The Johnny Depp Archive

The Ninth Gate (1999)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigneur

Directed by: Roman Polanski

Rating: 1 2 3

An intriguing and unsettling thriller that slowly sucks you into a nightmare world of deception and devilish behaviour, The Ninth Gate sees director Roman Polanski make a welcome return to Rosemary's Baby territory, and although it isn't half as scary as his 1970s masterpiece, it's still pretty damned good.

Johnny Depp ponders Satanic things

Johnny Depp plays selfish, money grabbing antiquarian book detective Dean Corso - his name means runner in Italian (ish), but in the film he doesn't so much run as jump through a series of strategically placed hoops set up by his client, ruthless multi-millionaire book collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella wearing scary spectacles). Balkan has recently purchased one of only three copies of a creepy 17th century grimoire entitled The Ninth Gate of the Kingdom of Shadows, supposedly co-authored by none other than the Prince of Darkness himself (the Devil, that is, not Ozzy Osbourne). (Incidentally, one has to question the wisdom of the security system protecting Balkan's multi-million dollar library: if you were trying to guess the access code of an infamous occultist, which number (of the beast) would you key in first?)

Disappointingly, the Devil's handbook is not bound in human skin, but it does feature entertaining woodcut illustrations, supposedly drawn by LCF. that's Lucifer, Johnny. Do keep up. And stop dropping fag ash in the book - it's worth a million dollars.

Demon or angel? Emmanuelle Seigneur as the mysterious girl

Anyway, Corso, together with Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigneur as 'The Girl', must track down the other two copies and discover which is the authentic book. Sounds simple enough, but nothing's straightforward when the Devil's on your tail.

Like Rosemary's Baby, the film deftly treads the fine line dividing fantasy from reality and keeps us guessing right until the end. Sure, Balkan and co. believe the book has Satanic powers, but Corso isn't convinced, and neither are we. After all, we never actually see it do anything. Corso, of course, has scant regard for spirituality - all he cares about is his cheque - and as seasoned horror fans we know that protagonists who refuse to believe in the supernatural soon find themselves on the highway to hell.

At first it appears that Polanski is keen to avoid the usual Satanic clichés of the horror genre. No human skin, no weird priests warning of imminent disaster, no dodgy CGI transformations or latex devils; there are no spooky children, the book never moves by itself and Johnny never finds himself reading out from it aloud in an ancient language he doesn't speak. although Seigneur does have a good line in creepy glowing green eyes and weird levitation, which is always a plus in a horror movie.

The Satanists enjoy a Dennis Wheatley moment

However, as we head towards the film's denouement, we do find ourselves straying rapidly into Dennis Wheatley territory - aristocratic Satanists in long hooded robes meeting up in old French castles to chant and randomly shag; scary black henchmen trying to beat up our hero; naked women writhing in sweaty ecstasy. Etc.

And then all of a sudden our two hours are up and it's the end. And I can't quite decide whether the ending is pleasingly underplayed, a superbly unforeseen yet inevitable conclusion, or whether Polanski ran out of money, couldn't be doing with special effects or simply decided he'd had enough.

My advice? Rent the video and decide for yourself.

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