection of Darkness: Del Valle on Kümel”. This documentary covers every area of Harry Kümel career as a filmmaker and it explores several of his influences. The bulk of the discussion is spent talking about Daughters of Darkness and Malpertuis.
Barrel Entertainment ports over all the essential extras include on the Belgian Royal Filmarchive region 2 DVD for Malpertuis. Barrel also adds to the mix the superb seventy four minute Harry Kümel documentary.
Also included with this release is a sixteen page booklet which includes essays by David Del Valle and Ernest Mathijs. This booklet comes with many stills and a page with lobby cards for Malpertuis.
For those cult movie fans in region 1 who have yet to take the plunge into the vast world of region free DVD players they now have a chance to own Harry Kümel’s Malpertuis via Barrel Entertainments fully loaded DVD release of the film which includes everything the region 2 DVD release had and more, highly recommended.