Monday, September 21, 2009

A Bell From Hell

I love when I finally come across something that's been recommended to me for no reason in particular, except for the fact that people who have seen it and know me think I might like it. Such is the case with A BELL FROM HELL; I've had numerous fellow perverts, say, hey, Jenn, you ever seen A BELL FROM HELL, to which I've said no, should I have? To which the reply is always a resounding, YES! No details, no description, no nothing, except, hey, that might suit you just fine. And boy, were you guys right. I love you guys. You guys always steer me in the right direction.

The film opens peculiarly enough, with John, a mental patient confined to a sanitarium, mixing up some latex plaster stuff to make a mask of his face - a detail we should all remember because it comes up a few times later on. After John's done with his mask, we come to find out his trial date is right around the corner and the institution, hoping he can maintain himself on the outside, has offered him probation. Upon giving him his summons and discharging him, John lights his summons for his upcoming court date on fire (how punk, John!) and takes off on a motorcycle into the countryside.

Before arriving at his dead mother's decaying manse (we'll get to all that in a minute), he takes a brief sojourn through the woods, where he runs into a bearded hermit who he knew from childhood and the hermit's deaf mute daughter. The hermit, an ominous fellow tells John, 'the owl hooted three times when your parents secretly copulated to conceive you. I thought you were far away. Why have you come back? I told you as a child you would be unlucky. Fate has dealt you the cards.'

John replies, equally as ominously, 'But I'll play them.' At this point only a few minutes in, while curious enough, we don't know why John has been confined to a mental institution or what his situation is in general. On the part of the filmmakers, this is a brilliant choice. There's so much suspense building, one of this movie's wonderful, brilliant charms, it almost smacks of Hitchcock, but once again, more on that in uno momento.

So John's more than a bit unsettling at this point, and he arrives at his mother's old home, the place having fallen into disrepair. He mopes about and then, not one to sit about idly obviously, takes a job in a slaughterhouse. Now, long time readers know my aversion towards animal cruelty in a movie. I CANNOT deal. And these slaughterhouse scenes had to be watched through my clenched fingers. It was bad enough I had to hear the cows screaming as John learns how to butcher them, while watching this half-edly through my hand. John dutifully goes about his work, clocking them on the head with knives and chopping off their legs with ease. He quits after a few days, however, and much to my relief, I thought I was going to have to sit through more than one slaughterhouse scene and thankfully I didn't, stating, 'I've learned enough.' Eww, creepy, John, you and your deadpan self.

After the slaughterhouse, John runs into his old girlfriend, who tells him she married a rich older dude who builds stuff in town and is apparently pretty well connected. Never to be ruffled, John's all like, that's cool, and, as the movie progresses, it's really difficult to tell how John feels about anything. But again, more on that in a second. Let get the plot out of the way, calm down.

So John goes to meet up with his old Aunt Marta and her three daughters, and it's here we learn why John was locked up for the last three years. Seems he couldn't keep his rapey paws off of one of his cousins and she was the one that had him committed. But wait, there's more! John's mommy was apparently pretty wealthy and as long as John, her sole heir, stays insane, Aunt Marta can collect all the dough. Soooo, are we to think John's not really crazy and Marta set her daughter as some sort of bait to tempt John? Or is John really a psychopath and needs to be locked up? This is one of the brilliant unreconciled issues in this movie that just makes it so easy to drool over. Yeah, John's obviously disturbed, but how much so? What's Marta really playing at? Anyway....

So, not only is John more than a little creepy, he's also a great practical jokester. He manages to convince his old flame's new hubby that his cousins all perish in a fishing accident, in one of the most well-timed, perfectly paced ghost stories I've ever head, and Marta does only that much more to perpetuate it. At times, you think Marta and John might be in on the sadistic joke together; the film is so brilliantly constructed and well told, it leaves you reeling.

