31 Days of Horror: The Mephisto Waltz

Four years ago, I started the tradition of watching a horror movie every day in October. Besides being the season for the scary, doing this also helps clear my backlog of “watchlist movies” on various streaming platforms. The only rules are that I have to watch 31 films by Halloween, they must be scary (or at least have scary or suspenseful themes), and they can’t be movies I’ve already seen.  This year I’m adding a fourth criteria to go along with the overall theme of this blog: the film must have been made in the 1960s or 1970s. I’m partial to horror movies from this period anyway, so why not indulge myself?

With the rules out of the way, let’s dive in with probably the only horror movie Alan Alda ever made: The Mephisto Waltz (1971).

Alda plays Myles Clarkson, a unexceptional music journalist who is somehow married to Jacqueline Bisset. When Myles interviews renowned pianist Duncan Ely, Ely becomes fixated on Myles’ wonderful hands, perfect for playing the piano. Ely quickly brings Myles and his wife Paula (Bisset) into his inner circle, which includes his daughter, Roxanne – who is probably more than just his daughter if you get my creepy drift.

Ely is dying from leukemia and has a strange collection of occult paraphernalia lying about in his chicken-wire protected cabinet up in his studio, along with some life masks made from various unnamed people by Roxanne. Before you can say “Freaky Friday,” it’s pretty clear that Ely plans on swapping bodies with Myles and continuing his music career in a sensitive Alan Alda form. Can Paula figure out what’s going on before she too becomes the victim of Satanic Black Magic in 1970s Los Angeles? And who the hell names their demonic hell hound “Robin”? Only one way to find out!

The Mephisto Waltz was clearly produced in the wake of Rosemary’s Baby to capitalize on the satanic cult film’s popularity. Alan Alda is at his full Alda-ness in this movie, so it’s somewhat disconcerting to see him parading his way through a horror film. And someone really needs to make a catalog of evil pianists in film. I’m thinking that’s a long list waiting to be drawn up.

Overall, it’s a mediocre film but, hoo boy, is it a ‘70s movie, complete with a fur rug in front of a beach house’s fireplace. All this gives is a solid two out of five skulls rating. Watch it for the dog in a William Shatner mask if for no other reason.

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