tue 26/03/2019

DVD: Schalcken the Painter | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Schalcken the Painter

DVD: Schalcken the Painter

A much sought after BBC horror tale matches its sinister reputation

Spectre at the feast: Schalcken (Jeremy Clyde), Dou (Maurice Denham) and Rose (Cheryl Kennedy) have an unwelcome dinner guest

Schalcken the Painter looks like a documentary shot inside a Dutch Golden Age painting, out of whose black depths the Devil one day materialises. Taking the truly ghastly guise of the invincibly wealthy merchant Vanderhausen (John Justin), he buys Rose (Cheryl Kennedy) for his wife from the great Dutch painter Dou (Maurice Denham). Dou’s pupil Schalcken (Jeremy Clyde), though thinking himself in love with Rose, does nothing to save her, and as the years pass, ambition for his painting career (destined to be minor) and brothel visits replace his callow feelings for the girl. But neither she nor the Devil are quite done with him.

Leslie Megahey’s 1979 adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1839 horror story spun from the lives of real painters is a long sought-after gem in the BFI’s Flipside series. Made for the BBC’s great arts documentary series Omnibus, Megahey used his position as its editor to stretch its remit to brilliant breaking point.

Schalcken was shown at Christmas, replacing the BBC’s seasonal tradition of MR James ghost stories. This tale is more explicit and more mysterious than those. Light flickers from candles and through stained glass in the almost silent world of Dou’s studio. There’s a raw and luminous realism drawn from the period’s paintings, which makes Vanderhausen’s apparition – the camera swings back to a place where no one stood, and there he is – more dreadful. Megahey chose Justin for his ruined matinee idol looks: this Devil, or maybe Death, has awful charisma.

A point is being made about Dutch materialism, and its part in their art. But the erotic and violent currents flowing around the vivid woman Rose’s enslavement cast their own fervent spell, in a tremendous film otherwise depicting enervated stillness, and time’s implacable march on our hopes.

Raw and luminous realism drawn from the period’s paintings makes Vanderhausen’s apparition more dreadful


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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