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A Movie A Day: THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971)
Critics. Even when they’re right they are stupid.

Published at: Oct. 25, 2010, 5:37 p.m. CST

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Day: Halloween 2010 edition! [For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf or streamed via Netflix Instant and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.]

I seem to be on a run of middle of the road movies now. I know many of you have pointed out that there aren’t many A-list titles this AMAD and that’s true. The whole conceit of the column is that I watch something I’ve never seen before, the kernel idea being a way for me to expand my film education. So, being a horror fan (and one that has spent the last 13 years frequenting an establishment as horror friendly as The Alamo Drafthouse) I’ve unearthed much horror, especially the super fun horror of the ‘70s and ‘80s. There’s so much horror out there that there’s still some gems to be found, but also a lot of misfires to wade through as well. That’s exactly what I’m doing right now, searching for the gems… I’m just making you guys read about the misfires, too. The Mephisto Waltz isn’t exactly a misfire, it’s just a flawed film. The flick starts out great, it ends great, but the time in the middle llllassssttttsss fooooorrrreeevvvveeeerrrrrrrr. One thing the film gets just right is the cast. Our two leads are the very young Alan Alda and Jacqueline Bisset as a happily married couple. Having attempted being a concert pianist Alda is now resigned to being a music journalist. When a call from a famous reclusive pianist comes in, Alda jumps at the chance to interview him. This begins a friendship where the older Duncan Ely (Curt Jurgens) seems unusually interested in Alda and his family. Bisset is weirded out by the sudden interest and they smartly make her a little bit of a bitch at the beginning of the movie to mask her suspicion. I mean, she’s very sweet with her husband, but isn’t exactly supportive, taking a little more than playful jabs at him when he starts playing the piano again, prompted by his new rich and powerful friend. Normally that kind of behavior really alienates me from a character, but Bisset was not only forgiven-for-anything beautiful, but she shows just enough sweetness to make up for the sour. Plus I know in a movie called The Mephisto Waltz you can’t trust the old rich people because they probably worship Satan. And worship Satan they do.

The first glimpse at how fucked up this group really is happens during the New Year’s Eve party. You want to know what the first image we see of this party is? A dog with an eerily accurate and realistic human head mask walking around. This prompted a “Oh, fuck that!” from me. Be it Invasion of the Body Snatchers or A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, dogs with human faces can rot in hell, where they undoubtedly were conceived. This party also turns into a weird orgy. Bisset is horrified to see Old Man Ely making out with his also incredibly hot daughter, played by Barbara Perkins. You can probably guess what’s up… a famous pianist is old, sickly, worships the cloven-footed one and is grooming a young man who also has a lot of talent at the ol’ ivories. Guess what the big plan is? Did you guess that he wants to rip out Alda’s soul and inhabit his young body? Good, so did I. A nice thing about the movie is that the Satanists know what they’re doing and aren’t foiled at the last second. About halfway through Alda is taken over and it becomes more of a suspense film as we know that Bisset’s husband is really gone and she’s being intimate with the creepy old dude from the beginning of the movie. The brakes aren’t really put on until a secondary storyline involving a semi-affair Bisset has with the ex-husband of Barbara Perkins’ character that really only serves as a vehicle for delivering a bunch of Satanic cult exposition. It takes up way too much screen time and just falls flat. But the finale is great and goes into an area I didn’t expect. I won’t be a dick and spoil it, but it’s something I’ve always wondered why more movies don’t take advantage of as a story avenue. You’d never see an ending like this today in a studio horror film, not even close. Another memorable aspect to this film is Jerry Goldsmith’s score that I originally thought was too much upon first hearing the squealing, frantic strings, but grew to appreciate more and more as the film continued on. It’s creepy, it’s unpredictable… it’s not as hauntingly beautiful as his Poltergeist score, as immediately hummable as his Gremlins score, not as instantly iconic as his score for The Omen, but it’s a striking score that perfectly sets the tone of the movie. In fact it reminded me quite a bit of what Danny Elfman did in Sam Raimi’s THE GIFT, especially during that crazy vision scene where Elfman himself makes his cameo as the fiddle player. Final Thoughts: If the filmmakers could have cut 25 minutes out of the movie it’d be much better known. All the pieces are there, the whole is just a little too sloppy. But hey, you get dog with human head, incest, dead children, some really nice nightmare sequences, prime Jacqueline Bisset nudity and a fine finale, so it’s not all bad news. Currently in print on DVD: YES
Currently available on Netflix Instant: NO

Upcoming A Movie A Day Titles: Tuesday, October 26th: THE OMEN III: THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981)

Wednesday, October 27th: THE EVIL (1977)

Thursday, October 28th: THE DEVIL DOLL (1936)

Friday, October 29th: DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1981)

Saturday, October 30th: SCARECROWS (1988)

Sunday, October 31st: RAZORBACK (1984)

Keeping with the devil theme we dive in to Omen III: The Final Conflict tomorrow. I’m one of the few people who really digs Omen II and I have a man-crush on Sam Neill, so this can only be a win-win, right? -Quint quint@aintitcool.com Follow Me On Twitter



Previous AMAD 2010’s: - Raw Meat (1972)
- Ghost Story (1981)
- Two on a Guillotine (1965)
- Tentacles (1977)
- Bad Ronald (1974)
- The Entity (1983)
- Doctor X (1932)
- The Return of Doctor X (1939)
- The Tenant (1976)
- Man in the Attic (1953)
- New Year’s Evil (1980)
- Prophecy (1979)
- The Other (1972)
- The Mummy (1959)
- The Gorgon (1964)
- Mad Love (1935)
- Repulsion (1965)
- The Church (1989)
- The Black Cat (1981)
- The Black Cat (1934)
- The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
- Dolls (1987)
- The Silent Scream (1980)
- Scream of Fear (1961) Click here for the full 215 movie run of A Movie A Day!

