Silent Film Series: Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre [1927]

Hello again, darlings! Ya miss me? LOLyeahright.

Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre is an interesting gem which combines psychological thriller and mind-hump that just happens to possess one of the most strangest and off-putting endings in the history of cinema. While not a violent film it is filled with an unimaginably tense, almost supernatural atmosphere despite the fact the story is incredibly straight forward. The general plot is as as follows: 

An extensive collection of artifacts from an archaeological dig in Egypt are brought to the Louvre in Paris in order to be analysed and put on display. As a number of experts use laser scanning to ascertain the age of a mysterious sarcophagus, an entity escapes from the confines and makes its way into the museum's security system. That's it. Meat, potatoes and gravy sim-sim-simple.

Before we continue, allow me to drop this truth bomb on you- it's not actually a ghost, but rather a scoff-law dressed as a phantom. I know, incredibly Scooby-Doo. But it's one thing to simply read about a plot, it is quite another to see it unfold in front of your very eyes and done in such a way that it makes you question if what you are actually seeing is happening or all in the minds of the characters involved. By the way, I feel I should add that the name of Belphegor isn't just an Austrian death metal band, but in demonology he reigns as one of the Seven Princes of Hell known primarily as the Lord of the Gap. 

Sitting on the W.C., huzzah!

Belphegor is chronicled to assist humans in making incredible discoveries but alternatively seduces them into making ingenious inventions based on these finds in order to make them rich which in turn renders the discovery a mere monetary commodity. He essentially preys upon the notion of greed and encourage humans to trivialize the things that truly matter most in life. For you math-heads out there, his palindromic prime number is 1000000000000066600000000000001 which is in some cases known as Belphegor's Prime as well as the fairly obvious fact '666' is in the middle. Demonic calculations, and who says mathematics isn't fun?

Ahem. Anyway.

While the plot line and general character set is charming however ultimately non-pumpkin latte basic, what enables Belphegor to deliver that one-two punch is the cinematic techniques involved, namely when Belly-Boo works it's will upon the understandably confused and freaked out workers and visitors to the museum. To begin with, Belphegor is stealthier than Sam Fisher in a candy shop, using the shadows to his advantage and preying upon the paranoia of his pursuers, but halfway through the film, the game changes dramatically when the specter reveals himself up close and personal. This is not precisely a sheet over the head type of deal, and as I said, when he is unmasked it's something quite unexpected, but what you finally see in detail through the eyes of a hapless police officer, this is your first good look at him;

Oh, but it doesn't end there. You see, Belly-Boo has managed to get his mitts on a lovely switchblade as well as some gas that he lets loose on a hapless police officer who is unlucky to come his way. What follows is something equivalent to a nightmare crossed with an uncomfortable as watching your own birth type of LSD trip. The scene begins to make the images contort, elongate, expand, darken and illuminate, shift in and out of focus. The way I view this scene is the equivalent of falling to a seizure, and in saying that, what is more frightening than losing one's physical and mental facilities? Although the plethora of techniques that were new for the time are jarring by today's standards, there is no disputing this is one of the early versions of cinematic trickery being used in the way it should- to mess with and manipulate the audience. It is an ambitious move and one of the earliest examples of giving the viewer the opportunity to vicariously trip balls. 

Everything said and done, although Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre does not sit comfortably at the same dining table as some of the silent cinema elite we have previously looked at at here on W.I.G.S there is no disputing respect is due to this interesting gem of a movie. With confounding and vaguely disturbing ending to boot and the audacity to play with the viewer's notions of what is and what is not happening on screen, this is a lovely little treasure that bears digging up. Just don't blame me for anything you may find to be nightmare-fuel. 

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  1. how did you view this film?
    i cannot find a dvd copy or link anywhere