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Belphégor - Le fantôme du Louvre (2001)

This is a spooky adventure rather than an all-out horror film, and is an attempt to provide a contemporary version of a major French genre franchise. Written by Arthur Bernède, creator of the masked avenger Judex, the novel Belphégor became a hit movie (directed by Henri Desfontaines) in 1927 and a French TV series in 1965 (star Juliette Greco has a cameo here, along with b&w flashback footage).

After a 1935 prologue involving the discovery of a mysterious mummy in Egypt and the Dracula-like deaths of the crew of a ship carrying the relic to France, the story picks up in the present day with the rediscovery of the mummy in the collection of the Louvre. A CGI spectre is unloosed from the mummy and flows into the electrical system, then possesses Lisa (Sophie Marceau), who lives across the road and is led by a cat through a newly-unearthed secret passage that gives access by night to the museum. Lisa, in an impressive Egyptian funerary robe and mask, glides under the glass pyramid of the Louvre and through the Egyptology section, appropriating amulets and terrifying guards – sometimes with fatal results. The museum's director (Jean-François Balmer) calls British Egyptologist Glenda Spencer (Julie Christie) to examine the mummy, whose original funeral seems to have been deliberately sabotaged to prevent him from reaching the afterlife, while veteran detective Verloc (Michel Serrault) investigates the phantom's rampages. Finally, with the aid of Lisa's electrician boyfriend (Frederic Diefenthal), the mummy's lost name is sleuthed out and his funeral completed, though this might not necessarily solve the Louvre's phantom problem.

Though it has strong visual ideas, with Lisa's presence highlighting many Egyptian and faux-Egyptian elements found around Paris landmarks, and a mostly engaging cast, this is a rather spottily-plotted effort, with far too many undigested ideas and laborious chunks of exposition. It also has a tendency to repeat its effects too many times – the snarling CGI spectre, which looks like something out of The Mummy (1999), and the gliding phantom Belphégor lose their eeriness through overuse. The setting slightly evokes The Relic, but director Jean-Paul Salome gets points for actually filming at least some of the action inside the real Louvre, which adds greatly to the expensive feel of the project. The excellent Marceau is rather underused in the lead, rarely making much of her possession, but veterans Serrault and Christie have a nice chemistry and are wryly charming as the 1960s-rooted investigators.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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