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Alan Alda plays a classical piano player on the rise who befriends a famous player himself who's at death's door. Unknown to Alda, the guy is a satanist, who arranges to have their souls switch places at his death, so that he can be young again and continue to play piano (thus needing a skilled piano player like Alda to switch bodies with). Written by
It is important in film-making not only create an impression but also to engender some sort of gut reaction from the audience, especially in horror films. We can judge a horror film in addition to its style, by its ability to actually frighten. THE MEPHISTO WALTZ does well on this count.
The film is about a couple who is coerced into the household of rich socialite-Satanists, led by Duncan Ely, who is played by Curt Jurgens, who is pretty good here. What follows is a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between the converted and unconverted to Ely's sect. It is pretty well-written and shot, with genuine suspense and a deceptively simple use of oblique angles and soft focus to create a nightmarish atmosphere. The problem with the film is that it is too long, and domestic sequences are not poignant enough to be interesting, despite the strange Alda performance.
However, there are scary sequences of fantasy vs. reality and terror-based ideas, such as Jaquelin Bisset's realization that her dreams are reality and the pure horror of the dog attack scene. Initially director Paul Wendkos's inserts seem too jarring, but in being jarring they make the action more threatening.
I didn't really like the title sequence because it gives away too many of the nice shots we should be surprised or thrilled by later in the film. One thing that definitely adds to the suspense of the film is Jerry Goldsmith's score: it rivals Herrman's PSYCHO score for violin-fueled, full-blooded accompaniment to a horror film.
Overall, despite some problems of character development and loose ends, THE MEPHISTO WALTZ is a frightening film, and a devious twist on a concept used in such other films as THE SEVENTH VICTIM and ROSEMARY'S BABY, this one is a distinctive experience in the bizarre. Some may not like the plot's convolution, but assuredly watch if you are a fan of horror films of any connotation.
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