Zeegrade Reviews

Zeegrade Reviews
Movies for scumbags.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bell From Hell (1973)

     Run for your lives!  It’s a percussion instrument from Hades!  I wish I had some insight as to why this movie is titled like this--there is no evil bell terrorizing anyone--but there is plenty of praise heaped on this odd Spanish flick filmed near the end of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s reign.  Ironically, the original director, Claudio Guerin, died on the last day of filming when he fell from a bell tower constructed for the movie.
  Juan Antonio Bardem, uncle of Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) stepped in to complete it.  This is an extremely shoddy transfer of the film with most of the dubbed dialogue almost inaudible.  I’ll try my best to relate what I watched, so here goes…
         John completes a plaster cast of his face on his last day as a patient in a sanitarium.  He believes was wrongly institutionalized by his aunt Marta (Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors, Exorcist III) in order to steal his inheritance.  The gist of Bell from Hell is figuring out if John is pursuing his probationary release bent purely on revenge or if he is, in fact, mentally deranged.  This film attempts to walk a very fine line when it comes to that, however, his actions, in my humble opinion, will appear to vindicate his aunt.  He visits Radaghast the Brown who lives in the forest with a mute teenage.  There, they trade cryptic barbs about the hand dealt John.

 Can you spot the filthy hobo?

John returns to the very large house he shared with his mother who committed suicide and one of the first things he does is get a job at a cattle slaughterhouse.  He quits shortly afterwards, giving the ominous reason to his employer that he’s “learned enough”.  Reminds me of my brief time working at UPS.
     John rekindles his estranged relationship with his aunt by scaring her guest into thinking Marta’s three daughters had died and that she’s been waiting for years for their ghosts to return.  When his cousins actually appear in the flesh, emerging like phantoms from a foggy morning, the guest flees in terror.  John’s attitude towards his three lovely cousins is equally murky.  The eldest cousin, Teresa still harbors resentment towards him and in a flashback it’s insinuated that he was initially committed after supposedly raping her.  So far I‘ve heard very little to make me want to sympathize with our lead.  Esther happily greets John while the reserved Maria sits silently until John leans in for a uncomfortably long kiss.  Before he was put away Maria posed for some nude artwork which adorns John’s bedroom to this day.  Yeah, that’s not creepy. 
     When your sanity is called into question the last thing you should do is confirm it by playing cruel jokes on the same townspeople that believe you’re insane.  First up is a neglected housewife that John frightens into unconsciousness when it appears that he rips his own eyes out of their sockets as punishment for putting a microphone in her bedroom:
 The results of seeing Joy Behar naked.

