Dean Corso, a shady New York book dealer, is hired by smooth millionaire Boris Balkan to authenticate a volume allegedly written in collaboration with the Devil. While tracking copies of the book in Portugal, Spain and France, Corso comes across a succession of eccentric and/or sinister types.
Based on Arturo Perez-Reverte's Spanish novel El Club Dumas (with all references to Alexander Dumas deleted), this bibliophile mystery-horror item finds Roman Polanski returning to the demonic concerns of his classic Rosemary's Baby at a more melodramatic level, with a tone pitched somewhere between The Omen and The Name Of The Rose.
Dean Corso (Depp), a shady New York book dealer, is hired by smooth millionaire Boris Balkan (Langella) to authenticate a volume allegedly written in collaboration with the Devil. While tracking copies of the Book Of Nine Doors Of The Kingdom Of Shadows in Portugal, Spain and France, Corso comes across a succession of eccentric and/or sinister types - black widow Satanist Liana Telfer (Olin) and a pair of book-owners played by veterans of different types of Euro-horror, Jesus Franco collaborator Jack Taylor and Hammer Films baroness Barbara Jefford.
Dogging the glum, short-sighted hero is a mysterious green-eyed girl (Seigner) who displays the occasional supernatural power (elegant balletic flights) and helps him survive the contest between Balkan and Liana, which climaxes at a Satanic house party rather less impressive than the one in Eyes Wide Shut, but surprisingly similar to the Kubrickian orgy in that Polanski can't have seen it before he filmed his robes-and-chanting session.
This is a mystery whose set-up is far more intriguing than its muddled solution. Polanski and a fine cast of slightly off-centre players make much of the early ominousness, and well-chosen locations are imbued with a certain creepiness. But the last act falls apart. In an out-of-the-way chateau, Balkan goes through the ritual supposed to open the fabled Ninth Gate, and the film definitively shows itself rather better at promising than delivering.
A strong first act and an appealing Depp performance mask a myriad of flaws.