Readers Talkback

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  • Oct. 25, 2010, 5:39 p.m. CST

    FIRST!

    by PinkFloyd7

  • Oct. 25, 2010, 5:43 p.m. CST

    Dark Night of the Scarecrow

    by PinkFloyd7

    I remember seeing DNOTS on TV when I was just a little kid. It seemed scary at the time. Probably sucks now, though.

  • Oct. 25, 2010, 5:50 p.m. CST

    Hehehehe

    by kungfuhustler84

    They even put the dog with the head on the poster!

  • Oct. 25, 2010, 5:52 p.m. CST

    I always wondered

    by macheesmo3

    about this movie..... It looked to me just as described. Interesting yet kinda lame as well... But heck with human dog heads and bissett boobs , how can I resist! :-)

  • Oct. 25, 2010, 6:52 p.m. CST

    Always thought this was the Joe Tynan flick

    by theBigE

    I saw this on the afternoon movie as a kid - only part of it, and it really scared me. I thought for some reason this was called The Seduction of Joe Tynan, but I guess that's a political movie.

  • Oct. 25, 2010, 7:16 p.m. CST

    Razorback!!

    by Admonisher

    You're in for a treat, Quint! :-) And thanks for spotlighting Goldsmith's creepy score.

  • Oct. 25, 2010, 7:23 p.m. CST

    saw this once

    by frank cotton

    can't remember anything but piano playing. watched EVIL ALIENS this afternoon - it will never be forgotten

  • Oct. 25, 2010, 7:33 p.m. CST

    VIDEO DEAD is fucking hilarious

    by Harry Weinstein

    n/t

  • Oct. 25, 2010, 8:18 p.m. CST

    I’m one of the few people who really digs Omen II and I

    by Noddy93

    are you retarded? these two movies are classics. the best part about 3 is the crucifix. how i'd love to have that in my house

  • Oct. 25, 2010, 9:08 p.m. CST

    Christopher Young scored THE GIFT

    by caruso_stalker217

    Not Elfman. <p>That scene was fucking weird, though.

  • Oct. 25, 2010, 9:08 p.m. CST

    Omen III sucks

    by judderman

    Really. Used to be Damien was an ambivalent character; part Devil spawn, part innocent kid. But now he's just evil. And I don't mean Hannibal Lecter evil, all sly charm and knowing winks; I mean "Muah hah hah, cower before me mortals!" evil. There is absolutely no attempt to make the character a convincing charismatic leader. He's just a blowhard prick from minute one.

  • Oct. 26, 2010, 10:50 a.m. CST

    Dark Night of the Scarecrow

    by Seven_of_Borgnine

    copy-paste PinkFloyd7's thoughts here... that goes ditto for me. Though sometimes those old scary movies surprise you by having actually aged well. Fingers Crossed!

  • Oct. 26, 2010, 11:44 a.m. CST

    actually this should be remade

    by ragingfluff

    haven't seen it in YEARS but remember it was decent; they should do a reboot (with Alda as the rich old guy this time)

  • Oct. 26, 2010, 11:48 a.m. CST

    another human head on a dog body - SJP in Mars Attacks

    by durhay

    yikes. Or would that be horse face on a human head on a dog body?

  • Oct. 26, 2010, 2:29 p.m. CST

    theBigE:Joe Tynan flick was a different film

    by MGTHEDJ

    "Seduction of Joe Tynan" was from 1979.<p>This was the only film Quinn Martin Productions released in theaters. It's a bit of an oddity, with established character actor Jurgen's on the downhill slide of his career, Bissett and Alda who were about to catch fire, and soap star and TV transplant Barbara Parkins on board because she would do nudity. I've always thought, in and interesting way, this film's party/orgy scenes really capture what was going on in Hollywood around 1969-1973. Only now, since 40 years have past, is the truth starting to be told. This was an interesting time. It was after the death of the studios with their control of private lives and insistance on diet-pill popping, but before cocaine arrived and cut a path of destruction. Lots of sex, alcohol, and hallucinogenics. It wouldn't be until Blake Edward's "S.O.B.", a script what was based on events that took place in 1969 while making "Darling Lily", that we saw this depiction of a truly decadent L.A.-----later-----m

  • Oct. 27, 2010, 9:56 a.m. CST

    VIDEO DEAD

    by MST3KPIMP

    never forget...

  • Oct. 27, 2010, 1:36 p.m. CST

    Jacqueline Bisset...

    by Boxcutter

    ...was one fine piece of woman. The Deep. The wet t-shirt. That porcelain English face. I rest my case.

  • Oct. 27, 2010, 2:11 p.m. CST

    But what about House on Skull Mountain?

    by 0007

    Since I love The Mephisto Waltz, I'll have to check out its double-feature partner when I finally purchase it on DVD.