Friday, April 07, 2017

160. Bell From Hell

160. Bell From Hell aka La campana del infierno (1973)
Directors: Claudio Guerín and Juan Antonio Bardem
Writer: Santiago Moncada
From: Chilling
A young man’s aunt is scheming to have him declared insane so she can claim his inheritance, but he has plans of his own.
I hope you have a good supply of “WTF movie?” cause this is going to use up a lot of it.

The plot is pretty straight-forward. John is being released from the sanatorium that his aunt had him committed to five years before. She did it to prevent him from squandering the money he inherited after his mother’s death. He’s only released on probation, though, and is facing being committed for life if his aunt and her daughters claim that he’s insane. He’s not interested in proving his sanity—he wants to take revenge upon them all.

The revenge involved inviting them all to the old family house where he leaves the aunt to be stung to death by bees and then ties up and potentially rapes each of his cousins. I say “potentially,” because I’m not sure if material was cut from my version. We only see him assault the third sister, but it feels like the movie’s implying that this is what’s going on.

By the way, get a fistful of WTFs ready, cause this is when you need it: rape and incest are topics of lighthearted discussion throughout this movie. The grounds for John’s initial institutionalization was his eldest cousin’s claim, which the movie never makes clear if it’s true, that he raped her. His youngest cousin jokes with him about it, suggesting he rape the middle sister before she gets married and asks when it’ll be her turn. By the way, this isn’t her being sadistic, this is her flirting with him. When he starts enacting his revenge, there’s a level of consent from the sisters themselves. Eww.

On top of this, earlier in the film, John pulls a prank on his neighbor where he makes her think he’s plucked out his eyes. She faints, he carries her into her house, and then musses up her hair, takes off her panties, and leaves a note implying that he raped her even though he didn’t, cause, LOL. On his way home from there, he encounters her husband leading a group of hunters who have stranded a young girl in the middle of a lake. They attempt to gang rape her, but John shows up and chases them all off with his motorcycle.

Yeah, a whole lot of, “what are you doing, movie? What are you even doing?”

He takes the sisters into a secret basement that he’s fashioned into a slaughterhouse, hangs them naked from meat hooks, and prepares to butcher them but loses his nerve at the last minute. He’s distracted by the neighbor coming to ask him if he’d actually done anything to her and he says no, promising to explain everything to her husband the next night.

After she leaves, he goes to check on his aunt’s body, but it’s not there. She springs forth, swollen and disfigured by the bees, and John runs off only to get caught by the husband/rapist. The aunt and the rapist have John tied to the bell the local church has just installed where he’ll serve as a counterweight and seal him up in the wall. The next morning, the bell is rung for the first time and John is presumably killed. The family returns to the house, but the youngest sister refuses to join them because of what they’ve done and her sympathy/affection (?) for John. That night, the rapist sees lights in the house, goes to investigate, and gets killed in John’s final trap. THE END

A truly revolting film. The central concept, John trying to get revenge for being institutionalized/aunt and daughters trying to steal his inheritance, is a solid one. There’s real potential for a nice cat-and-mouse game, points of one-upmanship, and plots and counterplots, but that doesn’t happen. It takes about forty minutes for the aunt and daughters to get to the house and then all the drama and revenge take place in the next fifteen/twenty minutes. John’s plan fails and he’s getting strung up when there’s still twenty minutes left in the movie. So the majority of the movie doesn’t have any plot happening at all.

Then add all the rape and incest elements. Rather than try to make the audience uncomfortable with tension or misdirection or the moral ambiguity of both sides being kind of evil, it aims to discomfit via taboo. And like a cut-rate comic sneering, “does it offend you, does it offend you?” it only leaves you wondering why they’re so invested in it. It’s not offensive, it’s weird and it feels like these elements are only in the movie because the producers couldn’t think of anything else to do.

Which sums up the movie, nothing thinking of what to do. There are some artful/pretentious touches, but they don’t come to anything, and seeds that are planted—like opening with John making a cast of his own face—have not even a perfunctory payoff. Obviously, it’s not a recommend. Take your pick as to why. I wouldn’t even suggest this for riffing because the content goes so far off the rails. This may have been public domain at one point, but is currently protected under GATT. Except for some admittedly artful shots, nothing’s been lost.

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