• A Bell From Hell (Pathfinder Pictures) DVD Review

    Released by: Pathfinder Pictures
    Released on: March 29th, 2005.
    Director: Claudio Guerin Hill, Juan Antonio Bardem
    Cast: Renaud Verley, Viveca Lindfors, Alfredo Mayo, Christine Betzner, Nuria Gimeno, Maribel Martin
    Year: 1973
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    A Bell From Hell – Movie Review:

    Renaud Verley (of The Damned) plays John, a strange young man with a penchant for cruel jokes who has been recently released from a psychiatric hospital. Once he’s free, he hops on his Duccatti and heads on into town where he pays a visit to his elderly Aunt Marta (Viveca Lindfors of Creepshow). She holds control over the inheritance that his late mother left to him, which includes the house that he grew up in and subsequently decides to relocate back to. John has a rather incestuous relationship with his three cousins, Marta’s daughters, and one of them claims that before he went off the hospital that he had tried to rape her. Upon his return, he resumes his strange behavior around the three lovely young ladies while he works occasionally in a local slaughterhouse.

    Eventually John comes to the conclusion that Marta is responsible for sending him off to the hospital so that she can keep the inheritance he’s entitled to for herself. He decides to take care of that problem himself by killing off Marta and her three girls, and while he’s at it he figures he might as well wreak havoc in the lives of his old flame and her current husband at the same time.

    Claudio Guerin Hill does a very solid job of directing this atmospheric little film. Though he died on the last day of photography (he either fell or jumped from the bell tower seen throughout the film) and the film was finished up by Juan Antonio Bardem, the film doesn’t feel disjointed or incomplete. The cinematography from Manuel Rojas (who also worked on My Dear Killer… which also starred Alfred Mayo) is slick and moody making great use of the dark and gothic sets in which much of the film takes place. The shot setups are very creative, watch for the scene in which some work men unload a coffin sized crate out of a truck that is shot from underneath the men doing the work, and this gives the movie a very quirky look, but it’s one that really works well.

    The atmospheric photography and creepy locations used for the film combined with solid performances, especially from Verley, make an interesting horror film that builds up nicely to great conclusion that, like all good horror movie endings, leaves as much unanswered as it does answered. Was John really insane or was it all a game his Aunt was playing in order to pry his inheritance away from him? How much if it actually happened and how much of it was in John’s own warped psyche? John’s insanity manifests completely when he hangs his three cousins up by their bound wrists in the slaughterhouse like so much dead cattle, a reference that the film makes by cutting back to the slaughterhouse footage a few times during playback. The (sometimes unspoken, sometimes quite blatant) sexual tension between John and his cousins gives all of this a really sleazy feel and makes his character seem a lot more sinister and a lot more manipulative than he would otherwise, but then the film contrasts this by having John do the right thing by saving a young girl from some would be rapists. In short, he’s very much an enigma.

    Pathfinder presents the film in what is believed to be its full length version. No noticeable cuts are present (though the camera does stop short of displaying all the goods as it pans up the girls’ bodies while they’re strung up, I believe it has always been this way) and the slaughterhouse scenes, which contain some grisly real life animal violence in the form of a few unfortunate cows meeting their end, are definitely intact.

    A Bell From Hell – DVD Review:

    Pathfinder gives A Bell From Hell a crisp, 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that fares very well for DVD from 2005. There is some mild edge enhancement and a little bit of print damage here and there but overall the colors look very nice and very natural, grain is minimal, and there’s a pleasantly high level of detail in the background and the foreground. Flesh tones look life like, blacks stay pretty solid throughout, and the colors remain distinctly separated without bleeding into one another. This transfer is very solid.

    You’ve got your choice of watching the film in one of three Dolby Digital Mono formats – English, French, and Spanish. The English track suits the film just fine and it matches the lips of the actors and actresses better than the foreign language tracks do. Also worth noting is that there are sections in the Spanish track that were never dubbed – these are presented subtitled. While there are a few scenes with some background hiss on the English track (the opening few minutes are the most noticeable) for the most part the audio is clean and clear without any problems. Even when there is hiss present, you won’t have a problem following the dialogue and overall clarity is fine – for the most part the hiss won’t prove distracting to most viewers.

    Pathfinder has included three alternate scenes from the Spanish version of the film – the opening credits, the closing credits, and the bedroom scene in which the actress is completely clothed (other than that, there isn’t much difference between this scene and the scene in the feature version of the film). These scenes look like they were taken from a VHS source, but they’re perfectly watchable none the less even if they’re not as nice looking as the feature itself.

    A gentleman named Chris D. supplies a decent audio commentary that does a nice job of not only filling us in on some of the interesting history behind the film but also of explaining some of the rather unusual motivations that the characters show throughout the film. This is a pretty solid commentary that does lend some pretty insightful thoughts to the film.

    Pathfinder rounds out the extra features with some trailers for a few other releases from the company (though not trailer for A Bell From Hell itself), text biographies on the key cast and crew members, a still gallery containing some nice promotional art, and an essay on the film from Chris D. (the same Chris D. who supplied the commentary track).

    A Bell From Hell – The Final Word:

    Pathfinder brings this European oddity to DVD in style with some decent extra features, and a great transfer. The movie holds up well, it’s atmospheric and eerie and to see it properly presented in its original aspect ratio is a true joy. A Bell From Hell is completely worth checking out!