The Mephisto Waltz: 1971 satanic shocker now on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber
Release Date: April 18
“Oh, by the way, someone smashed one of the headlights. You shouldn’t leave the Rolls out there in plain view. This neighborhood is full of rich teenaged bastards.”
Alan Alda as a concert pianist possessed by a Satanist? It happened in the 1971 cult horror film The Mephisto Waltz, which Kino Lorber has just issued on a terrific new Blu-ray that is a must-have for lovers of ’70s “Satanic Panic” movies like The Devil’s Rain or The Brotherhood of Satan.
The affable Alda (M*A*S*H, Crimes and Misdemeanors) stars as Myles, a music journalist who at one time was a Juilliard piano prodigy who gave it all up after some scathing early reviews. An older, world-renowned piano virtuoso name Duncan Ely (Curd Jürgens, later the baddie in The Spy Who Loved Me) takes a shine to Myles during an interview, particularly taken with his extraordinary hands. He brings the younger man under his wing, introducing him to his coterie of influential high society friends.
Slowly Myles begins to become a different person, much to the chagrin of his wife Paula (the stunning Jacqueline Bisset of Murder on the Orient Express and The Deep), who feels both alienated by Myles and jealous of Duncan’s own attractive daughter Roxanne (Barbara Parkins of Valley of the Dolls and Asylum). After Duncan dies from leukemia, Roxanne uses a black magic ritual to transmit Duncan’s being into Myles’ body, and that’s when the real twisted stuff starts to happen.
Paula quickly gets swept up in a wave of paranoia, believing her husband to now be a totally different person yet still turned on by the fact that he’s now become a rich and famous pianist. She eventually enlists the aid of Roxanne’s ex husband (Bradford Dillman from Moon of the Wolf and Chosen Survivors) to try to get to the bottom of the occult business that’s ripping her husband away from her.
TV vet Paul Wendkos (The Legend of Lizzie Borden, Good Against Evil) directed The Mephisto Waltz as the only theatrically-released film from prolific television producer Quinn Martin (The Fugitive, The Invaders, Streets of San Francisco), and it shows in that almost every beat of the story and the way it’s shot reeks of TV Movie of the Week-ness. As a bonafide ’70s TV movie freak, this is not a bad thing at all, but do not expect anything particularly groundbreaking cinematically. What you do get is a very smart script by Ben Maddow (The Asphalt Jungle) that lends credibility to the intellectual characters while ratcheting up the tension nicely with surreal interludes.
The one major criticism is the way a major death mid-way through the picture seemingly has little emotional effect on Paula or any of the other characters. The death contributes to Paula’s mental illness, but there’s very little in Bisset’s performance to tip us off as to the magnitude of it. As for Alda, the typically “nice-guy” actor relishes the chance to play a bad boy, and the undercurrents of mysticism, sex and incest add a creepy vibe to the proceedings.
The transfer is a typically solid one from Kino, with a minimal amount of grain and only a few minor color flaws throughout, as to be expected from a film this old.
They have included not one but TWO audio commentaries, one from film historian Bill Cooke, the other with actress Pamelyn Ferdin, who played Bisset’s daughter Abby in the movie. She later went on to star in the 1978 cult horror pic The Toolbox Murders, as well as doing voice work for animated fare like Charlotte’s Web and The Rescuers. This second commentary is moderated by Elijah Drenner, director of the 2010 documentary American Grindhouse as well as 2014’s wonderful That Guy Dick Miller.
Kino has also included the theatrical trailer for The Mephisto Waltz as well as 1974’s Deranged, 1976’s Burnt Offerings and 1978’s Jennifer.