A fresh-faced blond sailor (Carrière) is shanghaied from a '20s port full of sleazy bars and art-nouveau mansions, and held captive in the endless corridors of a crumbling Gothic pile called Malpertuis: we don't discover why until the end, in a denouement as outrageous and devastating as any ever filmed. Kümel elaborates the mystery like a master, drawing much of his design and composition from Surrealist painting (Magritte, de Chirico), and weaving serpentine patterns from the intrigues between the many characters. Welles is at his most mountainous as the house's patriarch; Hampshire is a revelation, playing three contrasted women. This English-dialogue version is better than the French and Flemish originals (which run 22 minutes longer). From the novel by Jean Ray.
Cast and crew