Horror Movie Review: The Ninth Gate (1999)

The Ninth Gate is a 1999 neo-noir horror thriller film directed, produced, and co-written by Roman Polanski. An international co-production between the United States, Portugal, France, and Spain, the film is loosely based upon Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s 1993 novel The Club Dumas.

Dean Corso, a New York City rare book dealer, is hired by wealthy collector Boris Balkan. Balkan has acquired a copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, a book by 17th-century author Aristide Torchia said to be able to summon the Devil. Torchia is alleged to have written the book in collaboration with the Devil.

Only three copies survived when he and his works were burned for heresy. Balkan believes only one of the three is authentic and wants Corso to inspect the other two to determine which one. During his travels, Corso comes into contact with a mysterious woman (“The Girl”) who appears to be following him.

Corso interviews Liana Telfer, the widow of Andrew Telfer who sold Balkan The Nine Gates shortly before killing himself. Telfer later seduces Corso, hoping he will sell the book to her. After they have sex, and he refuses to sell, she attacks him, and knocks him unconscious. The next day, Corso goes to a bookseller he had entrusted the book to and finds him hanged in his store like an engraving in The Nine Gates. Corso retrieves the book and thus begins his travels from Spain, to Paris and Portugal to examine the fine details of each copy. Unfortunately, a dark aura of death and mystery follows him along for the ride.

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Contrary to how interesting I made this movie sound in that last line. The Ninth Gate is regrettably intensely dull. Although the film is shot well, it’s really just a 2 and a half hour movie where Johnny Depp sleepily reads books.

I didn’t know Johnny Depp was capable of giving such a boring performance. Ok, Corso is hot but what else? His character lacks any personality, so his motivations are unclear. Apparently he’s the sort of man who would murder for hire. Why? Who knows. He’s in good company as every character is like this. Floundering amongst a muddled and lacklustre script.

The Ninth Gate is based on a novel, the illustrations are from the novel also, so what exactly did Roman Polanski bring to the table besides putting me to sleep.

Balkan (Frank Langella) is absolutely wasted. A very theatric actor, simply stunted.

The whole movie lacks any action or excitement. We should be seeing fantastical and other worldly sights as The Devil and his hellish gate to human suffering is unveiled. Instead Corso walks into a door of light and the movie fades to black.

Overall, The Ninth Gate left me dumbfounded and dissatisfied. A long slog of a movie that imagines itself to be art but is as boring as paint drying. Alongside an annoyingly repetitive soundtrack, perhaps the gate to hell was really having to sit through this.


  • Sally Powell

    Editor/Writer - Stay at home mum educating the horror minds of tomorrow. If it's got vampires or Nicolas Cage in it, I'm sold. Found cleaning bums or kicking ass in an RPG. (And occasionally here reviewing all things horror and gaming related!)

The Ninth Gate
  • The Final Score - 3/10
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