Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Malpertuis (1971)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Malpertuis (1971, Belgium) (aka The Legend of Doom House)

In Belgian director Harry Kümel's dramatic, fantasy Euro-horror, arthouse film - a unique, atmospheric and unpredictable masterpiece with a bizarre, moody, eerie, mythical and macabre story (with numerous plot twists) about a haunted and 'damned' house:

  • the striking opening title credits, disintegrating into dripping, blood-red letters (see left)
  • the opening scene of blonde-haired, blue-eyed young sailor Jan (Mathieu Carrière) and his arrival at his home port - where he vainly went looking for his Beacon Quay childhood home (it had disappeared and was replaced by a fishing shop); he followed a woman he thought was his sister - she was actually Bets (French pop singer Sylvie Vartan), a sultry, blue velvet-dressed cabaret singer and working girl in the Venus Bar, a gaudy bordello in the town's red-light district, where he was bloodily beaten in the head during a brawl with Sylvie's pimp and left unconscious
  • after a dissolve and spinning, blurred camera, he found himself shanghaied; he awoke (virtually imprisoned) in a nautical-themed bedroom (of his own imagination?) at the home of his sinister family - the title's mystifying and ominous grand, labyrinthine home known as Malpertuis (translated 'fox's den,' 'cunning house,' or 'evil house'); it was inhabited by a number of off-beat, insane and strange relatives and hangers-on (awaiting an inheritance), and surrounded by misty grounds with decaying ruins and bare trees
  • the first views of corpulent, bed-ridden family patriarch, Jan's strange uncle Quentin Cassavius (Orson Welles), living in an enclosed upstairs suite; always ravenous and pounding on the floor for cowering servants to bring him food: ("He's hungry again! He wants more to eat...So close to death and all he thinks about is food. He stuffs himself Iike a pig, but he won't live any longer. No one is immortal, not even the great Cassavius"); the dying Cassavius was lying back on his enormous, crimson-hued bed framed by curtains, reclining in tuxedo-like pajamas on silk bedsheets
  • the five roles (three were multi-faceted) of Susan Hampshire (in various disguises) - (1) Jan's sweet, reassuring and naive older sister Nancy, (2) beautiful and mysterious redhead Euryale with often downcast eyes, and (3) passionately promiscuous, black-garbed spinster and temptress Alice; the actress' fourth and fifth brief roles were as a nurse, and as Jan's present-day wife Charlotte
The Many Character Roles of Susan Hampshire
Jan's Pure Sister
Redhead Euryale
Temptress Alice (or Alecto)
One of the 3 Furies
  • the deathbed scene of Uncle Cassavius divulging the conditions of his last will and testament that were read by Eisengott (Walter Rilla) to the group of depraved misfits gathered around - it was specified that all would acquire his vast wealth and inheritance equally - but only if they remained in Malpertuis for the rest of their lives (literally entrapped and kept prisoner), and the last two (if male and female) were required to marry: ("Each beneficiary will receive an annual income in proportion to the total estate. However, from that moment on, each beneficiary shall remain at Malpertuis. They may never leave the house. They shall undertake to live here until the end...Everything at Malpertuis must remain unchanged. The entire estate shall go to the last survivor. If the last two survivors are a man and a woman, they have to marry. They then inherit Malpertuis and all that goes with it")
  • strange circumstances: after Cassavius' tomb was opened by Jan, his corpse had transformed into a stone statue; and it was rumored that Cassavius had wanted to create a "master race" of blonde haired, blue eyed people: ("He talked about a master race...Yes, a new golden age. Blonde hair, blue eyes, whatever") - he had become the bullying, controlling, and powerful ruler of his own circumscribed world
  • the scene of Alice's naked (body-double) seduction of Jan in a locked, dark blue-draped room, matching the blue of Sylvie's and Nancy's dresses; she approached him with the inviting words: "I'm a woman. I want you to love me"
  • the plot revelation in the devastating climactic, plot-twisting ending of the other-worldly secrets of Malpertuis - during Cassavius' voyages to the Greek isles, he had found that the inhabitants were previously-abandoned and forgotten ancient Greek gods; Cassavius imprisoned and captured the ghosts of these gods, returned to Malpertuis, and had their spirits sewn by taxidermist Philaris (Charles Janssens) into the skins of normal men and women; they were condemned to live out their eternal lives in this restricted form - Cassavius' last wish was for them to mate and produce a new race of demi-gods; he was hoping that eventually, one of his mortal descendents (nephew Jan or niece Nancy) would have a child after sex with one of the Greek gods, in order to create a new age for mankind
  • the secrets of Malpertuis were described by Euryale in her own words: ("The last gods of Greece. Cassavius discovered us on an island in the Ionian Sea. There were only a few gods left. The rest had disappeared, because people no longer believed in them. Cassavius abducted those defenseless ghosts and brought them to Malpertuis. The monster instructed his sIave Philaris to sew that once proud company into miserable human skins")
Euryale Removing the Human
Skin of Malpertuis' Inhabitants
A 'Last Supper" Set-Up
  • in the striking conclusion, the outer human skin (or masks) of Malpertuis' inhabitants were ripped off to reveal the underlying features of marble statuary; to save Jan, Euryale had frozen or petrified them in an artfully-arranged "Last Supper" styled setup
  • Euryale's revelation that she was one of the three Gorgons, who claimed she was immortal and unchanging because she hadn't been forgotten like the others: ("Cassavius didn't dare change anything about me. All the others perished because they were forgotten. I alone have never been forgotten. I'm immortal. My name is Gorgon. I am Love, I am Death. Jan, you force me to be your destiny. Bitter is the fruit of knowledge") - she reached out to Jan for a fatal embrace, looked directly up at him with wide eyes after kissing him - and turned him to marble!
  • the coda (in the present day) and the posing of the film's major question - was everything in Jan's disturbed and fevered mind the result of his blow to the head?; as he was discharged from a mental hospital, he was congratulated by his doctor for writing such an imaginative diary during therapy: ("You have a fertile imagination. The idea of abducting the last Greek gods while they're waiting to die, to humiliate them and make them live the lives of the petit bourgeois - that's a bit strange for a computer expert. The insanity probabIy messed around with memories from when you were young")
Leaving the Hospital and Returning to a Hallway in Malpertuis
  • the film's Wizard of Oz-like ending (similar to when Dorothy awakened from dream land and found all of her fantasy's characters surrounding her as earthly companions); Jan (wearing a dark gray suit) was escorted down the white-walled clinic corridors by his overjoyed wife Charlotte (also Susan Hampshire); he recognized other medical officers, visitors and patients who watched his departure; in the film's final lines of dialogue, Charlotte spoke: "How are you, darIing?" Jan answered: "I'm compIeteIy cured, darIing"
  • a second strange plot twist - after he kissed Charlotte, he turned and the exit doors closed behind him; he found himself back in one maze-like corridor of Malpertuis with brick walls lit by flaming torches; he gazed toward his normal sailor persona who walked hurriedly towards him; the film ended with a zoom-in and freeze-framed close-up of sailor Jan's left eye

Cabaret Singer/Prostitute Bets (Sylvie Vartan)

Jan Awakening From Unconsciousness in Malpertuis After Bloody Beating

Bed-Ridden, Dying Family Patriarch Quentin Cassavius - Jan's Occultist Uncle

The Reading of Cassavius' Will at His Deathbed

Cassavius' Corpse - Turned to Stone

Alice's Naked Seduction of Jan

Euryale's Revelation to Jan That She Was Unchanging and Immortal ("My name is Gorgon")

Euryale Turning Jan to Stone

Released From the Hospital, with Wife Charlotte in Present Day


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