Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 2 - THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971)

- Rated R for disturbing images, some sensuality and nudity.
- Starring Jacqueline Bisset, Alan Alda, Barbara Parking, Curt Jurgens
- Written by Ben Maddow (Based on a novel by Fred Mustard Stewart)
- Directed by Paul Wendkos
- Running time: 1hr 47min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!)

This supernatural thriller stars Alan Alda as Myles Clarkson, a failed musician turned journalist.  He gets a rare opportunity to interview Duncan Ely (Jurgens), an infamous composer.  During the interview, Myles learns that Ely is dying of Cancer.  The two end up becoming close, which seems to do well for the journalist's career.  But after awhile, Myles' wife thinks there is something weird going on, especially when she witnesses Ely making out with his grown daughter at a New Year's eve party.  Ely is actually a Satanist who wants to take over Myles' body when he passes on.  Once this happens, Myles becomes an outstanding piano player and his wife becomes more suspicious of him.

It's no secret that horror is my least favorite genre.  More often than not, I find horror films more stupid than scary.  This one wants very much to be like Roman Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY.  Many genre fans consider that a classic, and while I'm not quite there, it's a good piece of eerie filmmaking.  The first major problem with this movie is that it tries... SO HARD to capture the cinematic tone of ROSEMARY'S BABY.  To the point where it becomes gratuitous and irritating.  But hey, I'm just getting started.

The first half hour is so boring.  Nothing freakin' happens.  We're introduced to boring self-involved characters that I couldn't give two shits about, the direction is overly stylish as to compensate for the lack of what's happening in the story, and the acting is pretty bad (with the exception of Jurgens).  Who in the blue fuck thought that Alan Alda was right for this part?  I know that he wasn't playing Hawkeye yet, but I can't help but see that sarcastic character every time he opened his mouth.  And in a horror film, that's not good.  Bisset plays his wife and is painfully dull.  Not any better is Barbara Parking as Ely's daughter/lover. 

The screenplay should be read by film students to know how NOT to write a script.  The characters are boring, nothing interesting happens at all, and a child is used merely as a plot device, which is a primal sin.  In fact, both parents couldn't seem to care less about whether their kid lives or dies. I hate that in movies.  It's like the writers want to make the characters more likable so they add a kid for them, but then don't even bother to show a bond between them.  Lazy ass writing. Also, the whole cult thing?  That's not explained very well.  I didn't really understand the motivations of anyone in this, especially Myles' wife at the end.  It's a train wreck of a script.

Director Paul Wendkos tries so hard to make it visually interesting, but ripping off Polanski just shows how untalented he is.  There's many tunnel vision, soft focus shots with lots of fog.  He is using a style that he himself doesn't seem to understand.  The film's only saving grace is Jerry Goldsmith's fantastic, loud, and genuinely scary score.  Definitely more scary than anything on the screen. 

The film slowly makes it's way through it's 107 minutes as it gets to it's wholly unsatisfactory ending.  I may have seen movies that were worse, but at least they were entertaining one way or another.  This is worse than being bad, it's BORING!  So boring that I was looking at my watch every 20 seconds, hoping that this dreadfully dull experience would end.  THE MEPHISTO WALTZ: It will frighten you... with boredom!

1/2 (out of ****)

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