• In A Glass Cage (Blu-ray)

    Released by:
    Cult Epics
    Released on: November 8, 2011.

    Director: Agusti Villaroga

    Cast: Guntar Meisner, David Sust, Marisa Paredes, Gisele Echevarria

    Year: 1986

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    The Movie:

    Every once in a while a film will come along that deftly mixes horror and art to create something so disturbing that it can never really have the mass appeal of more palatable box office fare from within the genre. Pier Paolo Passolini’s Salo – 120 Days Of Sodom is a perfect example of this, as is, more recently, Gasper Noe’s Irreversible. Difficult and unsettling to watch? Definitely. But there’s no disputing how well made some of these more confrontational films are. Spanish filmmaker Agusti Villaronga’s 1986 masterpiece, Tras El Cristal (known to English speaking audiences as In A Glass Cage), is one such film, a beautifully shot film featuring a great instrumental score and some stunning cinematography that deals with some legitimately disturbing subject matter.

    The story revolves around an aging former Nazi doctor named Klaus (Gunter Meisner of Wim Wenders Faraway, So Close) who worked in an execution camp and had a fetish for young boys. As his perversion and sadism grew, he became more and more daring with his exploits but eventually he began to feel the overwhelming guilt his actions caused. As such, he jumped off the roof of a building in hopes of killing himself – but it didn’t work.

    The bulk of the story though, takes place many years later, and Klaus has gone into hiding in Spain along with his wife, Griselda (Marisa Paredes), and their daughter, Rena (Gisela Echevarria). Because of his jump, he is paralyzed from the neck down and confined for the rest of his life to an iron lung. When the burden of caring for him becomes too much for his wife and daughter to handle, Griselda decides to get a nurse. Enter Angelo (David Sust), a strange and somewhat introverted young man who, for reasons unknown to Griselda and Rena, Klaus insists should be hired. Things take a turn for the macabre though, as soon we find that Angelo has uncovered Klaus’ war diaries that detail his past exploits from the concentration camps. When Klaus begins to relive his past vicariously through Angelo he soon learns that he’s far more than a random stranger looking for a job.

    An extremely impressive film visually speaking, In A Glass Cage makes full use of its setting and of light and shadow, creating an uneasy and dark atmosphere. With most of the film taking place inside the once stately home now showing serious signs of neglect, the film instantly has an unsettling atmosphere – giving us the sense that we shouldn’t be here, almost like by watching the film we’re trespassing. More effective for what it doesn’t show than what it actually does portray graphically on screen, thematically this is a disturbing film that will stay with you long after it ends. Performances, likewise, are very strong as you find yourself questioning just who you should have sympathy for and why in the film. Everyone is guilty of something in the film and no one, except for maybe Rena, is innocent, which is something that the director makes very clear as the cycle of abuse is passed on throughout the story.

    At times both horrifying and very sad, In A Glass Cage is a very thought provoking and masterfully directed work. It’s harsh, it deals with some extremely unpleasant and disturbing subject matter but is able to do so without really crossing the line into exploitation territory. Instead the film uses a mature story and eerily appropriate cinematography to tell its repulsive story in a way that few films ever manage to do and the result is as captivating as it is horrifying.


    Cult Epics makes their old DVD release of this film (which suffered from some conversion issues and really didn’t look so hot) completely obsolete with this new AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition presentation. This is a very dark movie in terms of the colors used in the film, there’s really a lot of emphasis on dark shades of blue, lots of black and some purple – these tend to dominate the picture, though the other colors that make it through do look fine. There aren’t really any compression artifacts to complain about and the transfer looks quite good, very film like showing a natural looking grain structure and no evidence of heavy noise reduction or edge enhancement having been applied. Detail is vastly improved over the murky DVD release and skin tones look pretty good here even if there’s maybe just a little bit of crash in some of the really dark scenes. You’ll notice a lot more texture not just on the clothes the various characters wear in the movie but also in the backgrounds in the house, the aging wall paper, the damaged woodwork, the cracked marble – all signs of decay in what was once a beautiful mansion but has, like its owner, seen better days.

    Spanish language audio options are provided in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, so you’ve got the choice of going with the original stereo mix or a newly created surround sound mix. Both tracks sound quite good here, offering well balanced dialogue and background music with some nice depth to it. Optional subtitles are available in English only. This isn’t a super aggressive mix but it doesn’t really need to be – the movie sounds very good here, there’s nice clarity and resonance throughout and things sound considerably more full and lifelike here than they did on DVD.

    First up, as far as the extras go, is a featurette entitled Exorcism Of Agusti Villaronga (35:17) in which the director talks about what inspired the movie, the work of Gilles de Rais, how war situations tend to be a ‘hot bed’ in that they make people do things differently than they otherwise would, his process for working on screenplays, ideas he had for In A Glass Cage that didn’t make it to the final cut of the film, what scene tend to provoke a reaction the most in the film and more. Lluis Homar also shows up here, talking about how he wound up working on the film and what it was like working with Villaronga on this project. Actress Marina Gatell also pops up to give her input on the importance of the director’s work and Villaronga brings the featurette to a close by discussing how politics have affected his work.

    There’s also a Q&A with the director included here. Running 13:43, this was recorded in front of a live audience at a screening of the movie that took place at the Lincoln Center in New York City on December 11, 2010. Villaronga speaks in Spanish with an interpreter at his side to translate his answers into English as he discusses how many of the images in the film were inspired by a Belgian painter, the importance of red in the film, Spanish history’s influence on the picture, the film’s premiere at the Berlin Film Festival and the audience’s reaction to it and more.

    Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the feature (2:55) and three short films – Anta Mujer (22:30, 1976 – taken from the only existing source, a VHS tape, though presented in upscaled 720 X 480, this is a strange and almost metaphysical look at a woman’s relationship with the sea which then takes a strange turn against the sounds of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana playing overtop – very Jodorowsky-ish!), Laberint (11:29, 1980 – taken from the only existing source, a VHS tape, though presented in upscaled 720 X 480, this is a strangely sexual short that some painted naked bodies writhing against a bizarre backdrop) and Al Mayurca (23:32, 1980 - taken from the only existing source, a VHS tape, though presented in upscaled 720 X 480, this is similar to the first short visually in that it shows a woman out in the sand but it mixes in elements of domestic life and burgeoning sexuality before working in odd religious imagery). All of the extras on this disc are presented in high definition. The previous DVD included liner notes from Stephen Thrower and an interview with the director – those have not been ported over to this new release.

    The Final Word:

    Cult Epics has done right by this film, offering up Villaronga’s acclaimed film with impressive audio and video quality and a load of new extras features. The film itself is excellent, a picture that gets under your skin and makes you think but which is also very accomplished on a technical level, the perfect mix of arthouse and horror.

    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps (some of which do contain spoilers)!