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The Mephisto Waltz

The Mephisto Waltz(1971)

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Music journalist Myles Clarkson, who lives in the Hollywood Hills with his sexually frustrated wife Paula and nine-year-old daughter Abby, is thrilled to receive a call from famous pianist Duncan Ely, inviting him to interview him. At Duncan's mansion, Myles fumbles with his tape recorder, prompting Duncan to comment on how perfect his hands are. Myles admits that he studied at Juilliard but, after receiving disappointing reviews for his first concert, gave up his dream of playing professionally and turned to writing. Duncan then summons his daughter, Roxanne DeLancey, and instructs her to look at Myles's "Rachmaninoff hands." The sultry Roxanne immediately captures Myles's attention, and later, when Myles and Paula attend a dinner party given by Duncan, Paula is perturbed by Roxanne and Myles's intimacy. Myles joins Duncan at the piano for a duet, and although Myles is pleased by his performance, Paula reminds him that he could be a great writer if he concentrated on his work. Buoyed by Duncan's praise, Myles dismisses Paula's concerns. As they are leaving, Paula and Myles are startled by Duncan's black Labrador, Robin, who growls ferociously at Paula. Later, on the day that Paula and her best friend, Maggie West, open their new boutique, they are discouraged by the poor sales. As they are about to close, however, Duncan and Roxanne arrive with a group of friends and make huge purchases. Paula is suspicious of Duncan's motives and horrified when Maggie recalls that years earlier, Duncan's wife was killed by a dog. Later, Paula complains to Myles about Duncan being overly attentive to them and states that she does not want to go to his New Year's Eve party. Myles, laughing at her jealousy of Roxanne, insists on attending, and on New Year's Eve, Paula finds herself wandering around the mansion, staring at the guests dressed in elaborate animal masks. When she witnesses Duncan and Roxanne exchange a passionate kiss, Paula flees the room in disgust and enters Duncan's study. Several extremely realistic life masks adorn the walls, including ones of Duncan and Roxanne. Paula is also intrigued by a leather-bound book, titled Book of Calles , and an elaborate decanter holding a blue oil. Paula is menaced by Robin but rescued by Roxanne, who asks provocatively if Paula would mind if Roxanne, a would-be artist, makes a life mask of Myles. Paula curtly agrees and later, Roxanne makes a mask of Myles at the mansion. While he is waiting for the plaster to dry, Myles hears Duncan enter and complain about his ill health. When Myles returns home late, Paula upbraids him for spending too much time with the odd father and daughter. Myles retorts that Duncan is dying of leukemia, and despairs that the great pianist will never give another concert. Later, after Myles donates blood for a transfusion for Duncan, Roxanne drugs him to make him sleep, then prepares a draught for Duncan containing Myles's blood. As Duncan lies dying, he reads from the Book of Calles and Roxanne, who has anointed Myles's forehead with a drop of the blue oil, places the life mask of Myles over Duncan's face. Upon awakening, Myles gazes with pleasure at his hand then stumbles home, where he tells Paula of Duncan's death. Paula is astonished by Myles's sudden and voracious lovemaking, and later, at Duncan's funeral, by Myles's defense of the odd rituals performed by Roxanne and her friends. Soon after, when Duncan's will is read, Myles is bequeathed one of Duncan's Steinway pianos as well as the unexpected sum of $100,000. Myles and Paula celebrate their new wealth with a trip to Mexico, where Paula is thrilled by Myles's sexual prowess. Upon her return home, Paula is upset to discover that Roxanne has given Robin to Abby, but Myles insists that the child be allowed to keep the dog. One afternoon, Paula comes to the mansion, where Myles is rehearsing, and is amazed to hear him playing Franz Liszt's "The Mephisto Waltz," a complicated piece that was one of Duncan's favorites. Paula confronts Myles about his sudden proficiency but he attributes it to the faith that Duncan had in him, as well as his lengthy practice sessions. That night, Paula has a nightmare in which Duncan, muttering that he does not want to hurt Abby but must fulfill the "bargain," puts a drop of blue oil on Abby's forehead. Terrified, Paula awakes to find that Abby has had a similar nightmare and is running a high fever. Paula's fear increases when she discovers a blue dot on Abby's forehead. The Clarksons rush their daughter to the hospital where she is treated by Maggie's physician husband Roger, but Abby soon dies. The hysterical Paula tries to explain to Myles her fear that Duncan somehow killed their daughter, and also her worry about how much he has changed since Duncan's death. Myles urges her to calm down but soon after, Paula investigates the death of Duncan's wife and is aghast to learn that the Swiss peasants who discovered her body lynched the dog accused of attacking her, although the crime was inexplicable. As she becomes more convinced that Duncan, Roxanne and their friends are Satanists, Paula seeks out Roxanne's ex-husband, Bill DeLancey, for help. Bill at first rebuffs Paula, although he does admit that Duncan and Roxanne consider themselves Satanists, but later, after Myles performs at what would have been Duncan's next concert, Bill agrees to help Paula. Bill takes Paula to his beach house and there reveals that on the day Roxanne's mother was murdered, Roxanne had a miscarriage. Bill believes that the fetus, which was horribly misshapen, was fathered by Duncan, and asserts that their belief in Satanism was an excuse for them to behave immorally. Despite his fury, Bill reveals to Paula the rumor that once an ordinary person has had sex with "one of them"┬┐a Satanist┬┐"nothing else will quite satisfy you." The next morning, Paula awakens and discovers that Bill has fallen to his death off a steep hillside. When she rushes to help him, she finds a dot of blue oil on his forehead. Although Paula tells the police that Myles, whom she now believes has been taken over by Duncan's spirit, is responsible for Bill's death, they caustically reply that it would be impossible, as Myles is on a concert tour. When she returns home, however, Paula learns that Myles had stopped there during the night and therefore could have been responsible for the murder. The exhausted Paula then falls asleep and dreams that Roxanne and Myles enter her room, anoint her forehead with the blue liquid and then engage in a torrid embrace, with Duncan's face revealed under Myles's. Upon awakening, the disoriented Paula finds a dot on her forehead and rushes to the mansion, where she steals the book and decanter, but is forced to kill the attacking Robin in the process. As she drives home, Paula crashes her car and when she revives in the hospital, Roger informs her that she has had a minor stroke. A few weeks later, Paula tells Maggie that Myles and Roxanne were responsible for her near-fatal accident, but the pragmatic Maggie asserts that all they have done is commit adultery. Although Maggie urges Paula to divorce Myles, Paula plaintively states that she still wants him, "whoever he is." After Maggie leaves, Paula draws a pentagram on the floor and begins reading from the Book of Calles . When she summons a shadowy figure whom she calls "master," Paula offers to bargain with him. Later, Paula confronts Roxanne at the mansion and after knocking her unconscious, draws a syringe of her blood and steals her life mask. Soon after, Maggie comes to the Clarksons' house and discovers that Paula has committed suicide. Hoping to protect her friend's reputation, Maggie removes the life mask of Roxanne that Paula had placed over her face before dying. After Myles is notified of Paula's death, he rushes to tell Roxanne the good news and as they begin to make love, he is startled to find her wearing Shalimar, the perfume always worn by Paula.