He carries her into her house, removes her panties and places a note on her chest telling her that he couldn't help himself.  Next, Don Pedro--the husband of the woman he just “raped”--is tricked into handling his penis as John attempts to urinate while he wears double arm casts.  After he’s all zipped up John removes his arms from the casts and calmly tells Don Pedro that this was all part of a bet he concocted with Pedro’s wife.  He adds that the note he left on his wife was only a joke too.  This guy is about as complicated to figure out as a two-piece jigsaw puzzle. 
     Back home in his basement, John prepares a gurney table as well as various medical cutting instruments while visions of his short time at the slaughterhouse are interspersed.  He moves to a bed and then various chairs, rigging each one of them with tape for the mouth and rope to bind his victim.  A sound system runs throughout the house playing an annoying version (Is there any other kind?) of Frere Jacques which John switches over to creepy organ music that he accompanies with his piano.  This guy is quickly reaching Scientology-levels of insanity.  There’s a ring at the front door and when John opens it his wheelchair bound aunt and three cousins are standing there. 
     Marta makes a snide comment about having him committed for keeping the house exactly as it was when he uses this opportunity to ask her about some large transfers of money each month out of his account and to the institution with most of it going to a Dr. Junquiero.  He asserts that she is basically bribing the hospital to make sure he stays there so she can have the entire inheritance.   Marta dismisses the accusation and tells him it’s merely the cost of his treatment.  She reminds him that his mother made her the executor of the will.  As if on cue to prove she’s correct, John presses a key on the piano that causes the creepy organ music to play as he snatches a large candleholder and begins dancing with Esther. 
     It’s clear that Esther is enamored with her handsome cousin and while they are in his backyard she asks him point blank if he was lovers with Maria.  John confirms it.  She then brings up Teresa accusing him of rape.  He confirms that too.  Esther draws the only conclusion possible and assumes that she must be next.  In his defense, his cousins are all beautiful women, but they’re still your cousins dude!  In the meantime, Teresa pushes Marta through the house when they enter John’s room.  They see the nude pictures of Maria and exit it thoroughly disgusted.
     In a scene that could have inspired the gonzo performance of Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau, the guests share a dinner table with all forms of wildlife as John feeds a monkey from a bottle.  Afterwards while they are gathered in a room together, John goes into some exposition about how he ran away from his mother’s money and traveled through Europe.  He complains that it was the rough treatment after he was found again by the lawyers and the psychiatrists that made him into the disturbed man he is today.  John offers to give everything over to Marta if she would give him his passports and allow him to disappear.  Despite Teresa’s prodding, Marta refuses stating that they would be held legally responsible should something happen to him.  
     John wheels Marta out back for some small talk when the latter becomes sleepy.  When she’s fully asleep John dons his beekeeper outfit, wheels his aunt by the frame hives, sprays her with something and lets the bees loose.  He returns to the house and ties up Esther who believes this is just another of his games.  She realizes something’s wrong when he tells her that in every tragedy there is an easy victim and she’s the one.  Next, is Maria who is waiting for John, semi-naked, in his room.  He violently attacks his former lover and binds her.  Last is Teresa who is watching and old film of themselves when they were children.  John accuses her of lying about him raping her.  She says nothing.  He then attempts to rape her and my or may not have succeeded.  I really don’t give a fuck at this point.  As she appears to be buttoning her shirt John knocks her out with the telephone. 
     Naked, gagged and bound with leather straps on their hands and feet the three cousins are hung like cattle on a meat hook:

Of all the scenes to skimp out on lighting!

Just before he is about to cut into Teresa's flesh, he has a flashback of cows being slaughtered.  He stops what he's doing and starts turning over the tables and gurneys until the doorbell snaps him out of it.  It's the Don Pedro's wife and she slaps John across the face for his prank on her husband.  She asks if he really did rape her and John tells her no and that at midnight the next evening he will apologize to her husband.  While this happens the girls free themselves and escape.
     John realizes his cousins escaped and runs outside to check on Marta.  She's gone and somebody attacks him during and evening storm.  In the next scene John is tied up and will be used as a counterweight for the new church bell.  When it rings for the first time, John will be hung by it.  Don Pedro completes a wall covering John from the outside.  The first service to commemorate the new bell arrives and after some trouble ringing it, they finally get it to work.  Esther becomes very upset.
     Don Pedro prepares for bed that evening when he sees a light go on and a shadow pass by a window in John's place.  Not believing that John could possibly be alive, Don Pedro enters the house and sees what appears to be John playing the organ.  He bashes his skull in only to discover that it was a plaster fake (so, he knew at the beginning this would happen?) and begins laughing maniacally.  Suddenly, someone pushes his head into the fishtank and holds it there until he drowns.  the forest hobo that John spoke with at the beginning is shown walking away from the property while the sound of John's motorcycle is heard driving away. 
     If you look up this film on the internet, more likely than not you'll find a positive review waxing poetic about the Gothic atmosphere, stylized cinematography or the fine performances of its capable cast.  I won't argue against any of these points except that it's too pretentious for its own good.  What was the point of his relationship with the beggar in the woods?  Why did he target Don Pedro and his wife when they had nothing to do with stealing his inheritance?  How did he know to make a plaster mask of himself so many days before his death?  Was he psychic?  Again, the copy was horseshit and the dialogue almost nonexistent, however, I couldn't muster enough interest to care about John's mental state or not.  Part of Mill Creek's "Chilling Classics" collection.  Skip this one.  Better yet, skip the whole fucking DVD it's on. 

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