He also manages to get the same man to take out his penis to help him pee, and always the master of disguise, manages to convince his old GF that's he's ripping out his own eyes. Which in turn, causes her to faint, and then he pretends to rape her. How do you pretend to rape someone? Well, track this movie down and watch it for yourself.

So there's lots more suspense building and creepiness and great atmosphere (think old dark decrepit homes and lots of fog), and lots of conversations about the sexy times (but alas, no actual sexy times). Here's one of my favorites between John and the ex, while they're feeding chickens no less:

J:Aren't you happy?
GF: Happy?
J: How often do you need to have sex?
GF: What?
J: You haven't had sex with your husband in three weeks.

If you're asking how John knows this, you can go ahead and add pervert and voyeur to his resume of slaughterhouse worker, mental patient, and special effects master. Seems he rigged up a microphone in the chica's bedroom so he could get info into her love life. It happens.

I won't ruin the ending for you, because it is just one of those endings that you won't be able to stop thinking about for days, I'm serious. Even now, like two days later, I'm thinking about all the underlying yuckiness and atmosphere and everything going on here. It's at times subtle, at other times overt, and all the time, it's just wonderful.

John couldn't be better in his role and Aunt Marta is equally as talented. Even the sexy cousins are interesting in their own right and the backdrops are just superb. There's enough pedophilia, depravity, repressed sexual tension (and that which is not so repressed as well), and Bava-esque camera shots and colors to make me a very happy Jenn. I would even go as far as to say Jodorowsky was inspired by this; and at the very same measure, perhaps even Eli Roth. And as for the titular bell, just like the pretend rape, you have to see it - I just don't want to ruin it for you.

Good perverted stuff, ya'll. And anything with a line like this out of nowhere, you know is incredible. 'Dearest darling, do you know what you are, my dearest darling. A stupid cunt, who doesn't know how to use it.' I say that very same line to my cousins all the time. John's a man after my own heart, truly.


  1. This is indeed a doozy! Like you I came to this one knowing next to nothing about it, and was completely blown away. Some really great cinematographer here, very brooding and arty, and a lot of quiet tension broken up by surprising and disturbing set-pieces. This one should really be next on some DVD company's list for restoration/special edition.

    Interesting bit of trivia: on the last day of shooting, director Claudio Guerin actually FELL TO HIS DEATH from the bell tower that features so prominently in the film. (Some sources say it was an accident, some that he jumped. Of course he also might have been pushed...) As a result, the post-production/editing supervision was done by another director, Juan Antonio Bardem. Both did an excellent job, I think, but I can't help wishing Guerin had stuck around to deliver more movies like this one.

    Glad you got to see it! ;)

  2. I think what I liked most about it was it was so subtle and beautiful and then John would come out with some line like, 'I love animals - they eat when they're hungry, sleep when they're tired, and FUCK when they're in heat. You've never been in heat, Aunt.' Great stuff!

    And I just couldn't figure John out. I still can't. I like when something gets under my skin like this.

  3. Same here. :) And I know you didn't want to spoil the ending, but I still haven't figured out who had the "last laugh"...and *how.* :D

  4. I wasn't sure either, and I watched it twice, just to make sure or more because I was confused a little bit, and then I was even more provoked by thought! One for the ages, I suppose! :)

  5. I didnt really care for this one, but the copy I saw was also in terrible shape and I watched it in the middle of taking care of Horror Baby when she was only a couple months old, so I probably missed a ton and convinced myself it was terrible. Will give it a second shot on your guys' recommendation!

  6. I watched this film last night and came to the conclusion that John actually had two last laughs, one coinciding with the other.

    The fact that Claudio Guerin died on set adds a little "something" to this movie, too.

    Love the blog! It is relevant to my interests and I would like to subscribe to its newsletter. The only suggestion I would make is to include more pictures of cats wearing costumes.

  7. Oh, more cats in costumes is on the way. Tis the Halloween season and they love to dress up, as you know. ;P